by Jennifer Poindexter
Do you burn wood in or around your home? If so, you probably have a great deal of ash piling up in buckets from emptying fire pits, wood stoves, or fireplaces.
Don’t let this resource go to waste. It can improve the quality of your garden soil, if used in the correct ways.
If you’re unsure of how to use ashes in your garden, I’m going to walk you through it. There are some things you’ll want to avoid doing when using the ashes in your growing space.
By taking the time to understand the pros and cons of using wood ashes in your soil, it could save you both headache and money.
Here’s what you should know about using wood ash in your garden.
What You Should Know About Using Wood Ash in the Garden
1. Wood Ash is a Great Source of Potassium and Lime
Wood ash is an inexpensive way to provide your plants with both potassium and lime. However, you must be careful when applying wood ash to your plants.
If you’ve ever researched how people once made homemade soap, you know it involved wood ashes. The ashes will produce salt and lye when wet.
Therefore, you must apply the wood ashes carefully to your plants. You can sprinkle a small amount around the base of the plant or add the wood ash to your compost.
This will ensure that there aren’t large amounts of ash around your plants at any given time. If the ashes become wet, it won’t matter because there will only be small traces of salt and lye reaching your plant.
However, large amounts of ashes will burn your plants. We’ll talk more about composting wood ashes in our next point.
For now, focus on the fact that wood ashes are a great source of nutrients for your crops when applied correctly.
2. Wood Ash Is Great for Compost
It’s recommended that you add your wood ashes to your compost pile when possible. As discussed in the previous section, when wood ash becomes wet, it leaks lye and salt.
Too much of these ingredients can burn your plants. However, when you compost them, it allows the ashes time to drain away these ingredients.
Therefore, by the time the compost is added to your garden, the amount of lye and salt will be minimal, and the wood ash will have a positive impact on your plants.
If you keep a compost pile, take your cooled wood ashes to the pile. It will take time for them to break down, but they’ll be a beneficial ingredient to your garden if given the opportunity.
3. The Type of Wood, Creating the Ash, Matters
You might think all wood ash is created equal. This isn’t the case. Just as different woods burn differently, they also produce different nutrients.
Some people burn softwoods such as pine. While other people burn hardwoods, such as oak. Hardwoods create more nutrients for your garden than softwoods.
This could have something to do with the amount of time it takes each type of tree to grow. Generally, hardwood trees grow slower than softwood trees.
Therefore, giving them more time to absorb nutrients. Plus, hardwood trees have a different method of moving nutrients throughout the plant than softwood trees do which could also impact the amount of nutrients the trees’ ashes produce.
Keep all of this in mind, when deciding which type of wood to burn around your home, if your end goal is to help your garden.
4. Wood Ash is Good for Battling Pests
Do you have a pest problem in your garden? You don’t have to turn to store bought solutions. Instead, reach for your wood ashes.
Remember, you should only use fresh wood ashes in small amounts. If you have snails or slugs hanging around your garden, sprinkle some wood ash beneath the base of the plant.
As we mentioned earlier, wood ashes contain salt. Snails and slugs can’t survive where there’s salt. Therefore, the wood ashes should handle your pest issues.
If it rains, after you apply the ashes, the salt may become diluted. In this case, add more wood ashes around the base of your plants to keep pests away.
5. Wood Ash Can Improve Soil pH Levels
Wood ashes are a natural way of boosting your soil’s pH level which will lower the acidity in your soil. This is ideal for many plants.
However, know your plants’ growing conditions before adding too much wood ash to your garden. If you have acid loving plants in your growing space, wood ash won’t prove beneficial for them.
In some cases, as with blueberries, you should avoid using wood ash to amend the soil. By understanding the needs of your plants, you’ll know where to apply wood ash and where to avoid it.
Different Times to Apply Wood Ash to Your Growing Spaces
Now that we’ve discussed the things you must know prior to using wood ash, let’s talk about when you might choose to apply it to your garden.
There are a few different methods as to when you can use wood ash in your garden spaces. One method is to apply the ashes during the colder portions of the year.
Every time you empty your wood stove or fireplace, be sure you allow the ashes to cool. When they’ve cooled completely, dump them in your garden.
You can spread them over the space with a rake to keep the application balanced. By applying the wood ashes directly to the garden space, over the winter, you’re providing enough time for them to break down before plants grow in these areas again.
Obviously, this method probably won’t work if you live in a planting zone where you’re covered in snow the majority of the winter.
However, I live in a southern climate, and I’m able to toss the ashes from my wood stove over my garden throughout the winter months. I’ve had positive results using this method and love that I’m not wasting a resource readily available around my home.
Another method for applying your wood ash is to toss cooled ashes into your compost pile. Once the compost is ready to be used, your wood ashes should be safe for application as well.
This method might work in all climates. Again, it will depend upon if you can access your compost pile during the winter months.
Even if you can’t, if you have bonfires during the warmer months, you can utilize those ashes in your compost. Be sure you let them cool before tossing them into your compost pile.
The final method for applying wood ashes to your garden space is to apply them as you would fertilizer. Every time you amend your garden soil or fertilize your garden, sprinkle safe amounts of wood ash around your plants to provide nutrients and deter pests.
Be sure to store your wood ashes in a safe, dry location. This will allow them to be ready for use when it’s time to fertilize your plants or amend garden soil.
Hopefully, these tips will help you have a better understanding of how you can, or cannot, use wood ashes in your growing spaces.
Use the mentioned application times as a guide to safely add wood ashes to your garden. If you take it slow, when applying ashes to your garden, your plants should be safe. Small applications will also allow you to stretch this, otherwise, wasted resource.