Cigarette Ashes for Houseplants: Yes or No?
Smoking ashes on houseplants is a controversial subject. Some people think it’s okay while others think it’s not. Apparently, this article from the UK publication Independent says that burning cigarette ashes on indoor plants is perfectly fine if they’re properly burned. This is the only way to prevent your houseplants from absorbing nicotine.
The reason for using cigarette ash is that it contains potassium, although not as much as most other natural fertilizers. There is some disagreement over whether ash contains enough potassium to sustain a houseplant over the long-term. Some gardening experts believe ash may have only one percent potassium. Calcium could be present in the ash, but the quantity is uncertain.
Occasionally, cigarettes’ ashes may contain more undesirable elements than beneficial ones. Among these risks is nicotine in the ash, which we mentioned in the introduction. Also, heavy metals and soot might find their way into the ash, the latter of which can be poisonous for most indoor plants.
Having cigarette ash as fertilizer has the potential to be particularly damaging to plants of the nightshade family. Also known as the Solanaceae family, nightshade plants include ornamentals, weeds, spices, medicinal plants, agricultural crops, as well as trees, shrubs, epiphytes, vines, lianas, and both perennial and annual herbs.
Several of the houseplants of this family are poisonous themselves, but others can act as vegetables or fruits that you may consume. The nightshades include peppers, eggplants, potatoes, and tomatoes, and there are about 2,700 species in their family and approximately 100 genera.
It’s obvious that nightshade plants shouldn’t be fertilized with cigarette ashes, but what about your other indoor plants? We have previously said that the nutritive value of cigarette ashes is extremely low, making their use negligible.
Yes, it would make a good source of plant food. Whether it will really work is a different story. Even if your plant is that deficient in potassium, you can provide plenty of other homemade fertilizers in order to keep its nutrient levels up. Banana peels, for example, not only contain potassium, but, as they decompose, they also release magnesium, phosphorous, and nitrogen. Although banana peels contain less nutrients than cigarette ashes, they still contain more nutrition.
It is also important to be aware of the tobacco mosaic virus and its potentially negative effects on your houseplants.
What Is Tobacco Mosaic Virus?
What is tobacco mosaic virus exactly? The first time tobacco mosaic virus was identified was back in 1889 by a man named Martinus Beijerinck. The disease was referred to as tobacco mosaic then, but it was really the same virus.
A houseplant infected with tobacco mosaic virus does not necessarily die, but their leaves turn unpleasant colors and develop mottling that resembles a mosaic pattern. Plants of the Solanaceae family, such as the nightshades we discussed in the last section, are more likely than others to be affected by this virus.
The tobacco mosaic virus is believed to be transmitted by smokers and indoor gardeners (or outdoor gardeners for that matter) who use tobacco to grow a houseplant. I don’t think that’s entirely true. Although breathing cigarette smoke on your houseplants is bad for them, you can’t infect them like this.
It is also possible to spread the virus by touching your houseplant when you have tobacco residue on your hands. Those who smoke rolled cigarettes that they made themselves are even more likely to suffer from heart problems.
It’s possible that tobacco from cigarettes, including air-cured tobacco, could contain tobacco mosaic virus. That means if you feed your houseplants cigarette ash, they might contract the disease.
Spreading the Virus
Because tobacco mosaic virus is particularly hardy, it can survive even if your houseplant dies. The virus will probably survive even if you expose the plant to very high temperatures. The virus survives in the soil and crop debris. If you plant a new indoor plant in the same location as the old one, you could unknowingly infect it with tobacco mosaic virus.
It is possible to spread the disease long after tobacco has been on your clothing or gardening equipment. It can thrive for months on items like clothing, containers, greenhouse benches, stakes, trellis wires, and gardening tools.
A virus could develop in your houseplant’s seed coat if you have an infected houseplant or a houseplant with a virus-ridden mother plant. This usually only occurs if the plant is young. The houseplant, after it germinates, produces ribonucleic acid or RNA that has become infected by the virus. A virus embedded in its proteins can travel to houseplants’ plasmodesmata or cell walls before infecting their phloem and xylem, aka their translocation system. The plant could die if this virus enters its whole system.
Tobacco mosaic virus causes the leaves to curl and develop spotty patches, which appear like a mosaic on an indoor plant infected with it. We’ve already discussed this.
A tomato plant infected with the virus may show slowed ripening, fruit that harvests in a variety of colors, and/or misshapen fruit. Other houseplants did not reach their full potential because of the virus.
If you suspect your houseplant is infected with tobacco mosaic virus, you could wait up to 10 days before symptoms appear. Keep an eye out for symptoms.
Can Other Types of Ash Benefit Your Houseplant?
I’m assuming after reading this article you’re thinking it’s best to avoid all ash in your houseplant. Is that the best advice to give? It is not necessary to write off all ash just because cigarette ash might have a negative effect on your houseplant.
Several types of ash are edible for plants indoors, such as wood ash. While deficient in nitrogen, wood ash does contain phosphorous, calcium, and potassium. It is important to keep in mind that some houseplants need a pH of at least 6.5 or greater, so you probably do not want to use wood ash on these plants.
As long as it turns out the ash is safe for your houseplants, you can cover a little bit of the soil with the material. Use cultivators and rakes to incorporate the ash into the soil, keeping the roots and plant base alone.
After adding wood ash, you should check the pH several weeks later, since too high a pH can affect the performance of the system.
Other options for ash for houseplants include:
- Keeping moths and flies from depositing their eggs in your houseplant’s stems can be achieved with plant ash.
- If you want to protect your houseplants from cutworms, slugs, and snails, you should sprinkle rice hull ash around them. Dig a trench, then sprinkle the ash.
- The ash from corncobs repels ants, so if you’re growing bean plants, place it around the base.
How do you treat tobacco mosaic virus?
The best thing you can do if you suspect that you have tobacco mosaic virus in your houseplant is to take these steps as soon as you can:
- Those who handle tobacco or tobacco products often should use the right disinfectant. That can be non-fat milk powder mixed with ethanol (70 percent) and bleach (10 percent), or carbolic soap.
- Any item you may have touched that could develop the virus, including door handles, should be disinfected!
- You should disinfect your tools after every use anyway.
- Whenever you suspect a houseplant has tobacco mosaic virus, do not keep crop debris around.
- Certainly do not keep the infected houseplant near other houseplants, and get rid of it at once.
- If you suspect an infection, you should replace the seedling trays and potting mix.
Is cigarette smoke bad for plants?
You probably know that cigarette smoke bad for houseplants. But do you have to watch where you exhale when you’re a smoker and a gardener? The surface of the leaves can be polluted by smoke depending on how close you are. The tar in the smoke blocks the stomatal pores, which prevents the houseplant from photosynthesizing.