The pH levels of soil directly affects how plants are able to absorb nutrients and water from the earth. If the pH level is too low or too high, plants become starved and will quickly die off. Gardeners can use lime to increase the alkalinity of the soil to help ensure the survival of their plants.
The pH scale measures the acidity and alkalinity of the soil on a scale of 0 to 14, with 7 being perfectly balanced and neutral. Most plants thrive with a neutral pH and will be starved if the scale is tipped more than a few points in either direction. Gardeners can easily treat gardens that are too acidic by applying lime, which will neutralize the acidity. In gardens that are too alkaline, try using small amounts of granular sulfur, which will safely increase acidity.
There are a few different types of lime available for gardeners to use, but you must be careful. Quicklime is a specific type of limestone that is known for burning the soil, which will kill plant roots and structures. Instead, choose either garden lime or dolomite lime, which both can be used in the garden in powder form, mixed with water, to raise the pH levels of the soil.
Changing a soil's pH is a slow process and should be done carefully. It can be effective to mix different forms of treatments, but be careful of what is applied to your lawn. Never mix alkaline ingredients with an alkaline soil. Wood ash, limestone and other liming materials will become a hazard when applied in the wrong amounts. Also remember that the type of soil used--sandy, loam or clay--will affect its ability to hold the ingredients that are applied to them.
Before applying anything to your lawn, be sure to use a soil pH test first. This way you will know exactly where your garden lies on the pH scale and what is needed to improve the growth of your lawn. Many gardening and lawn stores carry prepackaged ingredients that can be used safely with the soil. Usually these contain many of the same ingredients, such as limestone, but with a few other chemicals to help prevent unwanted chemical reactions. This is the safest and most easily controlled way of changing your soil's pH levels to where you need them.
Other than the soil becoming extremely hazardous to your plants, misuse of alkaline and acidic ingredients can create dangerous and toxic chemical reactions. It is important for gardeners to never attempt testing uncertain mixtures. Also, be sure to follow all manufacturer guidelines before and while using these ingredients and fertilizers to avoid serious harm for your pets, family and the environment.