How to Tell If Your Lawn Needs Lime: 6 Signs to Look For

A beautiful lawn equals a great place to spend time outside and bragging rights in the neighborhood. No homeowner wants to be “that yard” where the grass is pitifully yellow and thin. So, if you’re serious about lawn care you’ve got to understand how to give your grass what it needs.

How to tell if your lawn needs lime | photo of unhealthy lawn

How Do I Know if my Lawn Needs Lime?

Knowing how to tell if your lawn needs lime is a good skill to have if you want great grass. 

But how do you know if your lawn needs lime? Read on for some of the telltale signs that you should make a date with a rotary spreader full of lime!

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Changed pH Levels in the Soil

Soil pH measures the acidity or alkalinity of the soil and is a key component in the availability of nutrients to growing plants.

A low pH restricts access to certain nutrients like calcium and manganese, while a higher pH inhibits the availability of phosphorus and micronutrients. 

The best way to maintain a healthy-looking lawn is to balance the pH of your soil.

Most grasses need an ideal pH between 5.8 and 7.2. When the soil’s pH is kept in this range, grass has access to all the nutrients it depends on the most.

When the soil’s pH level drops lower than the optimal range, we say that it is too acidic. Adding a soil amendment—in this case, lime—helps to restore the pH balance and get your grass growing again. 

How to Test Soil pH Levels

How much lime you will need to put down depends on the pH value of your soil, which can be determined by conducting a soil pH test. The test results will tell you if you’ve got acidic soil and just how acidic it is. 

There are multiple ways you can test your soil’s pH: 

  • Purchase a soil testing kit that returns an actual pH value. Dig a hole, insert the test equipment prongs into the soil, and wait for the result to appear on the display.
  • For a true DIY test, boil cabbage in distilled water. Remove the cabbage and add a little soil to the now-purple cabbage water. Watch for color changes in the soil to get a general idea of its acidity or alkalinity. 
  • Send a soil sample to your local extension agency. They will charge you a reasonable price that is well worth it. The result should tell you the pH value of your soil and the amount of soil amendment needed to bring it into the appropriate balance for your area.

Keep in mind that a soil’s pH is an ever-changing number. Getting and keeping it in the right range for grass is not a one-and-done proposition. Several things can affect pH:

  • Excessive rainfall can cause nutrients to naturally leach out of the soil.
  • Properly caring for a lawn is a good idea, but, over time, it can lead to a lower pH level.
  • Excessive dryness can prevent the natural leaching of calcium and leave soil more alkaline. 

Increased Growth of Common Lawn Weeds

Weeds like dandelion, crabgrass, yellow nutsedge, and others are always likely to pop up here and there in an otherwise healthy lawn. But when the weeds take over, and you’ve got more weedy green than grassy green, it’s a good indication that your lawn needs lime.

The presence of these invaders is a sign that you’ve got acidic soil. Low soil pH is known to decrease the effectiveness of pesticides and herbicides, meaning all that weed-killer stuff you’ve applied to your lawn isn’t working. And that’s why the weeds are winning.

The Presence of Moss

Moss is another common lawn infiltrator if conditions are favorable: shady, damp, and acidic soil. It grows in places where grass can’t.

Grass needs the exact opposite set of conditions to flourish sun, dryer soil, and a well-balanced pH level.

Moss may fit right into a woodland setting, but it’s not the front yard green carpet most folks want. If you notice that you gradually see more moss than grass, you can bet that your soil’s pH is too low and needs a lime treatment. 

The Lawn Looks Stressed

Like us, grass can become stressed out and begin to perform poorly. Without the proper pH balance to facilitate those essential nutrients, a once healthy lawn can start to decline and lose its luster. Overly acidic soil strikes again. 

Take a close look for these warning signs of lawn distress:

  • Yellow grass
  • Areas of thin grass
  • Diseased grass
  • Patches of dying grass
  • Inability to recover from drought
  • Excessive presence of insects

Lack of Response to Fertilizer

Are you the one that has all the neighbors commenting on how much time you spend caring for your lawn? You fertilize, you water, you mow—you do all the right things. And yet, even with all that fertilizer, your grass still looks thin and unimpressive. 

It could be that the pH balance of your soil is off. Acidic lawns don’t respond well to fertilizer because the low pH inhibits the intake of the essential nutrients you’re trying desperately to add. So instead of lush green grass, you’re left with the same old, so-so lawn you’ve always had.

The Soil is Sandy or Claylike

Soil is different depending on where you live. In some regions of the country, the soil can be quite sandy or mostly made up of red clay. Those who live in these areas have become quite familiar with the nature of acidic soil and its effect on lawns and plants. Lime applications are a common way to keep a healthy lawn looking good if this is a problem on your property. 

Final Thoughts

Who doesn’t want a lush, green lawn that feels like carpet under your feet? Knowing if and when your lawn needs lime puts you one step closer to enjoying that satisfying sensation. Lime is the perfect soil amendment to bring your soil’s acidic pH level into balance.  

Lime FAQ’s

How Often Should You Put Lime on Your Lawn?

The general answer is that your lawn may need a lime application every 1-2 years. That being said, the exact timeframe is going to be dictated by the pH of your soil as mentioned above.

When Should You Not Put Lime on Your Lawn?

The basic rule of thumb is that you never want to apply lime to your lawn when it is under stress. That could be when your grass is dormant, dying or just unhealthy. Typically the best time to apply lime is in the spring or fall, depending on whether you have a cool or warm season grass.

Can You Put Too Much Lime on Your Lawn?

Absolutely! When talking about putting lime on your lawn, you can definitely have too much of a good thing. Since lime adjusts the pH of the soil, adding too much can make it too alkaline which can lead to other problems like the roots not being able to access the nutrients in the soil, which is no bueno.