Ask the gardening expert



Is it a good idea to burn winter-fallen leaves, tree limbs and pine straw in my garden during the winter months when nothing is growing in the garden? I have heard that it is good to let the pot ash that comes from this fire settle into the soil.

Applying wood ashes will raise the soil acidity. I’d suggest you have your soil tested so you know what you’re working with and then apply the ashes only if the test indicates that the soil is low in pot ash — and even then limit the amount you use and apply only every two or three years.

The soil in the Pacific Northwest is quite acidic naturally. You can cause serious imbalances within the soil by applying too much wood ash too often.

I’m looking for a Christmas garden gift for my mother who lives in New York state. She loves gardening. I’d love to send her something for her garden. Do you recommend sending bulbs? If so, which ones? Any suggestions would be much appreciated.

In many areas, the ground is snow- and ice-covered, so it might be difficult to plant anything outdoors. In my experience, among the nicest things you can give are gift certificates or a check along with several catalogs to browse, or an advance ticket to a flower show. This helps pass the time in happy anticipation of spring. It also solves the problem of trying to guess which plants she might like and that may do well in her climate.

Celeste Lindsay is a certified master gardener. Send questions to