How to Improve Soil with Ashes

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Successful gardening starts with dirt rich in nutrients. If you have ever seen a field burned by fire, you know that by the following year, new growth bounces back with a fury. It's not just the extra sunlight reaching plants that were shaded before, it's the ash from the fire soaking nutrients into the ground. You can duplicate the effects of a natural or controlled burn by amending your soil with ash from wood fires.

Things You'll Need

  • A supply of wood ash (preferably from your own fireplace)
  • Garden gloves
  • Respirator
  • Safety glasses
  • Bucket
  • Tape measure
  • Spade
  • Shovel
  • Watering can
  • Water
  • Put on a respirator and safety glasses to keep flying ash from getting into your lungs and eyes. Take ashes from sources without toxic plastics or styrofoam. Your own fireplace or backyard fire pit is best because you know what's been burned there.

  • Shovel ashes carefully into a 5-gallon bucket, working slowly to prevent dust and fly-weight ash from floating into the air. Add a little water to keep dust down.

  • Measure the square footage of the soil area you want to amend by multiplying its length times width in feet. A 5-gallon bucket of ash will amend an area of 1,000 sq. ft. Do the math and err on the conservative side; too much ash can create other soil problems.

  • Spade soil in your garden to a depth of 6 inches with a spade or shovel, breaking up clumps and clods by hand. Wearing gloves, sprinkle handfuls of ash onto the soil and mix in by hand. Add water from a watering can to keep ash from flying up if conditions are dry.

  • Spread ash evenly and rake in lightly after spreading. Clumps of ash over-concentrate nutrients and potentially can burn tender shoots and plants.

  • Continue watering as usual for your climate and wet/dry conditions. The ash will sink into the soil quickly, raising the pH to an excellent level for vigorous growth.

  • Neutralize overly acidic soil by digging handfuls of ash into soil beneath pine trees and evergreens to make it more hospitable for ivy and hosta plantings.

Tips & Warnings

  • Ashes from burning hardwood trees like oak or ash provide more nutrients per pound than soft woods like pine or fruit trees. Ash from one cord of burned oak will amend the soil for 60 to 70 sq. ft. of garden soil.

References

  • Photo Credit ashes image by Stepanov from Fotolia.com fireplace image by askthegeek from Fotolia.com tape measure ruler image by MichMac from Fotolia.com watering can image by Bartlomiej Nowak from Fotolia.com hosta image by cs83 from Fotolia.com detail of siberian silver spruce image by Tomo Jesenicnik from Fotolia.com
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