Many homeowners wonder what to do with all the ashes left behind after the flames in the fireplace die down.

After you clean the fireplace, do your plants a favor and sprinkle the ashes in the garden instead of throwing them in the garbage.

Because wood ash is derived from plant material, it contains most of the 13 essential nutrients that soil supplies for plant growth, according to Oregon State University Extension Service experts.

When wood burns, nitrogen and sulfur are lost as gas, but calcium, potassium, magnesium and other trace elements remain. The carbonates and oxides in the ash are valuable liming agents that can raise pH and help neutralize acidic soils.

Where soils are acidic and low in potassium, wood ash is useful to most garden plants. Do not use ash if your soil pH is alkaline (more than 7.0). You can test your soil’s pH with a simple kit available at garden centers and home improvement stores. Also do not apply wood ash to acid-loving plants such as blueberries, rhododendrons and azaleas.

Lawns that need lime and potassium also can benefit from wood ash. Apply no more than 10 to 15 pounds of ash per 1,000 square feet of lawn.

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Keep in mind that wood ash is alkaline, which means it has a high pH level. You should use the same precautions with it as when handling other strongly alkaline materials, such as household bleach.

OSU Extension experts also suggest:

Do not scatter ashes in the wind. Apply them to moist soil and rake them lightly to mix.

• Do not use ash from burning trash, cardboard, coal or pressure-treated, painted or stained wood. These materials can contain potentially harmful substances. For example, the glue in cardboard boxes and paper bags contains boron, an element that can inhibit plant growth at excessive levels.

• Never leave wood ash in lumps or piles. If it is concentrated in one place, excessive salt from the ash can leach into the soil and create a harmful environment for plants.

• Do not apply ash at the time of seeding. Ash contains too many salts for seedlings.

Can I leave my hoses out this winter?

Q: Is it OK to store my drained garden hoses on my covered porch or in an open-sided shed? I have many due to our watering system. They take up too much space in our shop/garage.

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A: Storing hoses that have been drained on a porch or in a shed that is open to the outdoor temperature is fine. They will not be damaged by a freeze. After draining, roll them up and attach the ends to each other to make sure no insects or dirt get inside.

Steve Renquist, OSU Extension horticulturist

Can potting soil be reused?

Q: Is it best to store used potting soil for reuse in a sealed plastic container in the winter? It was used in outdoor pots to grow flowers and veggies.

A: Yes, you can put potting soil in a plastic tub that is sealed and stored in a dry place. You could also use burlap bags or heavy cardboard boxes to hold it, and it can even be stored in the pot in which it was used. Make sure the soil is dried out and is stored in a place where it will stay dry. Moisture can grow mold.

Next season, mix the soil with equal parts new potting soil, add nutrients and replant.

If you are using pots that may have had diseased plants or pests, use a 10% bleach solution to clean the pot thoroughly and let it air dry before adding any soil.

Your potting soil will last a long time if it’s kept dry during storage and mixed with nutrients as it is reused.

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You can also use it to fill up holes in your yard or add it to the compost pile.

Sheryl Casteen, OSU Extension master gardener

Does my chicken coop need weather protection?

Q: This is my first year with chickens. We have four hens that are 5 months old. How much protection do they need from the cold?

We were told to provide lots of ventilation, so we made a coop that has an entire wall of hardware cloth. This coop wall is close to our two-story house, so is somewhat protected from cold winds, but though their chip seems to stay dry, I think we need to put a layer of plywood over the wall for the winter. There are also two hardware cloth-covered “windows” on the opposite wall. Do we need to cover them, too?

A: My birds have a coop that has chain link on the front and one side (leeward side). It also has an overhang to divert rain. Their roost is in the corner of the two wooden sides. Even in our coldest weather, they do fine. The water occasionally freezes, as it is next to the open area, so I keep an eye on that. The area around the roost has never really frozen.

If you are worried, or know an arctic blast is on the way, you could tack up a sheet of plastic (left loose at the bottom) or hang a tarp loosely over the area. I would not worry about the windows at all.

Pat Patterson, retired OSU Extension horticulturist