Ashes In Your Compost? What Are The Dos and Don'ts

Irene Aguirre 2021-06-16 7 min

Ashes In Your Compost? What Are The Dos and Don'ts. You might be asking yourself: should I put ashes on my plants? And surprisingly the answer is yes (with a few remarks). Although, you really need to be careful and research a little so you don't make mistakes. There are a few tricks for you to know when and how to use ashes as fertilizer or put ashes in your compost.

Basically, ashes are a big source of lime and potassium, which are key components for healthy soil. And there are two ways you can use it, you can either scatter them right into the soil, or you can add them to your compost bin. You'll have the richest most nutritious compost of all.

So let's talk about benefits and ways you can start incorporating ashes in your compost.

Benefits of Wood Ash in Your Compost

This might sound weird for you, but ashes can be used on your compost and even on the soil of your plants. But, there are a few things you need to know about it. First of all, not all ashes work, you need to be careful about which ashes you use because you can damage the ph of your soil.

The secret is this: wood ash is alkaline which basically means that it has a greater than 7 pH level.S if you add wood ashes to compost it will help the compost to be more alkaline and less acidic, making it easier for plants to grow. It creates better conditions for most plants and vegetables.

a picture of ashes on fire
Photo by Pablo Martinez on Unsplash

So let's see the basis on compost with ashes:

These are a few benefits of using ashes on your compost:

It can add nutrients to the soil:

  • Potassium
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorous
  • Copper
  • Zinc

Even though the last three are in the ashes in small amounts, if you use them regularly your soil will be full of nutrients. And here is why: ashes, like wood ash, thanks to the nutrients they have it can increase the pH of the soil making it the perfect natural fertilizer.

But! That some ashes are good for the soil doesn't mean every ash is good. So here is a list of ashes you don't want to put near your plants:

What Ashes are Not Good for your Compost:

  • Charcoal
  • Trash Fires
  • Treated wood
  • Cigarette ashes

What Ashes are Good for your Compost:

The best ashes for you to use on your compost are fireplace ashes. These ashes primarily come from woods called "hardwoods" such as:

  • Oak
  • Maple

These woods have a higher amount of nutrients and minerals. Just make sure they are not painted or treated with any chemical, this could harm your compost environment. So keep an eye on those woods, these are the ones we want to keep an eye on. On the other hand, ashes that come from woods like:

  • Softwoods
  • Pine
  • Firs

These types of woods will add a lower quantity of nutrients and minerals to the ash you use on your compost.

Even though ashes seem to be magic, the circumstances have to be precise and the types of plants you're going to fertilize need to be ready and they need to be certain plants.

So let's figure out how and when to add ashes to your compost.

When and How to add Ashes to your Compost?

Since ashes generally have a lot of calcium it will increase the pH of the soil and the compost you put them in, making it balanced if too acidic.

cups filled woth soil and gardening materials
Photo by Neslihan Gunaydin on Unsplash

So first things first: if you are looking to use ashes in your compost or on the soil, you first have to make sure the soil will handle it well. This is if the soil is already alkaline or neutral, you don't want to add ashes to it, since it might not turn out doing good.

So here is a list of tips to test your soil:

  • You can get your soil tested through your local agricultural office. But if that is a lot of trouble for you, there are other ways to do it at home.
  • You can get a home test (they sell them online and at most hardware or garden stores).

This test will allow getting to know your soil, what it's missing and what it doesn't need. They might look really hard to read but they usually come with a table where you can easily figure out what is missing.

Another way to test your soil is DIY which might not come with a chart, but you can google that. Here is how to do it:

You'll need:

  • Two cups of soil
  • Vinegar
  • Baking Soda
  • Water

These are the steps:

  1. Pour vinegar into a cup of soil.
  2. Wait a few seconds and if it begins to fizzes your soil is alkaline.
  3. In your other cup of soil add some water to moisten it.
  4. Add a little baking soda.
  5. If it fizzes your soil is acidic.

Since these results won't tell you the exact values of the nutrients and minerals your soil has, they are not very accurate. But this can at least give you an idea of what to do regarding using ashes on your compost.

Get Ready to use Ashes in your Compost

a man with protective gear watering the plants in a garden
Photo by CDC on Unsplash

There is one big step for it:

  • Gather Wood Ashes

And this is a list of tools you might need:

  • The results of your soil pH test
  • Gloves (not plastic!)
  • Eye gear
  • Face mask
  • Shovel
  • Bag
  • Leaves, and other brown material
  • Grass clippings, raw fruits and vegetables, and other green material

These last two are for enriching your compost if you don't already have it ready.

So, once you are ready, and you already picked the kind of wood you want to use for ashes, just set them on fire. You can use this opportunity to make a bonfire and enjoy a nice evening outside. Maybe even make some smores! Just make sure you don't use any chemicals while lighting up the fire.

a bonfire
Photo by Elvis Bekmanis on Unsplash

After you are done with the fire if you are outside cover the rest of the burnt wood until you are ready to gather them. This way you'll avoid them flying away with the wind.

You should use a shovel, try to get the most ashes you can, and put them in a plastic bag or a can so you can use them anytime you like.

In what amount you should use ashes in your compost?

Moderation is key. It all depends on what kind of soil you are working with but for it to work you need to try it, first in small amounts. This way you can see how it progress, is all about patience here.

How to use wood ash on your compost and plants?

Now it's time to get your hands in the game. So, if you are doing this with compost that has already been active for a while, you should use a small number of ashes and mix them with the rest of the mix.

little sprouts growing
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Make sure that when you add the ashes in your compost you shouldn't be able to see them. They should immediately mix with the rest of the matter in the compost. If some pieces do stick out, that might mean you are adding more than you should.

You can also apply the ashes straight to the soil or can scatter the ashes around, and make sure they are around the roots.

A few grams of ashes every 2 to 4 months are more than enough to keep the balance of the pH and the nutrients on the soil.

Some mistakes you can make while using ashes in your compost.

  • Avoid using too much wood ash because an excess of the alkaline components can hurt the plants.
  • Avoid using ash from woods that have been treated chemically, this can harm the pH stability of your compost.
  • Make sure you keep your ashes dry until you mix them with your compost.
  • If you are growing potatoes, don't use ashes. The components on the ashes can encourage scabs on the potatoes.

If you don't already have your compost, here is an article you might find useful: How to Make a Compost Pile? All You Need to Know About It here we explain how to create your perfect compost pile for you to start your composting process. And you will also enjoy this guide on What Can I Compost? A Complete List of Things You Can Compost

Here are the conclusions:

  • Yes! Use ashes in your compost! if used wisely, it is a great option for adding natural nutrients to your soil and compost and make your plants be happier.
  • Use small amounts! Make sure you don't go crazy on the ashes and keep an eye out for changes in your plant's behavior. They will know what is best for themselves.
  • Test your soil! This is crucial to get to know what you are working with, in this case, is the best way to know if you should be adding ashes in your compost.
  • Safety First! Make sure you are protected while making the ashes for your compost. This is the most important part.

And finally, don't give up! Sometimes it can be hard, but you can do it!

Irene Aguirre

Copywriter, nature lover and feminist activist

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