Using Fireplace Ashes in the Garden

Home Grown  by Keith Reed
Temperature forecasts in the forties mean fireplace season is not far away. Every year, the Payne County Extension Office fields a few calls on using ashes in the garden. Occasionally those calls deal with trying to restore soils where too much ash has been applied. To minimize problems, it’s a good idea to conduct a basic soil test before you begin.

Fireplace ashes contain about 6 % potassium, which is relatively high. Ashes also have acid neutralizing power and can have a salt content of about 22 percent. Either of these factors can have detrimental effect on soil if present in too great a quantity. Ashes should not be applied to soils which have a neutral to alkaline pH (7 or above) because the liming properties of ashes will further increase the pH. High pH soils are associated with micronutrient unavailability with elements such as iron or zinc.

For very acidic soils (low pH) that also need potassium, ashes can be valuable as they are more soluble than lime, neutralizing soil acidity within a few days after incorporation by rain or cultivation. However, care should be taken to avoid excessive application.

If you have determined that ashes will benefit your soil based on its need for potassium and liming, the next step is determining how much to apply. This is where the soil test comes in handy. The maximum amount that can be applied to sandy soils is only about half that which can be applied to finer textured soils.

For sandy soils, a maximum rate of 10 gallons of ashes per 1000 square feet equates to approximately 3 pounds of potassium and 10 pounds of lime applied. For other soil types, a maximum rate of 20 gallons of ashes per 1000 square feet equates about 6 pounds of potassium and 20 lbs of lime applied.

Keep in mind that excessive applications may damage the soil. Areas treated at the above rates should not be retreated again for 10 years or until a soil test shows a need for lime or potassium again. To avoid repeat applications to the same area, it’s a good idea to make notes in your garden diary of the areas that have received an application.

Remember that if you use fireplace ashes for your potassium needs, other fertilizers applied should not contain potassium. Potassium, like phosphorus, remains in the soil for a long period of time and does not need to be applied very often. Finally, avoid applying ashes to areas where blueberries, azaleas or other acid-loving plants are grown.

For more information on this or any other horticultural topic, you can contact Keith Reed, the Horticulturist in the Payne County Extension office. Keith can be reached via email at keith.reed@okstate.edu, phone at 405-747-8320, or in person at the Payne County Extension office, located at 315 W. 6th in Stillwater.

Oklahoma State University does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, genetic information, sex, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, disability, or status as a veteran in any of its policies. See Legal Page for more info.

Lawn Care Summary

Home Grown  by Keith Reed
From a lawn care perspective, things are winding down quickly (the high 80’s of the last few days being an exception). However, since we are still getting quite a few inquiries in the Payne County Extension office, here are a few reminders.

  • It is too late in the season to fertilize warm season grasses like bermuda, zoysia and buffalo with nitrogen. If I soil sample should indicate a critical need for phosphorus or potassium, those nutrients can still be applied. Applying nitrogen now to these grasses increases the chances of winter kill.
  • Many poor-quality lawns suffer not from nutrient deficiencies, but from a chemical imbalance caused by soil pH that’s gotten either too low or too high. Now is a good time to apply lime (for low pH) or sulfur (if too high). Don’t guess at this. Only a soil test can confirm if this is a problem and if corrective action is needed.
  • If you seeded Tall fescue this fall, be ready to begin mowing it as soon as it gets up to 3 inches in height or so. Regular mowing will encourage lateral growth as well as helping to keep weed pressure down.
  • New seedlings of Tall fescue will benefit from an additional application of nitrogen 30-45 days after planting.
  • Now is NOT the time to attempt to control annual summer weeds such as crabgrass, goosegrass and sandburs. These plants have basically already completed their life cycle and will disappear with our first frost. If these weeds have been a problem for you this year, now would be a good time to make some notes on next year’s calendar so you can be proactive.
Goosegrass and sandburs are two troublesome weeds that can be especially hard to control. While classic “crabgrass pre-emergent” products offer limited control, other measures are necessary to prevent these weeds.

For more information on this or any other horticultural topic, you can contact Keith Reed, the Horticulturist in the Payne County Extension office. Keith can be reached via email at keith.reed@okstate.edu, phone at 405-747-8320, or in person at the Payne County Extension office, located at 315 W. 6th in Stillwater.

Oklahoma State University does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, genetic information, sex, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, disability, or status as a veteran in any of its policies. See Legal Page for more info.

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