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North Idaho Gardening: The Benefits and Uses of Wood Ash

Updated: Feb 24

Here in North Idaho, many of us live in the woods surrounded by coniferous forests where our soil tends to be acidic; coincidentally, many use a wood-burning stove to heat our homes, and we're constantly cleaning them out from the dirty wood ash.

Wood ash is a byproduct of burning wood, and while it may seem like just another form of waste, it can be a valuable resource for gardeners.

A bucket of wood ash ready for the garden


Benefits of Wood Ash for Garden Soil

Wood ash contains a variety of minerals that can benefit garden soil. Some of the most essential minerals in wood ash include calcium, potassium, phosphorous, and magnesium. These minerals can help adjust the soil pH, making it less acidic and more alkaline, which benefits many plants.


It's important to note that wood ash should not be used around acid-loving plants like blueberries or azaleas, as it can raise the pH level too high and cause damage to them. However, it can be used around other types of plants to provide a nutrient boost.



Uses of Wood Ash in the Garden


Before amending your soil with wood ash, it's essential to check the pH of your soil to ensure that you're not making the soil too alkaline. The ideal pH for most plants is between 6.0 and 7.5, slightly acidic to neutral.

To check the pH of your soil, you can use a soil pH testing kit available at most garden centers. Alternatively, you can send a soil sample to a lab for analysis. Once you have determined the pH of your soil, you can then amend it with wood ash accordingly.

If your soil is already alkaline (pH above 7.5), avoid using wood ash as a soil amendment, as it will increase the pH even further. Instead, you can use other organic materials, such as compost or manure, to improve soil fertility.


In addition to its benefits for soil, wood ash can be used as a pest repellent in the garden. Sprinkling the ash around the base of plants can help to repel slugs, snails, and other pests that can damage crops. I use this method around my newly planted dahlias with great success.


Wood ash can also be used in chicken coops to repel mites and other parasites that can harm chickens. Sprinkling it around the coop and on the chickens can help to keep these pests at bay. I've used a simple paste by mixing it with water and slathering it on their legs and feet to control leg mites.




While wood ash can be a valuable resource for gardeners, it is important to use it wisely. One common mistake is adding it to your compost, which can disrupt the composting process. It is alkaline and can raise the pH of the compost, which can slow down or even stop the decomposition process.


In conclusion, wood ash is a valuable gardening resource that can benefit soil and plants. Just be sure to use it wisely and avoid using it around acid-loving plants or in compost.



Here's a list of acid-loving plants that wouldn't appreciate a wood ash treatment.


Rhododendrons

Blueberries

Hydrangeas

Azaleas

Dogwood

Holly

Marigolds

Bleeding Heart

Broccoli

Iris

Potatoes

Begonias

and so many more


Happy Planting!

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