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Adjust Your Soil's pH
Before applying anything, it is best to test your own soil or obtain test results from a professional testing service. If your soil test shows that the soil pH is low, add lime according to the test recommendations. If you did your own pH test and thus have no recommendations to go by, use the accompanying charts to determine how much lime to apply. If you're unsure of your test results, be conservative. Too much of an amendment can be as detrimental to your lawn as none at all.
Lime amendments come in various forms, from ground oyster shells to liquids. Agricultural ground limestone is the preferred type because it is readily available and can be safely, easily, and accurately applied with a drop or rotary spreader. There are two types of agricultural ground limestone: dolomitic and calcitic. Both contain calcium carbonate, a grass nutrient, and a neutralizer for acidic soil. Dolomitic limestone contains magnesium, another important nutrient, as well as calcium carbonate. Use dolomitic limestone if your soil is deficient in magnesium. Calcitic limestone does not contain magnesium, making it more appropriate if your soil is already high in magnesium. However, adding dolomitic limestone to soil already high in magnesium has not been shown to cause lawn problems.
For faster results, choose a finely ground limestone. Fine grinds begin to correct the soil pH faster than coarse grinds. Coarsely ground limestone acts slowly and is better suited for use once you have raised your pH to a desirable range. You can tell fine lime from coarse if you understand the information on the package. The higher the percentage of ground lime that passes through the finer sieves, the finer the grind. Sieves are graded by number; the higher the number the smaller the sieve holes. Look for a product stating that 50 percent or more of the ground limestone will pass through a number 100 sieve. Caution: Fine grinds can burn grass. Check instructions on the packaging.
One more thing to keep in mind when buying lime is its relative purity. Liming materials are rated according to their Calcium Carbonate Equivalent (CCE). A CCE rating of 100 is equal to pure calcium carbonate; less than 100 indicates less neutralizing ability than calcium carbonate. Account for the CCE when figuring how much lime to apply to your lawn. If the CCE of the product you purchase is 80 and your soil test recommendations assume a CCE of 100, you will need to increase the recommended application rate by 20 percent.
As you can see from the chart, the more clay and organic content in your soil, the more lime you will need to correct the pH. Sandy soils require less lime to raise pH. If you need to add more that 40 pounds of lime per 1000 square feet to correct your pH, do it in two or more applications. And don't apply lime with fertilizer mixed in the same spreader. The resulting chemical reaction will release the nitrogen you want for your grass into the air. After spreading lime, water the lawn to wash the particles off the grass leaves and into the soil.
To lower the pH, add sulfur according to you soil test recommendations. Sulfur amendments are also available in the form of compounds, such as ammonium sulfate. These compounds can be used in place of elemental sulfur, but they can burn turf if used in excess. See amendment packaging for details on amounts that can be safely applied to turfgrass.
If you are relying on your own test kit and not a professional test, follow the recommendations in the chart. Sulfur acts within one month to lower soil pH. To avoid applying too much, don't try to make your correction in one application. To meet recommended amounts, make several surface applications a few weeks apart and water the grass after each application.
Terry Blackburn. Internet Marketing Consultant, living in South Shields in the North-East of England. Author and Producer of blog http://www.lawnsurgeon.blogspot.com Author of "Your Perfect Lawn," a 90 Page eBook devoted to Lawn Preparation, Lawn Care and Maintenance. Find it at http://www.lawnsurgeon.com
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