TX Organic Research Center



Fireplace Ashes, Plantain, Brown Patches in Grass, Transplanting Iris
October 04, 2002
By Howard Garrett

Q. It's almost fireplace season.  Years ago we were told not to place fireplace ashes in our yard due to the alkalinity of the soil. That doesn’t make any sense. When a forest burns, the ashes left behind become fertilizer for the renewed forest. Since we only burn wood, it seems to me that the powdery ashes left over could only be beneficial to our garden. Any thoughts? – K.M., Fort Worth

A. Good thinking. You are smarter than the so-called experts who continue to tell people to send fireplace ashes to the landfill. As you have deducted, the ashes are simply a concentration of the mineral salts that along with organic compounds make up the firewood. You or anyone with sandy acid soil can use fireplace ashes directly on the soil, but what’s even better, and essential for those of us with the black and white soils, is to compost the ashes first. Just mix them into the pile along with other forms of dead animal and plant life. Maybe we can get you a job teaching at the university level.

Q. My husband has psoriasis. While in England for the month of August we discovered that the herb plantain (picked in the wild and chopped and soaked in fresh water) cured his hands. He soaked them for about twenty minutes twice a day. The itching was under control almost instantly and the redness and blisters disappeared within two weeks. I cannot find plantain anywhere here in Texas. Can you help? We used both the common broadleaf and the narrowleaf. They seemed to work identically. – B.W., Dallas

A. If this is the common weed you are talking about, it grows here but only in spots. You can buy plantain products the health stores. We have received many reports of using a poultice of wet cornmeal for this and other skin problems. Thanks for the tip.

Q. My grass has been turning brown in patches and has small holes all over the area. I put cornmeal down hoping for recovery but now you can pull it up like a rug from the soil. Please help. – S.S., Dallas

A. That sounds like grub worm damage rather than fungal disease. The solution for these insect larvae is an application of beneficial nematodes, which controls them as well short term as any toxic chemical such as the often recommended diazinon, Merit and Oftenol. Control long term is even easier. Organic programs stimulate beneficial life in general and biologically active soil rarely has grubworm damage or other insect or disease damage.

Q. I have a beautiful thick bed of iris that have never bloomed. I have been told that they need full sunlight to bloom. They are under trees and get very little to no sunlight. Do I need to transplant them to a full sun area? If so when is the best time to transplant? – T.R., Dallas

A. It would be best and right now is the time for the project. First, prepare the new bed with compost, cornmeal, Texas greensand, lava sand and zeolite mixed into the existing native soil. Cut the leaves off to 6” in height and lift the plants gently from the current bed. Plant the divided fans 8-12” apart with a triangular spacing. You have plenty of time to build the beds so they are ready for the transfer at sometime around the first frost. For more information see Plants For Texas.

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