Sometimes, maintaining a healthy pasture requires more than just regular fertilizing and irrigation. If soil becomes too acidic, it doesn’t matter what nutrients are present; plants won’t be able to make good use of them. Worse, certain soil elements can become toxic, causing plants to wither rather than thrive.
In this post, we’ll break down what that means – and what you can do about it.
Understanding soil pH
The acidity or alkalinity of a substance is expressed in pH units on a scale from 0 (highly acidic) to 14 (highly alkaline). Ideally, you want your soil to have a pH level between 6 and 7 – slightly acidic, but not too acidic. This gives plants good access to soil nutrients without releasing natural toxins that inhibit plant growth.
Unfortunately, here in Central Texas, there are several things that can cause soil pH levels to dip well below this healthy range:
- Seasonal rainfall. We usually receive plenty of rain in the spring and fall, which is great for our plants – but not always great for our soil. Rainwater is slightly acidic to begin with because of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Then, as it flows through the soil, it leaches away alkaline elements like calcium and magnesium that would otherwise help balance the soil pH.
- Native soil composition. Much of the soil in our region is very sandy, and that can present a problem when you’re trying to maintain balanced pH. Sandy soils evacuate water quickly – so they drain well. But they also allow alkaline minerals to wash out more completely than do soils with higher concentrations of silt and clay.
Previous fertilizer applications. While the benefits of a good fertilizer application definitely outweigh the drawbacks, certain fertilizers can cause soil to become more acidic because of the ingredients they’re made from. It all depends on how they’re formulated and how heavily they’re applied from one season to the next.
NOTE: This is one reason why it’s unwise to simply assume that what worked for your pasture one season will work again the following season. We advise customers to test their soil at least once every 2-3 seasons to make sure they’re staying on track with their fertilizer program.
How an Ag Lime Treatment Can Help
When your soil is too acidic, a proper lime treatment can help. Agricultural ground lime (“ag lime” for short) is basically pulverized limestone that has been milled to a fine powder. As a soil additive, it helps to balance low pH by re-introducing deficient alkaline minerals – primarily calcium and magnesium. The finer the grind, the more quickly it works to neutralize acidic components.
Helping customers treat their fields with lime is one of our specialties. Here’s what the process looks like:
- Soil analysis. Sampling and analyzing your soil enables our crew to determine how much lime per acre we need to apply to raise the pH to an optimum level for the next growing season.
- Lime delivery and application. We obtain quality ag lime from a local quarry and arrange to have it delivered right to your pasture. Then, we show up with one of our spreader trucks and a tractor. Our crew goes to work loading the crushed lime into our truck and meticulously spreading it according to the rate recommended by your soil analysis.
- Water penetration. In order for the lime to do its job, it needs to be “watered in” to penetrate the soil. Under most circumstances, that means timing your lime application to occur just before a good, soaking rainfall.
That’s it. Give the lime 2-3 months to do its job, and you’re ready to plant or fertilize as usual.
When to Schedule Your Treatment
Here in central Texas, the best time to apply ag lime is in the fall to early winter. This gives the lime plenty of time to become incorporated into the soil and thoroughly neutralize its acidic elements before the spring growing season.
If you think you might benefit from an ag lime treatment, don’t wait. Get us a soil sample and let us have it analyzed right away. Just give us a call or stop by one of our two convenient locations today, and our friendly staff will be glad to get you started!