Now’s the time to ap­ply the lime

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - HOME - Peter Cun­dall

THERE are sev­eral rea­sons why lime is ap­plied to parts of the gar­den in au­tumn and early win­ter. The most im­por­tant one is be­cause it must be kept sep­a­rate from high- ni­tro­gen fer­tilis­ers, most of which are ap­plied later in early spring.

Lime must never be used at the same time as high- ni­tro­gen fer­tilis­ers such as fish emulsion or poul­try ma­nure be­cause they don’t mix. They tend to col­lide and much of the ben­e­fit from each is lost into the at­mos­phere.

We also ap­ply lime at the start of the dor­mant sea­son be­cause those hardy veg­eta­bles which are planted in, or keep grow­ing through win­ter, such as broad beans, onions, gar­lic, English spinach, globe ar­ti­chokes, as­para­gus and most bras­si­cas all hap­pen to be lime- lovers.

In other words, they pre­fer a sweet soil and de­test acidic con­di­tions.

Lime is not a fer­tiliser – it makes acidic or sour soil more al­ka­line and sweeter and many Tas­ma­nian soils are acidic.

This can be a prob­lem be­cause when soil is too acidic, many of the min­er­als needed by plants be­come un­avail­able, or locked up.

So lime can also be a great un- locker for lime- loving plants grow health­ier, crop bet­ter, are more dis­ease- re­sis­tant and less at­trac­tive to in­sect pests.

Lime also has an­other vi­tal role. It en­ables many soil or­gan­isms, es­pe­cially the dif­fer­ent types of bac­te­ria, moulds and other fungi to op­er­ate more ef­fi­ciently. This is why it is al­ways a good idea to ap­ply lime gen­er­ously around most ap­ple, pear, peach, nec­tarine, apri­cot and plum trees in early win­ter.

Right now, the ground around th­ese trees is cov­ered with fallen leaves and the halfde­cayed, in­creas­ingly acidic re­mains of fallen fruit.

How­ever, this de­bris is also the main win­ter habi­tat of some of the most per­sis­tent and de­struc­tive dis­ease or­gan­isms such as acidlov­ing scab and brown- rot.

So the act of sprin­kling lime over this fruit tree de­bris is to rapidly in­crease its rate of de­com­po­si­tion, which in turn de­stroys many dis­ease or­gan­isms.

Even bet­ter, earth­worm pop­u­la­tions thrive in well- limed soil, so they too mul­ti­ply and play a vi­tal role in con­vert­ing all or­ganic de­bris into valu­able worm casts.

In the or­na­men­tal gar­den I sprin­kle lime gen­er­ously around li­lac trees ev­ery June. They grow bet­ter, stronger and bloom bril­liantly ev­ery spring.

But keep it away from lime- haters such as rhodo­den­drons, aza­leas, camel­lias, er­i­cas and most Aus­tralian plants.

Lime is cal­cium and there are sev­eral forms. Much of the stuff we use on our gar­dens is noth­ing more than finely ground lime­stone, com­monly known as “agri­cul­tural lime”.

The finer the par­ti­cles, the more ef­fec­tive it is. Some­times this lime­stone also con­tains an­other es­sen­tial min­eral mag­ne­sium.

This mag­ne­sium lime­stone is usu­ally avail­able as dolomite. It is par­tic­u­larly valu­able for use on heav­ily leached, light or sandy soils at the nor­mal rate of a hand­ful to the square me­tre.

How­ever, when lumps of hard lime­stone rock are placed in kilns and then brought to a red heat, a re­mark­able change will have taken place af­ter cool­ing.

The lime­stone not only changes to a grey­white colour but be­comes soft and pow­dery.

The most dra­matic change is with the ex­tra­or­di­nary volatil­ity of this pow­der.

It has be­come quick- lime and it can be danger­ous and dif­fi­cult to han­dle. Even if stone- cold, quick- lime will im­me­di­ately heat up to boil­ing point pro­duc­ing clouds of steam and swell rapidly when sprayed with wa­ter. This is why it is no longer avail­able for pub­lic use.

Just the same this wet­ting or “slak­ing” process is de­lib­er­ately car­ried out at lime quar­ries be­cause the fi­nal re­sult af­ter cool­ing a sec­ond time is the su­per- fine, white “hy­drated” lime used mainly by builders.

I pre­fer to use it on the gar­den be­cause at around $ 15 per 20kg bag it is won­der­fully cheap. It also does the job of soil- sweet­en­ing far more rapidly than ground lime­stone or dolomite and far less is needed to do the job.

In short, builders’ lime is half the price, twice as fast and less is needed.

The prob­lem is it may cause prob­lems with peo­ple with sen­si­tive skins and the fine par­ti­cles can be ir­ri­tat­ing if breathed in.

Just the same, many build­ing work­ers use this stuff ev­ery day of the week and most get used to it.

I’ve used this fine lime for half a life­time, chuck­ing it about with great aban­don with no ill ef­fects.

In spring, I also spray builders’ lime mixed with wa­ter over our ap­ple and pear fo­liage in Oc­to­ber to con­trol scab dis­ease. An­other ap­pli­ca­tion in early De­cem­ber also con­trols pear and cherry slug in­fes­ta­tion.

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