December 20, 2001
Help Your Lawn Hibernate
Christmas is in the air: the music, colorful decorations, bustling shoppers and warm family gatherings. But why is your neighbor pacing his lawn with a spreader? Immediately puzzled, you mentally go over your lawn care checklist.
Weed control remains at the top of your list. You’ve obtained chemicals to control the wild onion and garlic. Of course, you will allow these weeds to get actively growing before tackling them with chemicals. On the other hand, you know if a weed has gone to seed there is no reason to spray it. The fall pre-emergent you applied should prevent new weed seeds from germinating.
From experience, you know that weeds in areas where your lawn is thin could indicate problems related to shade or drainage. To repair your lawn for winter, you seeded some cool-season grasses this fall. Then you joined the collective sigh of relief heard around Memphis when the mowing season ended for your warm-season grasses. Of course, you raised the cutting height to retain nutrients and reduce problems with winter diseases – the most important thing you can do to promote winter survival. So what could be missing?
With Christmas around the corner, your lawn is asking for a gift of its own: lime. Good soil is your foundation for a great lawn. Now is an excellent time to test your soil and adjust pH levels. The pH level of the soil may need to be balanced with a lime application. Any pH deficiency entering winter can increase winterkill chances. Winterkill occurs when roots dry out and the grass is damaged during a hard freeze. Lime and water safeguard against winterkill.
Liming is essential to correcting soil acidity. Soil acidity is an imbalance of soil elements caused by natural plant growth, nitrogen fertilizers, rainfall and irrigation. Most fertilizers are acidic by composition and thereby contribute to acid in the soil. If you regularly apply fertilizer to your lawn, you will need to counteract the nitrogen with lime. Grass thrives in a less acidic or neutral soil. Unfortunately most lawns in the greater Memphis area tend to be too acidic.
The broad range of benefits that have been linked to the use of lime make it a worthy addition to your lawn care checklist. By liming your lawn you will prevent restricted root growth, deterioration, thatch build-up, and stress from drought or weed activity. Increased root growth will make grass less subject to injury from root feeding insects. Maintaining a near neutral soil pH will speed organic residue decomposition and help prevent thatch accumulation. Lime increases the availability of several plant nutrients and makes fertilizer applications more effective as well.
Lime should be applied uniformly. Dust off your spreader one last time for effective distribution. Apply lime at rates up to 25-50 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Do not exceed this amount. Only enough lime should be applied to correct the acidic condition. Alkaline soil conditions caused by an excessive lime application are just as detrimental to your lawn.
Two types of lime are readily available: finely ground and pelletized. The finer the limestone, the more quickly it reacts with the soil to raise the pH and the quicker the nutrient becomes available to the plant. Pelletized lime, on the other hand, has a good variation of fineness, allowing some lime to act faster than others so it lasts all year.
Beside convenience, it is preferable to apply lime in the late fall or early winter for a number of reasons. Alternate freezing and thawing during the winter months enhance the movement of lime into the soil. The chemical processes that produce the favorable pH responses take 2-3 months to occur. By applying it now, the lime will have time to dissolve and react by spring green up. Therefore, you will not be able to see any immediate results from a lime application.
The only foe to our friendly lime is the vast amount of leaves on the lawn. Lime needs to reach the soil to fully serve its purpose. A mulching mower works wonders at handling tree leaves. Mulch mowing chops up leaves and pushes them below the lawn surface. Tree leaves contain beneficial nutrients that your lawn needs.
Doing the right thing for your lawn now, makes it healthier when it wakes up in the spring.
Intended for magazine publication in December 2001