Use caution when disposing of wood ashes in the garden

Many gardeners want to spread the ashes from their cozy fireplace in their garden, but think twice. Much of what makes up ash isn't needed in the Kansas City area.

Many gardeners want to spread the ashes from their cozy fireplace in their garden, but think twice. Much of what makes up ash isn’t needed in the Kansas City area.

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Local gardeners are always looking for magic concoctions to improve heavy clay soils quickly and easily. The best way to improve soil is to add organic matter.

During the winter months, many people get enough wood ash by building a cozy fireplace. One garden myth is that wood ash makes an excellent soil conditioner. is. It’s organic after all. Before you apply fireplace ash to your garden soil, understand that the benefits may not outweigh the risks.

Incorporating wood ash into the garden is said to make the soil more fertile. Ash contains significant amounts of potassium or potash, but very little phosphate and no nitrogen.

There is a potential problem here. Local soils are usually naturally high in potassium. Adding more may not help. Adding potassium increases the level. That is, there is a risk of soil saturation. As a result, other micronutrients naturally found in the soil that are needed for plant growth are not available to the plant.

Wood ash has another potential problem. Ash tends to have a higher pH. The spread of wood ash in local soils raises the pH level. Our local soils already tend to run on the high side. Addition continues to increase pH over time, reducing nutrient availability and resulting in reduced growth.

The bottom line is that wood ash offers little benefit to the soil and can do more harm than good.

So how do you dispose of the ash without putting it in the trash? The key is to spread the ash over a wide area to dilute their negative properties. The high acidity of the compost may offset the high pH of the ash. However, household compost tends to have a higher pH, and the pH continues to rise as the amount of ash in the compost increases.

The ash can be lightly spread over the lawn where the density is decreasing. If you keep spraying the same spot year after year, you’ll end up with soil problems.

A soil test offered through your local county extension office is beneficial. The test determines the pH of the soil. This will tell you if the pH is already naturally high. That is, ash should not be applied. Alternatively, it may be on the underside and the application may not harm the soil.

The cost of soil testing varies from county to county, but they are usually offered for a minimal fee. Johnson County residents are encouraged to take advantage of free periodic soil analyzes to test soil pH, phosphorus, and potassium levels provided by Johnson County K-State Research and Extension through a grant from Johnson County Stormwater Management. It is recommended. The test results provide a baseline fertility level for healthy lawns and gardens. Not only does this help control pH, but it also provides guidelines on when and how to fertilize.

For those who burn wood occasionally, spreading the ash over a wider area is the best disposal method. You may need to be more creative about what you do.

Dennis Patton is a horticultural agent for Research and Extension at Kansas State University. Have questions for him or other university extension professionals? Email them to

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