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Using Wood Ashes in Your Garden

If your house is equipped with a wood-burning fireplace or you have a fire pit in your backyard, put the left over ashes to work in the garden. As long as you follow a few simple precautions, wood ashes can be used to benefit the garden in three ways: as a fertilizer, as a soil amendment, or as an insect repellent.

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Use Wood Ashes as a Fertilizer

As a fertilizer, wood ashes are a good source of potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and aluminum. They typically contain less than 10% potash, 1 % phosphate, and trace amounts of micro-nutrients such as iron, manganese, boron, copper, and zinc. (Wood ashes do not contain nitrogen.) The exact chemical make-up of ashes varies according to wood type (hardwood ashes contain higher potassium levels than softwood ashes). If compared to a commercial fertilizer, wood ashes would probably read about 0-1-3 (N-P-K).

Use Wood Ashes to Raise pH

Wood ashes contain approximately 25% calcium carbonate and behave like a liming agent when added to your soil (raises the pH). Because ashes are soluble in water, they can quickly correct pH levels when added to acidic soil (pH less than 5.5).

If you're unsure of your soil's pH, don't add wood ashes to your soil until you have it tested. Raising the soil's pH above optimum levels can adversely affect the health of your plants. When pH levels rise above 7.0 (neutral), important nutrients like phosphorus, iron, boron, and potassium start to chemically bond to the soil and become less available to plants.

Use Wood Ashes to Repel Insects

Because of its ability to absorb water, wood ashes can also be sprinkled around plants to prevent attacks from snails and slugs. Once wet, the ashes lose their effectiveness and must be reapplied. To avoid causing chemical burns to your plants, sprinkle small amounts of ashes evenly around the base of the plant, and rinse off any that comes in contact with the foliage.

Tips for Safe Application

  • Soils that are slightly acidic (pH 6.0 to 6.5) should be able to safely handle an application of 20 pounds of ashes per 1000 square feet annually (approximately one 5-gallon pail) without changing the pH. This is the equivalent of 6 pounds of ground limestone per 1,000 square feet. If you're trying to raise the soil's pH, you'll need to add more.
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  • Wood ashes act quickly once added to the soil. If you use them, have your soil tested regularly (every two years) to make sure the proper pH levels are being maintained.

  • Wood ashes intended as a fertilizer or used to correct pH should be applied in the winter, or worked into the soil several weeks before planting. Apply the ashes to the soil evenly. Avoid piles and mounds, which can cause salts to build up in the soil.

  • Never use ashes near acid-loving plants like potatoes, rhododendrons and blueberries.

Handling & Storage

  • Wood ash is a strong alkaline (like bleach) and should be handled with caution. Wear eye protection, gloves, and a dust mask while handling it, and avoid scattering ash when windy. Make sure ashes are completely "burned out" and cool before collecting them for use. To reduce the risk of fire, store them in a metal container with a secure lid.

Ashes From Charcoal Grills

Ashes from charcoal grills should never be used in the garden due to the chemical residues left by processed charcoal. The same is true of ashes obtained from cardboard, and ashes from wood that has been pressure-treated, painted, or stained. All contain harmful chemicals that could potentially contaminate soil and inhibit plant growth.

About The Author: Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services.


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February 28, 20110 found this helpful

Our contractor swears by putting wood dust in the flower beds. I tried a little last year, but couldn't tell the difference. Doesn't mean it doesn't work, of course, but ...

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Share on ThriftyFunThis guide contains the following solutions. Have something to add? Please share your solution!

July 21, 2015

I love old things. I have several old maple trees on my property. If it's in the program, I will outlive these ivy covered ancients. I'll hate to see them go. They are a comfort to me.

Being as old as they are, I can walk my little domain each morning and find twigs and small branches scattered about. I pick them up and add them to a pile along a wooden fence. Eventually, the pile becomes rather large and must be removed. And so, I make several treks to the curbside where I deposit this debris. It may lie there several days or several weeks before the city picks up the unsightly mess.

While dragging or carrying armloads of this fallen wood to the curb, a picture usually comes to mind. I saw this picture many years ago, maybe in National Geographic. It is of a poor woman who lives in the desert. She has hungry children and just a little food. That food must be cooked, but she has no wood for a fire. Wood must be found. I've often wished I could somehow transport my wood to her.

If I remember correctly, the text accompanying the picture stated that a good portion of the woman's time is spent looking for small twigs and branches, each day. Something to think about when you effortlessly turn a dial or push a button on your programmable, porcelain encased electric range.

How does this little story tie in with the total failure of my 2015 watermelon crop?

This year, I planted two varieties of watermelon I had never grown before. One was the hybrid 'Yellow Doll'. This melon is absolutely delicious. To me, it tastes more like ice cream than watermelon. I'll take it over any red watermelon, any day.

The other was the heirloom 'Orange Tendersweet'. I've never tasted this melon. Reports are that it is very good. If it's half as good as Yellow Doll, I will be pleased.

People, I was alive with anticipation, checking the growth of the melons, often. Golly, I had an awful lot of melons! Maybe I should plan a watermelon feast with a few friends. Yes, I think I'll do just that.

Then, something that had been brewing in my subconscious, finally forced it's way to the surface. Guess I had been denying something was wrong with the melons. Now I had to admit it. I had been thinking the shape of the melons was rather odd. On closer examination, I found the melons were quite soft and had begun to shrivel. All my melons, soft and shriveled. I hurt.

I picked several at various stages of growth, grouped them on the ground and took a picture. I sent this picture to the local ag agent and asked if he knew what might have caused my melon failure. He concluded the problem was blossom end rot, most likely brought about by inconsistent watering or lack of calcium, or both.

Addressing the calcium issue, he advised that all gardens where vegetables are to be grown, should have an annual dressing of lime or wood ash. He added that it could take months to derive benefits from lime whereas the benefits of wood ash are immediate.

I had purchased lime in years past. I used it on my lawn every second or third year. I'm thrifty minded, not parsimonious. Yet, the last time I priced lime, I was shocked. I refused to buy it. I'm still trying to recover from the sharp increase in the price of fertilizer.

At my age, light bulbs don't 'go off' in my head as often as they use to. I did have a flash today, though. Doug! Here you are lugging all this wood to the curb where it lies for who knows how long when you could be burning it for wood ash. Get it, Doug? Free wood ash for your garden.

Alas, my fair city has an ordinance against burning yard waste. Well, it was a nice thought while it lasted. Think Doug! OK, the neighbors build fires in their grills, using charcoal and starter fluid, causing the emanation of heavy, petroleum based fumes that rape the nostrils as they waft my way. A maple wood fire would be just as safe and smell a heck of a lot nicer.

I don't cook out, but my fair city doesn't know that. And as far as I know, there's no ordinance dictating my choice of fuel, if I did. Perhaps I would prefer a hickory smoke flavor added to my grilled version of Chateaubriand, or better yet, a maple smoke flavor.

Here's the deal. I round up an old grill, maybe through Freecycle. I purchase a cheap pack of wieners. With garden hose handy, I build a twig and branch maple wood fire in the grill. The pack of wieners kept nearby will serve as evidence of my intent; that is, to grill food, not burn yard waste. People, I'm ready to shovel wood ashes from my grill!

In one fell swoop (always wondered what a fell swoop is), I defy the city, yet reduce it's workload somewhat, keep my property free of piles of twigs and limbs, eliminate the curbside eyesore, and gain much needed and free, wood ash for my garden. All the while wishing there was a way I could share my good fortune with that poor lady of the desert.

These are the days.

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January 1, 20051 found this helpful

Use ashes from your fireplace to sprinkle in your garden. It wards off slugs, as well as many other harmful insects. The ashes act as shards of glass as they crawl on the dirt.

By Palma

Comment Was this helpful? 1

By 1 found this helpful
February 13, 2008

Don't know what to do with those ashes? This is a tip for those who have ash from a wood burner or fireplace. Place it in your garden or flower beds over winter, not all in the same place, just here and there. In spring as you till/working the ash in the ground, you'll find how it makes your ground so much more lose and easy to work with.

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I also think there is some added fertilizer that naturally comes from the ash. It really does good things to your ground. Can't wait for spring, have had enough of winter. Here in WI.

By Adele from Sheboygan Falls, WI

Comment Was this helpful? 1

November 3, 20041 found this helpful

A coffee can makes a handy shaker for applying ashes to your garden. Simply punch holes in the plastic lid with a leather punch, fill the can with ashes, and you're ready to go. Keep an extra, unpunched lid to use as a cover when storing the ashes.

By Joesgirl

Comment Was this helpful? 1

By 0 found this helpful
June 28, 2011

If you have a fireplace or wood stove, take your ashes and put them around your plants. Your plants will grow better, and less or no weeds will grow there.

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Questions

Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

By 0 found this helpful
November 21, 2007

Can I use wood ashes on my pineapple and apple tree?

Hardiness Zone: 8b

Robert from Montverde, Florida

Answer Was this helpful? Yes
By guest (Guest Post)
December 5, 20070 found this helpful

I didn't know pineapples grew on a tree.

Or is that a name for an oramental tree?

Reply Was this helpful? Yes
By guest (Guest Post)
December 6, 20070 found this helpful

No one said pineapples grew on trees. If you look it says

pineapple and apple tree, not pineapple tree.

Reply Was this helpful? Yes

January 15, 20120 found this helpful

Can ash from a log burner be used in the garden?

By Tony

Answer Was this helpful? Yes
January 16, 20120 found this helpful

It depends on two things-what you are burning, and what you are growing. The following link describes it much better than I can, but essentially, using the ash in your garden is a good thing-adding potassium to raise PH in too-acidic a bed, and providing some pest control as well:

http://extensio  -if-used-caution

My husband and I live in Scotland and burn primarily oak and larch (acidic). We do put the ashes from our wood stoves into the compost heaps and it seems to be a help to our garden beds.

Hope this helps.

Reply Was this helpful? Yes
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