Potential use of wood ash in South African forestry: a review
The use of landfills as a disposal method for wood ash is costly, environmentally detrimental and is pitted against increasingly stern environmental regulations. Literature has shown that wood ash has the potential to be used as a forest fertiliser and the effects tend to be highly site-specific. Wood ash contains a combination of carbonates, hydroxides and other calcium-containing minerals that are responsible for the liming effect observed following application to soils. In addition, it contains significant magnesium and potassium concentrations, but little nitrogen and sulphur. The phosphorus availability of wood ash varies considerably and in effect can limit soil phosphorus uptake and may affect subsequent nutrient balance in plants. Short-rotation forestry practices and whole-tree harvest systems can induce periodic or persisting nutrient deficiencies and acidify the soil. This may affect the ability of a site to sustain adequate nutrient levels over successive rotations. Utilising wood ash as a soil amendment can offset or correct some nutrient deficiencies and imbalances induced by intensively managed plantation forests. This review covers the international literature on ash applications to forest land, including the effect of ash-beds remaining after slash burning (as a useful analogy for the effects of wood ash on soil properties and tree growth). The results show that ash applications to forest land can be done safely and can potentially stimulate microbial activity and improve pine and eucalypt growth. Safe ash application rates should be determined after consideration of (1) soil buffer capacity and ash alkalinity (expressed as calcium carbonate equivalence) and (2) an evaluation of the concentrations of heavy metals existing in soils and present in the available ash, particularly from cadmium, chromium, lead and arsenic.
Keywords: environmental risk, forestry, liming effect, soil acidification, wood ash