Recycling Wood Ashes From Your Fireplace

I don’t know about you, but during the winter, I just cannot get warm without a fire! Every time I build a new fire however, something must be done with the ashes from the previous one.  Well, we try to recycle as much as we can, and I just abhor waste. What can we do with those wood ashes?

A great way to use them is to apply them to the garden. Before we do that, we must decide which garden area would benefit from wood ashes. Ashes from hardwood trees make great soil amendment for certain types of plants. They contain nutrients like phosphorus, potassium, and other elements that will promote bloom and strengthen roots on plants such as lilacs, rosemary, and peonies, as well as certain vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and collards. Don’t use ashes from charcoal fires or from treated lumber, because they contain chemicals that would be harmful to plants.

The addition of wood ashes can be of great help to you when growing plants that prefer ‘sweet’ soil, especially if your soil is very acidic. The wood ashes will sweeten the soil, making it less acidic. You must be careful where you deposit the wood ashes, because plants like blueberries, camellias, azaleas, and rhododendrons all need acid soil, and will perish if you apply wood ashes around them.

To find out what kind of soil you have, you can take a soil sample to your local County Extension Service for evaluation. They’ll have to send it off for testing, and for more information, follow this link: Soil Testing for Home Lawns & Gardens or just call your local county extension office.

Also, as with most fertilizers, a little wood ash goes a long way.  Apply no more than 20 pounds per 1000 square feet per year. Plus, wood ashes should never be applied too close to tender roots of newly planted seedlings, so it’s best to apply them to the soil well in advance of planting time. (Fall would be great!) Wood ashes are also beneficial to lawns if applied very sparingly and watered in well.

In addition to soil benefits, wood ashes make a good natural slug repellant---just encircle the vulnerable plant with a ring of ashes and the snail/slug will not cross the line!  Since ashes won’t be as plentiful next summer when snails are munching, you might want to save some for later in a galvanized bucket.

Native American Proverb

Treat the earth well. We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors--we borrow it from our children.

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Florida Anise: Small Tree for the Shade Garden

Florida Anise in bloom

One of my favorite native plants is Florida Anise. Illicium floridanum is usually thought of as a shrub, but actually makes a tree about 10 feet tall. Florida Anise is native to moist wooded ravines of the Florida panhandle and Southeastern Louisiana. 

Shiny evergreen leaves, single trunk, and compact stature with a maximum height of 10 feet make Florida Anise a lovely small tree. 

Leaves have a spicy scent when crushed, much like anise, which is why deer won't eat it. 

Very unusual red flowers appear in spring and have star-like petals. Once flowers fade, interesting seed pods develop. The large star-shaped seed pods are not a substitute for the culinary anise and are poisonous if ingested, which is probably another reason deer will not eat it. 

Drought tolerant once established, Florida Anise is a good choice for the southern garden. Native to Florida and Louisiana, Illicium Floridanum is too tender for northern gardens as it is hardy in USDA Zones 7-10 only.

Plant in partial shade. Enjoys wet soil, if you have some, and can take a little more sun if planted in a boggy area.

If you find one growing in the wild, do not dig it up to move it to your garden since Florida Anise is a threatened native species.

Enjoying the same growing conditions as azaleas, camellias, and gardenias, Florida Anise is a good companion for them. If you've been searching for something unusual for your shade garden, Florida Anise is perfect.

Spunky likes the scent of the Variegated Florida Anise
If red is not your color, Florida Anise is also available in a white-flowering form and a variegated form with soft pink blooms.