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Spring Liming of Horse Pastures

Fertilizers can actually cause problems if applied at the wrong time of the year, but lime can be applied at anytime.

Photo: Alayne Blickle

It’s spring and our pastures are finally growing – and we want to help them get healthier. Liming horse pastures is one big way you can help most horse pastures become more productive.

Many parts of North America have acid (low pH) soils which need liming. While using fertilizer is often unnecessary, using lime is crucial with these types of acidic soils. To grow crops and pasture successfully, soil pH need to be raised to somewhere between 5.8 and 7 throughout the top six to eight inches of soil. If the soil pH is wrong, many of the nutrients in the soil cannot be used by pasture plants. Overusing fertilizer can further acidify the soil – and waste money for you, plus potentially pollute surface waters with runoff of unused nutrients.

Agricultural lime is made from naturally occurring limestone and is primarily calcium and magnesium. Limestone is ground very fine so it can react with soil acidity to raise pH—the finer the ground, the faster it will work.

However, ground limestone is very dusty which makes it difficult to handle so manufacturers offer prilled, pelletized and granulated lime. In these products the very fine particles are bonded to a carrier such as clay to make the lime easier to spread. Just remember to use an agricultural lime (naturally occurring) and not a caustic lime (a chemical compound) such as calcium oxide, hydrated lime or quicklime which can burn plants.

Using lime does a number of things:

  • It increases the effectiveness of any fertilizers you eventually apply.
  • It encourages the activity of soil bacteria thus releasing valuable nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur.
  • It supplies calcium and magnesium to the soil.

How much compost, fertilizer and lime you apply and the time of year you apply should be based on the results of a soil test. Contact your local Conservation District, Extension office or Natural Resources Conservation Service for information on how to take a soil test, where to have it analyzed and how to get help with interpreting results.

Fertilizers can actually cause serious problems if applied at the wrong time but lime can be applied anytime. On a pasture it is best to apply lime before a rainy period so it breaks down faster. Aerating and/or mowing the pasture before applying lime will help the lime work its way into the soil.

“I recommend spreading lime twice a year; pearled dolomite lime in the spring and slow-release dolomite in the fall,” says Phil Marks, a Pacific Northwest seed distributor. 

Useful tools for spreading lime include a drop seed spreader (for pelletized lime) or lime spreader (for powder). Feed stores sell lime by the bag under labels such as “Dolopril” (a prilled calcium/magnesium product), “Calpril”(a calcium only lime if your soil doesn’t need magnesium) and “Dolomite” (powdered lime). 

How do you manage your pasture’s health in the spring? 

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