Wood ash

Ash dispersionBefore firing up the grill the night we had lamb burgers, Steve carried trowelsful of charcoal ash over to the garden and scattered it around the base of each plant. “It’s good for the plants,” he said, citing his Peace Corps housemate as the source of this knowledge.

It seemed as good a theory as any.

The next day, we went out to the garden center and bought a few marigolds for the garden and basil, Italian parsley, and lavender for me to put in containers. Steve was inside while I started repotting the herbs, but suddenly he came flying out the kitchen door and down the back steps.

“Where’s the trowel?” he said.

“I’m using it,” I said, continuing to load a container with potting mix.

“I need it,” he said. “Now!”

I handed it over, and he ran to the garden, where he began scraping at the dirt around the base of each plant. I started to laugh. “Something wrong?”

Wood ash,” he said. “Not charcoal ash. Wood ash is what’s good for the plants. I just looked it up on the Web.” He pronounced us very lucky that he had not actually worked the stuff into the soil.

Score another point for Saint Internet, patron to inadvertent gardeners everywhere.

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36 Responses to “Wood ash”


  1. 1 steven May 31, 2006 at 10:31 am

    I put wood ashes in the compost pile, but I’ve never spread it on plants because I was afraid it would burn since you can make lye from wood ashes and rain water. Well not sodium hydroxide, but potassium hydroxide. I’m a nerd.

  2. 3 inadvertentgardener May 31, 2006 at 11:38 pm

    That’s OK…a little nerdiness in the garden is just fine!

    :-) Genie

  3. 4 Becky June 1, 2006 at 1:03 pm

    Just an FYI, charcoal ash should never be used in the garden, it contains many harmful ickies that won’t do the plants any good. Wood ash (from fireplace, firepit, bonfire, etc.) can be used, but remember it’s alkaline, : )

  4. 5 inadvertentgardener June 1, 2006 at 10:23 pm

    Becky, that’s definitely good and helpful info. As far as Steve and I are concerned, we’re not putting down ANYthing unless it’s been thoroughly vetted by more than memory.

    Thanks for stopping by!

    :-) Genie

  5. 6 Steve June 2, 2006 at 7:49 am

    For the record, I put the ash on top of the ground but didn’t work it in or water it in and was able to scrape it off the next day…bad move on my part. I’m still castigating myself over it (and it’s the harmful ickies that necessitated the quick removal). It doesn’t seem to have done any damage…assume/hope it doesn’t do anything dangerous to the fruit/veggies. Sigh.

  6. 7 John May 3, 2007 at 6:40 pm

    I’ve got a lot of wood ash to get rid of. Who buys it or will take it?

  7. 9 inadvertentgardener May 6, 2007 at 4:56 pm

    John, I actually have no idea — you might try the Freecycle listserv for your area and see if anyone will take it off your hands.

  8. 10 Ken May 21, 2007 at 9:06 pm

    What type of “ickies”? Charcoal is:
    a. made from wood
    b. something millions of people use to cook food on.
    It’s not like it has nasty chemicals in it. It is alkaline, so alkaline loving plants should enjoy it.

    Ken

  9. 11 inadvertentgardener May 22, 2007 at 11:43 am

    Well, Ken, to be fair, I usually use the charcoal that has lighter fluid infused into it…that can’t possibly be good for the plants. And also, I’m never sure which plants love the alkaline and which don’t. Do you know good resources for verifying that information?

  10. 12 Clay May 26, 2007 at 4:56 am

    Then you are not talking about charcoal, but briquettes. Real charcoal is just carbonized wood. Sold as “lump.” Yer right, those briquettes have all kinds of other crap in them (like real coal) that might throw your calculations off.

  11. 13 inadvertentgardener May 26, 2007 at 9:56 am

    Clay, thanks for the clarification. Regardless, I’m still not going to put it on the garden…at least not anymore…

  12. 14 Clay May 31, 2007 at 4:46 pm

    No, I wouldn’t either. I do use real charcoal ash (from lump) in my compost, but wouldn’t use briquette ash anywhere but a landfill. The ash is from Anthracite coal and whatever the starch binders get turned into.

  13. 15 inadvertentgardener May 31, 2007 at 11:05 pm

    Clay, ick. That’s totally nasty. It’s probably not particularly good for the food that’s cooked on it, either!

  14. 16 inadvertant cook March 19, 2008 at 6:10 am

    I don’t even cook on charcoal, I use Hickory, White Oak etc… smoking quality wood. (Much better taste!) Always burn it down to coals. Don’t allow it to smolder (cold fire) and don’t cook on a flaming fire.. (taste and wood
    buy-products are an issue.)
    Smoking any food on any type of wood/wood by-product (charcoal) pose a risk of cancer, just like breathing the air can also cause cancer (but the alternative to breathing is not breathing… I will take my chances)

  15. 17 inadvertentgardener March 20, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    Inadvertent cook, I like your attitude. We’re all going to go somehow…might as well enjoy some delicious food along the way!

  16. 18 richard March 30, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    I heat with wood so i find myself with a lot of wood ash. I live in a community with restrictions so the lawn has to look good and i have started taking wood ash spreading it thinly on my lawn and plants and lightly watering it in to keep it off the foliage. So far i have a very nice St Auguustine lawn and my plants are doing just fine. piles of ash will kill a plant so no clumps. I do have thin soils over a limestone base.

  17. 19 inadvertentgardener March 30, 2008 at 6:45 pm

    Richard, this is good info — thanks for sharing it.

  18. 20 Andy April 1, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    Charcoal briquettes are made from real charcoal. They take wood, grind it to sawdust, carbonize it and compress it into it’s briquette shape.

    We’ve been using the leftover ash from our grill as fertilizer for years with no adverse affects.

  19. 21 inadvertentgardener April 1, 2008 at 7:46 pm

    Andy, I guess the key is to actually read the labeling on the bag, right? I also tend to buy the stuff that’s soaked in starter fluid, too, so I wonder whether that has an adverse effect or not?

  20. 22 Georgino April 2, 2008 at 11:19 am

    No offense butit seems steve is a total dork, first he burns the flesh of dead animasl, then he compounds it by putting charcoal ashes in the garden, it seems that he should be put in a place where he can be watched closely

  21. 23 inadvertentgardener April 5, 2008 at 7:57 am

    Georgino, well, to be fair, I was in full support of the burning the flesh of dead animals part. ‘Cause they were quite delicious dead animals!

  22. 24 Rachel May 25, 2008 at 8:56 pm

    I am looking for clean wood ash in the Orlando area. Clean meaning no pesticides/paint on the tree where the wood came from/lighter fluid. Let me know if you have any to give away.

    Thanks

    • 25 susn January 5, 2010 at 10:33 am

      Rachel,
      Try to put up a note in your local library on the message board !Or visit your local nurseries(plants,trees ect.)
      Or….Try riding around to see who has chimneys,and go to the door and ask…never can tell…you might hit the jack-pot!!

  23. 26 inadvertentgardener May 27, 2008 at 9:20 pm

    Rachel, I really don’t have any idea on this one — not sure I can offer any suggestions. Maybe some other readers who are in your area can help you out?

  24. 27 Alan June 21, 2008 at 8:46 am

    Charcoal with starter fluid should be no problem since the starter is highly flammable and is probably completely gone before you even start cooking. Because it is volatile, any that doesn’t burn probably goes off with the smoke.

    In the absence of definition of the term “ickies”, I will assume that cooking charcoal ash is fine in the garden, even if soaked before use with starter fluid.

  25. 28 inadvertentgardener June 24, 2008 at 9:49 am

    Alan, thanks for the information.

  26. 29 RoxAnn July 13, 2008 at 8:06 pm

    I have a question? Is wood ash good for clay soil. We would like to put it on our garden this fall. I remember my Dad putting ash on the garden. I was concerned that with clay soil will ash make it more sticky and clumpy?

    Thanks, RoxAnn

  27. 30 inadvertentgardener July 16, 2008 at 8:17 am

    RoxAnn, I have no idea on this one…maybe someone else in the readership will know?

  28. 31 science July 22, 2008 at 5:40 am

    charcoal is burnt wood mixed with coal dust and limestone so it becomes a slightly alkaline substance less harmful than buying fruits and vegetables from countries with unregulated pesticides.

  29. 32 inadvertentgardener July 22, 2008 at 5:48 am

    Science, excellent way to put it all in perspective!

  30. 33 Deni August 29, 2008 at 10:23 am

    I’ve been studying what to do with ashes for yrs. (I burn wood in winter.) One thing I THINK I learned is that wood ash fights moss; I’ve sprinkled it on the spreading moss in my lawn which seems more under control this yr so might work. Thanks for additional tips. I continue the search for more uses.

  31. 34 inadvertentgardener August 29, 2008 at 1:27 pm

    Deni, interesting — thanks for the info on how it fights moss.

    Also…I want to note that the discussion can continue over at http://www.theinadvertentgardener.com/index.php/2006/05/31/wood-ash/ — the blog has been updated and relaunched!

  32. 35 alyssa February 1, 2009 at 9:17 am

    I have a wood burning fireplace, which we use every day. How do I know what area of my garden that is safe to use wood ash and how can I test my own dirt for pH ? thanks


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