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Liming Turfgrass Areas

Extension Circular 415

College of Agricultural Sciences Agricultural Research and Cooperative Extension

Liming is the practice of applying an agent to reduce soil acidity (raise pH) and make soils more favorable for turfgrass growth. Raising soil pH requires a quantity of liming material that is determined by the degree of soil acidity as well as the quality and type of liming material. Although soil acidity is determined by soil testing, not all soil tests provide accurate information about how much lime should be applied. Most university and commercial laboratories, however, will provide sound recommendations of how much lime needs to be applied to turfgrass areas.




0 1 2
Lowest pH for most mineral soils Strongly acid Moderately acid Slightly acid Very slightly acid Very slightly alkaline Slightly alkaline Moderately alkaline Strongly alkaline Hydrochloric acid Lemons Vinegar

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3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
Lye Tomatoes Boric acid Milk NEUTRAL Sea water Bicarbonate of soda Milk of magnesia Ammonia

What is soil pH?

All soils can be classified as acid, neutral, or alkaline. The degree of acidity or alkalinity of a soil can be described by a pH value that ranges from 0 to 14. Any value below 7.0 is considered acid, a value of 7.0 is neutral, and a pH above 7 is alkaline. Thus, a soil with a pH of 5.8 is acidic, whereas a soil with a pH of 7.9 is alkaline. See Figure 1. Soils become more acidic as pH values below 7.0 decrease numerically. In fact, there is a ten-fold increase in acidity for every decrease by one whole pH unit. For example, a soil with a pH of 5.5 is ten times more acidic than a soil with a pH 6.5, and a soil with pH of 4.5 is 100 times more acidic than the soil with a pH of 6.5. Similarly, for every whole unit increase in pH above 7, there is a ten-fold increase in alkalinity. Soil pH values are usually reported to the nearest 1/10th of a whole unit on a soil test report (for instance, 6.2, 7.0, 8.5). Many plant species show a preference in regard to the soil pH range. Whereas rhododendrons and azaleas prefer soils in the range of pH 5.2 to 5.5, cool-season turfgrasses usually grow best in soils ranging from pH 6.0 to 7.2. Kentucky bluegrass, the most widely used cool-season turfgrass in Pennsylvania, grows best when soil pH is between 6.5 and 7.2. Fine fescues, bentgrasses, turf-type perennial ryegrasses, and turf-type tall fescues are somewhat more tolerant of slightly acidic soils (pH 6.0 to 6.5) than is Kentucky bluegrass.

Highest pH for most mineral soils

Figure 1
The pH scale runs from 0 (most acid) to 14.0 (most alkaline). The pH values for a number of common substances are shown. Note that soil pH range extends from approximately 3.5 to 10.5.

Why is liming important?

Soil pH affects turfgrass health by influencing availability of plant nutrients and other elements, thatch decomposition, some turfgrass pests, and pesticide activity. Strongly acidic soils (pH < 5.5) may lead to deficiencies in calcium, magnesium, or phosphorus and increases in availability of aluminum and manganese in amounts that may be toxic to turfgrasses. Liming improves plant nutrient availability and reduces toxicity problems in acidic soils. In strongly alkaline soils (pH > 8.5), the formation of insoluble tricalcium phosphate makes the phosphorus unavailable to the plant. Iron chlorosis, an indication of iron deficiency, may be seen on some plants growing in soils high in pH. Since most soils in Pennsylvania are not strongly alkaline, these types of deficiencies are not often encountered. Exceptions may occur when too much lime is applied to established turf or to the soil prior to planting. Many beneficial soil microorganisms do not thrive in strongly acidic soils. Some of these microorganisms break-down certain nitrogen fertilizers, thereby releasing the nitrogen for use by the turfgrass. Fertilizers containing nitrogen from ureaform, sulfur-coated urea, or natural organic sources are not effective unless certain microorganisms are present in the soil in sufficient quantities. Soil microorganisms also aid in the decomposition of thatch and grass clippings. Thatch is the dense accumulation of organic material on the soil surface beneath the grass. A thatch layer restricts movement of air, water, nutrients, and pesticides into the 2

Why do soils become acidic?

Soils become acidic through natural processes and human activities. The pH of most soils is controlled by the amount of rainfall. In humid areas, such as the northeastern United States, water from rainfall percolates through the soil, leaching ions such as calcium and magnesium (which prevent the soil from becoming more acid) and replacing them with acidic ions such as hydrogen and aluminum. Other natural processes that increase soil acidity include root growth and decay of organic matter by soil microorganisms. Human activities that increase soil acidity include fertilization with ammonium-containing fertilizers, and pollution with industrial by-products such as sulfur dioxide and nitric acid which enter the soil from acid rain. In most cases, changes in soil pH, whether they are caused by natural processes or human activities, occur very slowly. This is the result of the tremendous buffering capacity (resistance to change in pH) of most mineral soils.

soil. Soil pH in the range of 6.0 to 7.0 increases microbial activity and helps reduce thatch. Some turfgrass diseases are influenced by soil pH. Although the reasons for this are not well understood, there is some evidence to suggest that in very acidic soils the populations of microorganisms that suppress pathogenic fungi are reduced. In addition, plants growing in acidic soils may be more susceptible to disease because they are suffering from nutrient deficiencies or aluminum toxicity. Conversely, there are at least two turfgrass diseases (take-all patch and Fusarium patch) that are suppressed in acidic soils. Fortunately, these diseases rarely cause problems in home lawns. Optimum pH (6.0 to 7.0) does not prevent turfgrass disease, but it can reduce the severity of infestation. Acidic soils create conditions that favor growth of certain weed species. One of the most common and difficult-to-control weeds, moss, is more prevalent in moderately to strongly acid soils than in neutral soils or slightly acidic soils. Shepherds purse is a lawn weed that is a good indicator of moderately to strongly acidic soils. Although weeds cannot be controlled with lime applications, applying lime before soils become too acidic is one means of preventing severe weed infestation. Research has shown that the activity of some pesticides is influenced by soil pH. Strongly acidic soils can reduce the effectiveness of some turfgrass herbicides and insecticides.

not recommended for turfgrass areas. Gypsum is not a liming material.

How much limestone should be applied?

A lime requirement test is conducted on all turf soil samples sent to the Agricultural and Analytical Services Laboratory at Penn State. Results of this test will indicate the total amount of limestone needed to raise the soil pH to the optimum level for your turf. Established lawns, athletic fields, cemeteries, golf course fairways, and other general turfgrass areas should not receive more than 100 lb limestone/1,000 sq ft in any single application. Golf course greens should receive no more than 25 lb/1,000 sq ft/application. If a soil requires more limestone than can be applied in a single application, semiannual applications are made until the requirement is met. When establishing new turfgrass, the total limestone requirement may be applied in a single application if thoroughly worked into the first 4 to 6 inches of soil prior to seeding. As you might expect, sources of limestone vary in quality and, hence, effectiveness. The quality of a liming material is governed by two main factors; purity and fineness. Purity The lime recommendation on the Penn State Agricultural Analytical Services Laboratory soil test report is based on the use of a liming material that has the same neutralizing potential as pure calcium carbonate. To put it another way, if your Penn State soil test report recommends that you apply 50 lb limestone/ 1,000 sq ft, it assumes that you will use a lime source that, at 50 lb/1,000 sq ft, will raise the soil pH to the same extent as 50 lb of pure calcium carbonate/1,000 sq ft would raise the pH. A liming material that has the same neutralizing potential as pure calcium carbonate has what agronomists call a calcium carbonate equivalent (or CCE) of 100 percent. The recommended amount of any liming material that is not equivalent to pure calcium carbonate in neutralizing potential (100 percent CCE) should be adjusted so that you apply enough liming material to raise your soil pH to the desired level. All agricultural liming materials sold in Pennsylvania are required by law to be labeled with their calcium carbonate equivalent (CCE). Using the CCE of your liming material, the actual amount required to neutralize the acidity in your soil can be calculated as shown below or read directly from the liming material conversion table. Calculating calcium carbonate equivalent (CCE) Actual liming material required = (soil test recommendation/ CCE of liming material) x 100
Soil test recommendation: Apply 75 lb limestone/1,000 sq ft Liming material label: CCE = 80 percent Actual liming material required: (75/80) x 100 = 94 lb liming material/1,000 sq ft

Is lime needed?
Liming is needed if the pH of your soil is too low for optimum growth of the turf species you want to maintain. Soil pH can be determined only by a soil test. Although home test kits can provide a fairly good indication of soil pH, they cannot provide meaningful liming recommendations. Kits for collecting and mailing soil samples to the Agricultural Analytical Services Laboratory at Penn State are available from all county Penn State Cooperative Extension offices. Most commercial soil test laboratories also can determine soil pH and provide lime recommendations for turf. Test results showing pH and nutrient status of your soil sample and recommendations for limestone and fertilizer applications (if needed) will be mailed to you. Apply limestone only if your soil test results show a need for it, and never guess at the amount of limestone needed.

What liming material should be used?

Agricultural ground limestone is the most widely used liming material for turfgrass areas. It is manufactured by grinding rock containing high concentrations of calcium carbonate into fine particles. It can be purchased at most garden supply stores, hardware stores, farm supply stores, and many supermarkets. Dolomitic limestone is manufactured by grinding rock containing calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate. Dolomitic limestone is recommended where a soil test shows low pH and deficient levels of soil magnesium. Pelletized limestone is ground agricultural limestone, calcitic or dolomitic, that has been aggregated into larger particles to facilitate spreading and to reduce dust. The aggregates are bound together by a water-soluble substance that dissolves quickly when wet. Other liming materials, such as hydrated lime (slaked lime), burned lime (quicklime), marl, shells, and blast-furnace slag are 3

As you can see by the above example, you need approximately 20 additional pounds of a liming material with a CCE of 80 percent to raise the soil pH to the same extent as a material with a CCE of 100 percent .

Fineness A liming material must be finely ground to be effective. This is important because (1) solubility increases as the limestone is ground finer, and (2) limestone affects only a very small volume of soil around each particle. Therefore, the finer limestone is ground, the more particles it has, and if there is adequate mixing, more of the soil comes in close contact with the limestone, and, thus, more of the soil is neutralized. Pennsylvania law requires that limestone used to make pelletized lime, agricultural ground limestone, and industrial byproducts meet the following minimum standards:
95 percent through a 20-mesh-per-inch screen 60 percent through a 60-mesh-per-inch screen 50 percent through a 100-mesh-per-inch screen

Precautions Do not use hydrated lime or burned lime on established

turfgrass or turfgrass seedbeds at any time. Both can cause turfgrass burning; they also stick to shoes and can be tracked into homes or other buildings. Do not lime unless a lime requirement test shows that limestone is needed. Do not expect maximum fertilizer response if the soil is strongly acidic. Apply the total amount of limestone recommended by the lime requirement test, and take care not to exceed the maximum recommended amount per application. Apply ground agricultural limestone when the air is calm. Blowing dust may reach places where it is not wanted, and limestone that blows away is wasted. Keep limestone away from plants such as azaleas, rhododendrons, and blueberries that flourish in acidic soil.

Granular limestone (lawn and garden limestone) must meet the following minimum standards:
95 percent through a 20-mesh-per-inch screen 40 percent through a 60-mesh-per-inch screen 30 percent through a 100-mesh-per-inch screen

A liming material meeting these minimums is considered adequate in most situations. The actual range of particle sizes must be printed on the label. The calculations and table for adjusting your recommendations for the CCE of your liming material assume that the material meets at least these minimum fineness standards. In selecting a liming material, there is generally little advantage in using material much finer than the minimum standards. See Table 1.

How should limestone be applied?

Ground agricultural limestone is sometimes difficult to spread with a conventional drop-type fertilizer spreader because the finely ground material tends to bridge over the spreader outlets. Spinner-type fertilizer spreaders, with frequent stirring in the hopper, can be used to apply limestone. Limestone can be applied by hand on small areas. For very large areas, commercial spreader trucks are available for custom spreading. Pelletized limestone is easily spread with conventional drop or spinner spreaders.

When should limestone be applied?

Ground limestone may be applied anytime of the year, but is most effective when applied in the fall. Rain, snow, and heaving of the soil during winter help work the limestone into the soil. Movement of limestone into the soil is slow, even under the best of conditions. When the total amount of limestone needed for turfgrass maintenance exceeds the amount suggested for a maximum single application (25 lb/1,000 sq ft) on golf course greens; 100 lb/1,000 sq ft on all other established turf areas), spring and fall applications at the maximum rate are suggested until the limestone need is met. When putting in new seedings, all limestone required may be applied before seeding, but it must be mixed thoroughly throughout the top four to six inches of soil. 4

Table 1. Meeting the limestone recommendation on your soil test

Using the following conversion table: Find your soil test limestone recommendation value in the left-hand column of the table and then read across that line until you come to the column headed by the percentage of CCE nearest to that of your liming material. The number at that point is the pounds of liming material required to meet the limestone recommendation on your soil test. For example: If it is suggested that you apply 100 pounds CCE/1,000 sq ft and the liming material you plan to use contains 85 percent CCE, you would need 118 pounds of the material you chose to obtain sufficient neutralizing power in your soil.
Because there is no advantage gained by applying more than 100 pounds of CCE/1,000 sq ft in any one application, the table is divided into three sections suggesting how the total liming material required may be split for most efficient use. (See the right-hand column). Pounds/1,000 sq ft of CCE recommended on your soil test. 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100 110 120 130 140 150 160 170 180 190 200 210 220 230 240 250 Percentage calcium carbonate equivalent (% CCE) of your liming material 75 80 85 90 95 100 13 27 40 53 67 80 93 107 120 133 147 160 173 187 200 213 227 240 253 267 280 293 307 320 333 13 25 38 50 63 75 88 100 113 125 138 150 163 175 188 200 213 225 238 250 263 275 288 300 313 12 24 35 47 59 71 82 94 106 118 129 141 153 165 177 188 200 212 224 235 247 258 271 282 294 11 22 33 44 56 67 78 89 100 111 122 133 144 156 167 178 189 200 211 222 233 244 256 267 278 11 21 32 42 53 63 74 84 95 105 116 126 137 147 158 168 179 190 200 211 221 232 242 253 263 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100 110 120 130 140 150 160 170 180 190 200 210 220 230 240 250 Divide total CCE by the following number of applications

70 14 29 43 57 71 86 100 114 129 143 157 171 186 200 214 229 243 257 271 286 300 314 329 343 357

105 10 19 29 38 48 57 67 76 86 95 105 114 124 133 143 152 162 171 181 191 200 210 219 229 238

This publication replaces Special Circular 167 Liming Turfgrass Areas. Revised by Peter Landschoot, associate professor of turfgrass science, from Special Circular 167 Liming Turfgrass Areas by John C. Harper II, professor emeritus of Crop and Soil Sciences.. Visit Penn States College of Agricultural Sciences on the Web:
Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences research, extension, and resident education programs are funded in part by Pennsylvania counties, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This publication is available from the Publications Distribution Center, The Pennsylvania State University, 112 Agricultural Administration Building, University Park, PA 16802. For information telephone 814-865-6713. Where trade names appear, no discrimination is intended, and no endorsement by Penn State Cooperative Extension is implied. Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension Work, Acts of Congress May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Pennsylvania Legislature. T. R. Alter, Director of Cooperative Extension, The Pennsylvania State University.

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