Can You Put Too Much Lime In Your Garden?


Most homeowners put lime on their lawns, and some gardeners put lime in their gardens.  I was curious about how much lime is too much, and how to figure out how much lime to use.

So, can you put too much lime in your garden?  Yes, you can put too much lime in your garden.  Too much lime can make your soil pH too high, leading to nutrient deficiencies in plants.  Too much lime can also lead to excessive calcium in your soil.

Of course, you can still use lime in your garden, as long as you are careful about how much you use and when you apply it.  Let’s take a closer look at garden lime, how much to use, and how to fix excessive amounts if you have already added too much.

Can You Put Too Much Lime In Your Garden?

Yes, you can put too much lime (calcium carbonate) in your garden.  This can cause several problems with your soil, which we’ll get into now.

Too Much Lime Makes Soil pH Too High

If you add too much lime to your garden, the soil pH will be too high (basic or alkaline).  Most plants prefer a soil pH of 5.5 to 7.0 (7.0 is a neutral pH, while 5.5 is somewhat acidic).

Remember that if plants prefer a pH of 7.0, but your soil pH is 8.0, then the plants want the soil to be 10 times more acidic than it actually is!  A small change in pH can cause big problems for plants.

iron chlorosis
If soil pH is too high due to too much lime, your plants may show nutrient deficiencies. Yellow leaves are one common symptom.

If that is too theoretical for you, then think about the difference between a glass of pure orange juice and a glass of 10% orange juice and 90% water.  The pure orange juice is ten times more concentrated than the water & juice mixture, and you can easily tell the difference in terms of taste and color.

In addition, when soil pH gets too high, plants have a harder time absorbing soil nutrients through their roots.  This is true even if there is plenty of each type of nutrient in the soil!

For instance, boron availability drops off as soil pH approaches 8.0, and phosphorus availability decreases as soil pH approaches 8.5.

For more information, check out this chart from Research Gate on the effect of soil pH on nutrient availability.

Too Much Lime Causes Excessive Calcium In Soil

Another problem with adding too much lime to your garden is that you can end up with excessive calcium in your soil.

Calcium is an important nutrient for the health of plants, but too much of it can cause problems.  For example, high levels of calcium in the soil can prevent plants from absorbing magnesium.

Magnesium is the central atom in a molecule of chlorophyll (the compound that makes plants green).  You can imagine the problems that will occur if a plant is unable to absorb enough magnesium!

chlorophyll molecule
Magnesium is the central atom in a chlorophyll molecule. Translation: magnesium deficiency is not good for plants!

For more information, check out my article on magnesium deficiency in plants.

Adding Lime Too Quickly Will Spike pH

Finally, there is a potential problem if you add too much fast-acting lime all at once.  If there are plants growing in your garden, the rapid change in pH can shock the plants and damage or kill them.

Even if you calculate the correct amount of lime to adjust your pH, it can still be problematic if you add too much at once when plants are growing.

One solution is to add lime in the fall, after the harvest is over and there is no danger to plants.  Another solution is to split the application of lime: use half of what you need in the fall, and then use the other half in the spring before planting.

How Long Does It Take For Garden Lime To Work?

Garden lime can start working to raise pH within a few months, but it can take 2 to 3 years to completely react with the soil.

According to the Michigan State University Extension:

“Lime will react completely with the soil in two to three years after it has been applied; although, benefits from lime may occur within the first few months after application. How long the effects of lime last will depend on the kind of lime used, total soil acidity, amount of organic matter, kind and amount of clay, and cropping and management systems used. A soil test three to four years after lime application will help provide the answer.”

Michigan State University Extension: https://www.canr.msu.edu/resources/facts_about_soil_acidity_and_lime_e1566

This means that the current soil pH and composition (clay, sand, or loam) will have an effect on how quickly lime works, and how much you need to use (more on this later).

For more information, check out this article on soil acidity from the Michigan State University Extension.

Can You Use Too Much Dolomite Lime?

Yes, you can use too much dolomite lime, with much the same effect as too much ordinary lime.  The soil pH will get too high, the pH may rise too rapidly, and you may end up with excessive amounts of calcium in the soil.

Dolomite lime is simply calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate together, but it acts in a way that is similar to ordinary lime.  It should be used if magnesium levels in the soil are low or marginal.

For more information, check out this article on lime from the Michigan State University Extension.

How Much Lime Should I Put In My Garden?

There are three things you need to know to find out how much lime to put into your garden.

First, you need to get a soil test to determine the current pH of your soil.  You can get a kit to test the soil yourself, or you can send it away to a local agricultural extension lab for testing.  For more information, check out my article on soil testing.

Second, you need to decide on the desired soil pH, based on the plants you want to grow – more on this later.

Third, you must find out what type of soil is in your garden: clay, sand, or loam (or some combination).  To find out, you can do one of several tests.

You can feel the soil: if gritty, it is sand, and if fine, it is clay.  You can also swirl a soil and water mixture in a glass jar and see how it settles: sand will settle first, then silt, then clay.

sandy soil
In general, sandy soil needs the least lime, and clay soils need the most lime to raise pH.

For more information, check out this article on soil from the Penn State Extension.

Once you determine these three things, you will need to use this table, based on your soil type, current pH, and desired pH.

Soil
Texture
Pounds of Lime
per 100 square ft
(to raise pH
from 4.5 to 5.5)
Pounds of Lime
per 100 square ft
(to raise pH
from 5.5 to 6.5)
Sand or
Loamy
Sand
2.302.75
Sandy
Loam
3.675.97
Loam5.517.80
Silt
Loam
6.899.18
Clay
Loam
8.7210.56
Muck17.4419.74

For more information, check out this article from UC Davis on changing pH in soil.

Let’s look at an example to see how this would work in practice.

Example: How Much Lime To Put In A Garden

Let’s say that your current soil pH is 5.5, and you want to raise it to 6.5. This means we will be using the far-right column in the table above.

You also find that the soil is sandy, meaning that we will use the first row of the table.

You have a 20 foot by 20 foot garden, so the area is 20 feet x 20 feet = 400 square feet.  This means that there are 4 areas that are 100 square feet.

The table above tells us to use 2.75 pounds of lime per 100 square feet to raise the pH of sandy soil from 5.5 to 6.5.

So, we need to use 4*2.75 = 11 pounds of lime, spread evenly throughout the garden.

When To Apply Lime To A Garden

You can apply lime to a garden at any time.  However, as mentioned above, applying too much lime when plants are growing can raise pH too quickly, hurting or killing your plants.

autumn fall road
Fall is the best time to apply lime to your garden. By the time spring comes, the pH should be where it needs to be.

The best time to apply lime to a garden is in the fall, after harvest is over.  The freeze-thaw cycle over the winter and spring will help to spread the lime into the soil.

How Do You Fix Too Much Lime In Soil?

If you add too much lime to your soil and make the pH too high, there is a way to fix it.  You can add sulfur to your soil to lower the pH, making it more acidic.

This can be done with elemental sulfur or ammonium sulfate, but be careful!  If you add too much sulfur, you may end up on the opposite end of the spectrum, and your soil will end up too acidic.

sulfur powder
Elemental sulfur is one way to lower the pH of soil, but don’t add too much, and remember that it takes time to work!

Finally, remember that sulfur also takes time to work completely, just like lime does.  So, there will be a delay between when you add sulfur to the soil and when you see a noticeable drop in pH.

For this reason, it is best to apply sulfur to your soil in the fall, to give it plenty of time to work over the winter and spring.  That way, the pH should be closer to normal when you go to plant the next year’s garden.

Of course, the best way to avoid pH problems is to get a soil test from an extension office & get advice from them, depending on what plants you want to grow.

Which Plants Do Not Like Lime?

Most plants prefer a pH in the range from 5.5 to 7.0, but there are some exceptions.

blueberries
Blueberry bushes prefer acidic soil with a pH between 4.5 and 5.5. This means that lime is probably not necessary for them, and may even hurt them!

For example, blueberry bushes, rhododendrons, and azaleas both like the soil pH to be in the range of 4.5 to 5.5, which is more acidic than most other plants.  As such, these plants usually do not require any lime, and they may suffer if the soil pH is in the 6.0 to 7.0 range.

Conclusion

By now, you know that it is possible to use too much lime in your garden.  You also know the steps to take before adding any lime (do a soil test, find out the soil type, and figure out the desired pH).

I hope you found this article helpful – if so, please share it with someone who can use the information.  If you have any questions about using lime in your garden, please leave a comment below.

jonathon.david.madore

Hi, I'm Jon. Let's solve your gardening problems, spend more time growing, and get the best harvest every year!

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