Smart Uses for Wood Ash

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Don’t Trash Your Ash

uses for wood ash
Creative Commons License photo credit: erix!

Sipping cocoa by the fire on chilly days is the best. After you’ve enjoyed the warmth and comforting glow of the fire, ashes, like other small things, start to add up. Wood ashes contain phosphorous, potassium and small amounts of other good stuff for plants. The best time to apply wood ashes to lawns and gardens is in the winter, so use these tips to get the most out of something you thought might be waste, but has many benefits.

Other Uses For Wood Ash

Reduce, reuse and recycle wood ash. Use it to:

  • Neutralize the odor on your pet after a skunk spray
  • Make soap- by using the lye produced after soaking ashes in water
  • Melt ice on driveways and pathways
  • Make a paste to shine metal

TIP: If you’re planning on using wood ash, use only newspaper or plain paper for your kindling or newsprint that isn’t glossy. Avoid staples and wood with nails.

Recycle Wood Ash in the Garden

Wood ash makes a great natural soil amendment because it raises the pH, or alkalinity, of the soil. Be mindful of plants that like a lower pH, and generally limit the application of ashes to about 5 pounds per 100 square feet of soil per year. Have your lawn and garden soil tested every 2-3 years to find out what kind of fertilizer and amendments are needed for a healthy garden.

Wood Ash as Fertilizer

We mentioned earlier that wood ash contains essential minerals that are beneficial to plants. Wait about a month after removing them from the woodstove or fireplace, and mix the ashes into the soil thoroughly before planting. Make sure it’s not a windy day, and give plants a rinse after applying. By working ashes into the soil and rinsing off, you avoid burning fragile plant leaves. Salts in the ash can also harm young plants, so don’t apply to new plant roots or germinating seed.

Chemistry Lessons

Lye is formed when potassium in woods ash combines with soil water. This is what raises the soil pH. If your soil tests show a pH of 7.0 or more, there’s no need to apply wood ash.

Ground limestone also raises the pH of soil, but it takes a lot longer because it doesn’t dissolve as easily as wood ash in water. In regulating alkalinity, the general rule is that one pound of limestone equals two pounds of wood ashes.

Safe Storage

You’ll want to use a covered metal container to store wood ashes. Place the container outside on cement at least three feet from anything that can catch on fire. Even though the ashes may appear cold, hot embers may be underneath, so don’t store on a wooden deck.

Be careful that you are not burning wood that is chemically treated, or commercially produced logs that may contain toxic additives and chemicals. The ash from such items may contaminate your space, so choose untreated wood and remember that recommendations can vary from city to city. Find out about your local regulation and use your own judgement.

What About Other Kinds of Ash?

Coal Ash – Unlike wood ash, coal ash contain toxins like heavy metals that should not be placed in your garden. Some waste haulers will pick up coal ashes. Fly ash is an industrial byproduct from coal power plants, which is collected. Some studies show that coating concrete with residual ash from burning coal can strengthen it. Several states allow the use of ash as a substitute for aggregate in concrete mixes.

Charcoal Briquettes – These little BBQ gems are bound together with chemicals including sodium borate, which is toxic to plants and also should not be placed in your garden.

Fun fact: Ancient Romans used volcanic ash in a limestone mix to build roads and structures, some of which are still standing to this day.

Now go roast some marshmallows and reuse those ashes!

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