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For The Garden

Adding ashes to compost

Author: Kelly Young
Issue: June, 2017, Page 123

Q - I moved to Flagstaff from North Carolina two years ago. My neighbor saw me putting fireplace ashes into my compost and said I was “ruining” it. I consider myself to be a competent gardener. Who is correct, my neighbor or me?

A - Gardening in the arid West is much different than in the eastern U.S. In Arizona, the soil tends to be alkaline, meaning it has a high pH. In the East and places where there is high rainfall, the soil is usually acidic with a low pH. Plants prefer a neutral, or slightly acidic soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7. Wood ashes are alkaline and contain lime, which will raise the soil pH level. Adding ashes to your compost in North Carolina was beneficial because it raised the pH of your soil, bringing it closer to the ideal level. We don’t put ashes in our compost in Arizona because it will cause our gardens to become even more alkaline, which inhibits the plants’ ability to absorb crucial nutrients such as iron and zinc. Long story short: Your neighbor is right.
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