Many lawns and gardens here in the East are in trouble because the soil is too acid. Soil acidity markedly affects the availability of nutrients to plants, affecting some more than others.
A summary of more than 1,000 lawn-soil samples at the University of Maryland showed 59 percent too acid and in need of lime. In lawns to be planted, the need for lime was even greater: 75 percent of the samples were too acid.
The best way to find out about your soil is to have it tested. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for instructions on how to take the samples and where to send them. The test will indicate how much lime to apply.
Many experiments through the years have shown that soil acidity has a pronounced effect on the availability of phosphorus. Strawberries, for example, have a high phosphorus requirement, and high yields cannot be achieved consistently when this element is in short supply. When the soil is too acid, phosphorus becomes unavailable; it's fixed as insoluble iron, aluminum and manganese phosphates.
In addition to their role in the fixation process, excess soluble aluminum and manganese are toxic to plants. Aluminum is probably the chief factor that inhibits growth of plants in most acid soils. Also, it's possible under acidic conditions for available calcium and magnesium to be deficient.
Overliming can be almost as harmful as too much lime, and can reduce the size of plants and fruit.
Pulverized limestone is highly recommended to reduce soil acidity rather than coarsely ground limestone. Finely ground material reacts faster and causes a more rapid change in soil acidity. On soils such as Norfolk fine sandy loam, less lime is required than on the heavier silt loam or silt clay loam soils.
If inadequate time is available to have your soil tested and you suspect the soil is acid, it's usually safe on areas that are to be planted in grass to apply 80 pounds of ground limestone per 1,000 square feet of area.
The lime should be incorporated and mixed with the top four to six inches of soil before seeding. Since lime moves downward only about an inch to an inch and a half per year, it's particularly important that the lime be thoroughly mixed with the soil so the acidity can be corrected through the root zone. Q: Can I get maple syrup from my red maple tree? A: All maple species produce a sap from which syrup can be made, but the sugar maple yields the largest amount of syrup per gallon of sap. It usually takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup. Maple syrup is obtained by boiling down the sap in an evaporator at a temperature of seven degrees above the boiling point of water. Q: My pyracantha is doing fine, has nice foliage and lots of young berries, but it's getting too big. Can I restrain it without losing all the berries? A: Almost any kind of pruning will remove growth with berries on it, but it will affect only this year's crop and next year there will be plenty of berries. Q: My problem is tomatoes. For the past several years the tomato is smooth and nice on the outside but is so woody inside that half of it has to be cut away. Is there any way to control this? A: There is a problem with tomatoes called "hard core," due mainly to cold weather at night early in the season. It may be you have been planting them at the bottom of a slope. Cold air, like water, flows downward and settles at the lowest point. It requires only a slope of a foot to cause damage to plants during early spring weather.