Fall brings with it one of life’s simplest pleasures: long evenings spent curled up in front of the fireplace. But once the final embers have burned out for the night, what’s left behind is a pile of ashes you might be tempted to simply scoop up and throw out. Wait! Those ashes can be used in more ways than you may realize, particularly around your yard and garden.
Wood ash has a high pH, which means that it can be used to neutralize soil that is too acidic. Garden soil generally needs to be between a pH of 6.5 to 7.0. If you test the soil and it is below 6.5, sprinkling in a little wood ash will help to raise it. Once each winter, use about two ounces for every square yard.
Even if your soil’s pH is in the standard range of 6.5 to 7.0, some of the plants in your garden will need soil that is at an even higher pH in order to thrive properly. For these plants, adding in a little extra wood ash will help, while also adding in essential nutrients, such as potassium.
Plants that might need a little extra wood ash include Brussel sprouts, cabbage, tomatoes, and most fruit bushes (with the exceptions being blueberry and raspberry). You’ll want to keep it away from any potato plants, though.
Wood ash can also be a useful addition to a compost pile, as it helps neutralize decomposing matter that would otherwise become too acidic, while also adding in some trace elements. Unlike adding ash directly to the soil surrounding plants—which can make the pH too high—this will create the right acidity for the compost.
The old ash from last night’s fire can actually be useful to hang on to for your next fire. Whether it’s in your fireplace or a barbecue, you can use leftover ash to smother the coals. Ash has the capacity to create an air-proof barrier, one that can block all of oxygen a fire needs to keep burning. Just keep some of your leftover ash in a bucket next to the fireplace to use as needed.