Regular liming is critical to good crop production in our soils. A common question is when is the best time to lime? The bottom line is that anytime the soil conditions are appropriate for the spreading equipment and a growing crop does not limit spreading, is ok. However, there are some helpful considerations when to applying limestone.
Lime on a regular basis. If soils are regularly limed so that the pH never gets too low, then the actual timing of maintenance liming is not very critical. Regular liming provides maximum flexibility to lime when you have time and the conditions are right. In our soils liming every 3-4 years will usually meet this goal. Second, plan ahead. Even very high quality limestone takes some time to react and correct the acidity in the soil. Applying limestone at least 6 months ahead of when the desired pH is needed is a good guideline. This is especially important if the soil pH is very low. For example, if a new alfalfa seeding is planned liming should be considered the year before seeding or at least the fall before seeding. Finally, consider the soil conditions. The main concern here is compaction from heavy lime trucks. The best timing for a limestone application would be to apply limestone on a dry soil. Consequently, late summer and early fall may present some good opportunities for lime application. An excellent liming window is following small grain harvest. The fields are open for an extended period of time and the soil conditions are generally good for liming. Also, following corn silage harvest may be another good opportunity to lime when soil conditions are often favorable. This could be done before or after cover crop establishment. Also, liming in the late summer or fall helps avoid the spring rush and questionable weather and soil conditions.
If you miss these windows for liming, another alternative is to apply limestone on a frozen soil to minimize compaction. There are no problems with applying limestone on a frozen soil as long as the limestone stays where it is applied. The main thing here is not to apply limestone on a frozen soil where it might be directly washed off of the field by winter rains or snow melt. Thus avoid sloping fields, especially with little or no cover. Actually, if limestone is applied to a frozen soil or on a dry soil in the fall, there will likely be some shallow incorporation due to freezing and thawing action throughout the winter. This can be helpful in no-till or perennial crops where there will be no tillage to mix the limestone with the soil. Anytime is a good time to lime, but some times are better than others. Being prepared to take advantage of the ideal soil conditions for liming in the late summer or early fall can make the job easier and more effective.