Host an Event Volunteer Join Tickets

Support the plant database you love!

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
1 rating

Wednesday - September 28, 2011

From: Islesboro, ME
Region: Northeast
Topic: Soils
Title: Fireplace ash as soil amendment in Maine
Answered by: Anne Bossart

QUESTION:

It seems that the custom where we summer in Maine is to dispose of wood ash from the fireplace on the plants around the outside of the house. I think this is not a good idea. What is your opinion? I was going to put them in the middle of the gravel drive.

ANSWER:

Well, it really depends on how acidic your soil is and how much ash you have to get rid of.

Wood ash does have some nutrient value but it is made up of less than 10 percent potash, 1 percent phosphate and trace amounts of micro-nutrients such as iron, manganese, boron, copper and zinc. It contains absolutely no nitrogen and is about 25% calcium carbonate, which is an ingredient in garden lime.

So it increases the alkalinity of your soil ... which may or may not be a good thing.  You really should only add lime (wood ash) to your soil if your pH is 5.5 or less (very acidic).  Ideally, soil should be neutral (pH 7.0) and higher alkalinity can inhibit the uptake of some micro-nutrients.

Many gardeners in the north (Maine and Eastern Canada) where the bedrock is granitic and there is an abundance of pine and other conifer trees believe the soil is acidic and should be "limed" every fall.  A walk in the woods will reveal many acid loving members of the ericaceous family such as

Andromeda polifolia (Bog rosemary)

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (Kinnikinnick)

Gaylussacia dumosa (Dwarf huckleberry)

Gaultheria procumbens (Checkerberry)

Kalmia angustifolia (Sheep laurel)

Rhododendron canadense (Rhodora)

Vaccinium angustifolium (Late lowbush blueberry)

Vaccinium macrocarpon (Cranberry)

These are plants that define Maine, so don't alter your soil so much that they cannot thrive.  Do a soil test and then amend as is appropriate.

I agree with you ... the driveway is probably a good place for them!

 

 

 

 

From the Image Gallery


Bog rosemary
Andromeda polifolia

Kinnikinnick
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Dwarf huckleberry
Gaylussacia dumosa

Eastern teaberry
Gaultheria procumbens

Sheep laurel
Kalmia angustifolia

Rhodora
Rhododendron canadense

Lowbush blueberry
Vaccinium angustifolium

Cranberry
Vaccinium macrocarpon

More Soils Questions

Soils for spiderwort from Round Rock TX
August 08, 2013 - We have spiderworts growing naturally in our backyard. We put a large circle around them them with limestone rock (as our beds have) to make their own bed as they clumped in one area. What kind of s...
view the full question and answer

Problem with Salvia Mystic Spires in Chesterfield VA
May 30, 2009 - Last August, our local Lowes had these beautiful, unusual blue perennials on the discount rack called "Salvia Mystic Spires". For 50 cents each, they looked terrific, so I bought all they had, about...
view the full question and answer

Failure to thrive of Hamelia patens in Laredo
September 19, 2008 - I have a question regarding Hamelias patens(firebush)that I have been trying to grow for 2 years. I live in Laredo, Texas and this area should be an excellent climate for this plant. I planted 12 of t...
view the full question and answer

Problem With Vegetable Garden Soil
June 09, 2013 - We live in Liberty Hill on 25 acres and we are working to restore native grasses and plants. We are ardent supporters of the Wildflower center. I say this because my question is not "typical" of wh...
view the full question and answer

Problem with Adding 5 inches of Mulch and Soil Under Juniper
July 03, 2016 - My landscaper added about 3" of mulch and 2" of dirt under my ashe junipers to create a planting bed. Several have turned gold/yellowish this winter including a female tree. They are still flexible an...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.