Wood ash can pile up during a cold winter, and it would be nice to have a practical use for it. It has often been used as a soil amendment in gardens. In recent years, gardeners have been given mixed signals about the safety and value of using wood ash on their garden soil. Is it safe to use wood ash in the garden?
As with most gardening questions, the answer is "That depends." You have to know a little about both your soil and the ashes themselves.
Benefits for Soil
Ashes from fireplaces and wood-burning stoves can be a good source of potassium. To a lesser degree, they also provide some phosphorus, a bit of aluminum, magnesium, and sodium, and a few micro-nutrients, such as boron, copper, molybdenum, sulfur, and zinc. The amount of nutrients in the wood ash is not particularly high, and it depends on the type of wood burned. But if your soil has a potassium deficiency, wood ashes can be a good amendment.
Benefits for Soil pH
Most wood ash contains a good percentage, about 25 percent, of calcium carbonate, an ingredient in garden lime. If your soil is very acidic (5.5 or lower), amending with wood ash can raise your soil pH.
On the other hand, if your soil is neutral or alkaline, to begin with, adding wood ash could raise the pH high enough to interfere with the plant's ability to take in nutrients. Wood ash should also be avoided around acid-loving plants like rhododendrons and blueberries.
Negative Effects in the Garden
Unfortunately, wood ash can also be a source of heavy metals such as cadmium, chromium, or lead, which you don't necessarily want in your garden. However, most studies have not shown that if the soil pH is above 6.0, the heavy metals are not taken in by the plants in measurable amounts. And since wood ash raises the soil pH, the presence of heavy metals should not be a problem. If you have a regular source of wood ash and are worried about the extended use of it in your garden, you should consider having it tested in a lab.
The bottom line is that a small amount of wood ash will add some nutrients and be beneficial to most soils. Large amounts should be avoided.
- Never use wood ash in the garden, especially around edible plants, if any fuel or wood preservative was used on the wood.
Slugs and snail are repelled by wood ash, and if they do come in contact with it, it acts much like salt and desiccates their bodies.
Wood ash can also be used to smother aphids. Dust a fine layer onto infested plants, coating the aphids. You can hose the ash off the plants, once it has done its job.