Ashes, Ashes , Can We Put Them All Around?

 Dan Sullivan, soil scientist with the Oregon State University Extension Service says that wood ash can be useful in home gardens, in your compost pile or as a pest repellent. 

"Since wood ash is derived from plant material, it contains most of the 13 essential nutrients the soil must supply for plant growth," said Sullivan. "When wood burns, nitrogen and sulfur are lost as gases, and calcium, potassium, magnesium and trace element compounds remain. The carbonates and oxides remaining after wood burning are valuable liming agents, raising pH, thereby helping to neutralize acid soils."

 Where soils are acid and low in potassium, wood ash is beneficial to most garden plants except acid-loving plants such as blueberries, rhododendrons and azaleas or to areas where potatoes will be planted; wood ash can promote potato scab.

 Wood ash is also useful for pest control. The salt in the wood ash will kill bothersome pests like snails, slugs and some kinds of soft bodied invertebrates. To use wood ash for pest control, simply sprinkle the wood ash around the base of plants that are being attacked by soft bodied pests. If the ash gets wet, you will need to refresh the wood ashes as the water will leach away the salt that makes wood ashes an effective pest control. 

Lawns that need lime and potassium also can benefit from wood ash. Apply no more than 10 to 15 pounds of ash per 1,000 square feet of lawn. 

Wood ash also will add nutrients to compost. Mix it into your compost pile as you build the pile.

"Remember that wood ash is alkaline, which means it has a high pH level," Sullivan said. "You should use the same precautions with it as when handling other strongly alkaline materials, such as household bleach."

Among Sullivan’s suggestions: 

  • Wear eye protection, gloves and a dust mask.
  • Do not scatter ashes in the wind. Apply recommended amounts to moist soil and rake lightly to mix.
  • Do not use ash from burning trash, cardboard, coal or pressure-treated, painted or stained wood. These materials can contain potentially harmful substances. For example, the glue in cardboard boxes and paper bags contains boron, an element that can inhibit plant growth at excessive levels.
  • Never leave wood ash in lumps or piles. If it is concentrated in one place, excessive salt from the ash can leach into the soil and create a harmful environment for plants.
  • Do not apply ash at time of seeding. Ash contains too many salts for seedlings.

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