It’s primarily soil or crop limitations that guide the timing of lime application more so than the season. At least that's the way Dennis Beegle, Penn State extension soil scientist, sees it.

In a recent Penn State Field Crop News, Beegle emphasizes that regular liming is critical to good crop production when soil pH is below optimum. He noted, however, soil test summaries in his state indicate that liming is often not given the same priority as soil nutrient fertility.

When planning a liming program, Beegle suggests four primary considerations.

  1. Lime on a regular basis. “If soils are regularly limed so that the pH never gets too low, then the timing of maintenance liming is not very critical,” says Beegle. Regular liming provides maximum flexibility to lime when there's time and the conditions allow. A three- to four-year liming cycle matches up nicely with a soil-testing schedule.
  2. Plan ahead. Apply limestone at least six months ahead of when the desired pH is needed. “Even very high-quality limestone takes some time to react and correct soil acidity,” explains Beegle. Getting lime on the field long before the crop is planted is especially important if the soil pH is very low.
  3. Consider soil conditions. Don't create a compaction problem by allowing heavy lime trucks to drive on fields when soils are wet. Beegle notes that the ideal application condition is when soils are dry, but a possible alternative is to make applications on frozen fields. He cautions, “The main thing 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. Fields with significant slope are probably not good candidates when soils are frozen.”
  4. Apply evenly. Spread limestone uniformly for maximum effectiveness. Beegle notes that it's difficult to get an even application with a manure spreader using field-dumped lime, especially if the limestone pile has frozen.

Beegle concludes, “The bottom line is that liming must be a priority in crop management, and anytime is a good time to lime, including winter, as long as you pay attention to a few important details.”