Dont overdo the lime! For many gardeners, sprinkling lime over their gardens or lawns is a spring ritual. We constantly hear about acid rain and the troubles it causes the environment, especially in the Adirondacks. But just because the rain is acidic doesnt necessarily mean your garden or lawn is acidic. The only way to know if your soil needs lime is to test the pH, and you may be surprised. Every Cornell Cooperative Extension office tests soil pH, most charge a small fee. Many garden centers test soil pH as well. What is pH? The letters pH stand for percent Hydrogen, which is a chemists way of measuring how many hydrogen ions are in a solution. Most plants prefer a pH in the range of 6.5 to 7.0. Acid loving plants such as rhododendrons and blueberries prefer a pH closer to 4.5 or 5.0 but they are the exception. The sandier soils of the higher elevations do tend to be acidic but the Champlain Valley has limestone bedrock so most of the valley has a naturally neutral pH. Well over three quarters of the pH tests we do in our Plattsburgh office have an excessively high pH, meaning that no more lime is needed and too much may have been added in the past. Why is pH important? When your soil pH is in the ideal range the nutrients in the soil will be more available to the plants. At high and low pH levels some of the essential nutrients are chemically locked up and adding more nutrients is of little value. The beneficial microorganisms that are essential to the health of your soil are more active when the pH is in the proper range as well. These microbes help with decomposition and convert natural sources of nutrients including compost, manure and other types of organic matter into chemical forms the plants can use. When your soil pH is in the proper range the natural processes in the soil will be working at their best. Improper pH is not going to kill your plants or make your whole garden decline but proper pH will help it thrive. There are many other factors to a successful garden or beautiful lawn than just pH, this is just one of many. Focus on organic matter But the most important thing you can do for your soil is to add organic matter. Adjusting the pH is minor compared to this. Spend just a little of your gardening energy on pH and save the rest for building up your soil with compost, manure, rotted leaves, grass clippings and so on. We have excellent free factsheets on Soil pH and Organic Matter at our office and on our Web site. Stop in for a free copy or visit our Web site below. (Amy Ivy is executive director with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County) Office phone numbers: Clinton County 561-7450, Essex County 962-4810, Franklin County 483-7403. Visit http://ecgardening.cce.cornell.edu or email questions to askMG@cornell.edu

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