November 12, 2011

1 - Wood ashes can be spread thinly over the landscape to minimize creating problems if they may not be disposed of in the garbage.

Yard and Garden - November 12, 2011


We just installed a wood burning fireplace. Can we put the cold ash in our 2 acre yard with few plants?

- Barbara H.

from NMSU University-Wide Extension website


When you wrote of your "2 acre yard with few plants", I am assuming this isan unlandscaped area and has only native plants. If I am correct, then the wood ashes, if spread thinly over the unlandscaped area should cause no problem. Some native plants may have problems, but most will not notice the slight increase in alkalinity that the ashes cause. Do not concentrate the ashes in any one area except in areas where you do not want things to grow (such as gravel drives). Even here, if they are concentrated and tree or shrub roots grow under the drive, the trees or shrubs may be damaged if they are within 2 to 4 times the height of the tree from the drive. That is why I recommend spreading the ashes thinly. New Mexico soils typically contain high levels of mineral salts. Wood ashes also contain high levels of mineral salts and can increase salt burn symptoms in our landscapes. Fertilizers also contain mineral salts, but these minerals are necessary nutrients. Ashes rarely provide minerals needed by our soil. Most municipalities and waste disposal companies prohibit disposal of ashes in garbage. This is because there is a chance a live ember will cause a fire in the truck or in the landfill. This leaves us with few options other than disposal on our properties. If done carefully, such disposal will cause no harm.

2 - Bamboo that died in the recent drought can be used as mulch.


I cleaned out a cluster of bamboo yesterday in Corrales. Most of it had died. The ground is heavily covered with leaves which I will be raking out. Could the heavy leaf covering be what has killed off the bamboo? Does it cycle and die off? Is there any special use for the bamboo I pulled out? There is another cluster and although I have not examined it in detail, it seems in much better shape.

- Susan B.


Is this really bamboo? There is a plant (cane) that looks like bamboo, but it is much weaker stemmed. It is called Arundo donax. It is somewhat invasive, especially where there is adequate water. It makes a good screen, but dies back each winter. Bamboo, if it is bamboo also makes a good screen and produces some stronger stems. Both spread readily and can get out of control, but if you have enough room for them, it should not be a problem. I do not think the thick leaf covering killed it. It is more likely lack of water causing the problem. The dead canes (bamboo or arundo) can be used as mulch in the garden or kindling for the fireplace. It can even be composted, but it should be shredded to speed composting. Even when shredded, bamboo will compost slowly unless the compost contains large amounts of manure or green grass clippings to provide nitrogen for the decomposer organisms.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


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