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WSU Extension Q&A: Should I use wood ash on my garden?

This is what wood pellets look like. Adding wood pellet ash to garden soil is helpful only if the soil is acid.
This is what wood pellets look like. Adding wood pellet ash to garden soil is helpful only if the soil is acid. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Q. I heat my house with a wood pellet stove. With the cold weather lately, I have a large amount of wood ash. I read that it is good to put wood ash on your garden and work it into the soil. Is this true?

A. Wood ash, especially hardwood ash, is high in potassium and provides a source of this nutrient. However, wood ash is also alkaline and will increase the alkalinity of the soil. The addition of wood ash to garden soil is helpful only if the soil is acid, significantly less than 7.0 and lacking in potassium. However, you typically only find very acid soils in the parts of Washington that receive more than 20 inches of rain a year.

In the Columbia Basin, most home garden soils are slightly alkaline (with a pH above 7.0) or neutral (with a pH around 7.0.) If your soil is already neutral or alkaline, wood ashes will raise the pH to levels that are not favorable to plant growth. Generally, in our region the addition of wood ash to garden soil is not recommended unless a soil test indicates the pH is 6.0 or lower. It is also not recommended to add wood ash to the soil around acid-loving plants, such as a rhododendron. Most vegetables, landscape plants and turf grow best in a slightly acidic soil with a pH around 6.5.

Q. Can I harvest rhubarb the first year I plant it?

A. No. The second season, rhubarb can be harvested for 1 to 2 weeks.

Q. How can I keep up with all the changes happening with hay farming?

A. Stay current on better ways to farm. The Northwest Hay Expo and Trade Show on Jan. 20-21 is the place to learn the latest in hay production in the Northwest. The expo will be at the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick, and will have information on risk management, alfalfa, timothy, as well as other topics. It is likely the best investment you may make all year.

The trade show is a great networking place for anyone dealing with hay. Some speakers include Lyndy Phillips on Jan. 20, who will encourage you to farm with three key ingredients: faith, family and friends. On Jan. 21, Manny Scott, whose story was told in the hit 2007 movie Freedom Writers, will share his story about healing hope, perseverance and possibility. To learn more about the conference, go to the Washington Hay Growers Association at www.wa-hay.org.

Questions should be called in to the WSU Extension offices in Kennewick at 735-3551 or Pasco at 545-3511.

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