The Q&A Archives: Problems with using sawdust

Question: I had heard that although leaves are acid sawdust was not. Can you tell me the relative acidity of sawdust and does it require adding lime when you put it in your garden? G. Miller Oak Ridge, TN

Answer: The problem with adding fresh sawdust to your garden isn't so much the acidity as it is the fact that it is almost pure carbon. Adding a rich carbon source to your garden soil can cause a nitrogen deficiency -- the hungry microbes tie up all the available nitrogen as they consume the carbon. It is preferable to compost the sawdust first. If you must add it directly to the garden, be sure to add a rich nitrogen source at the same time, such as bloodmeal or fresh grass clippings. By the way, leaves are not necessarily a bad thing to add to your garden. It is true that oak leaves are particularly acidic, but it is fine to mix in other leaves when you till in the fall. As they breakdown they tend to become more neutral pH.

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