Can You Use BBQ Charcoal for Plants?

Emma Loker Headshot - DIY Garden
Written by: - Gardening Expert
Can You Use BBQ Charcoal for Plants

If your summers involve BBQing, chances are, you have charcoal lying around. But have you ever thought about using charcoal for your plants? 

Charcoal has many helpful properties that make it useful for plants. However, there’s a catch – some types of charcoal will help, while others will hinder.

So, can you use BBQ charcoal for your plants? Find this out, as well as the different types of charcoal and the benefits of using charcoal in your soil, below. 


Can You Use BBQ Charcoal for Plants?

No, we don’t recommend using BBQ charcoal for plants. 

BBQ charcoal often contains additives to help it catch and burn, like lighter fluid or nasty, synthetic chemicals. Plants don’t like these additives. 

However, other types of charcoal can reduce soil erosion, boost soil structure, and even improve soil fertility. It’s all about knowing which type to use. More on this next! 


The Different Types of Charcoal

If you haven’t had much experience with charcoal, you may consider charcoal just that, “charcoal.”

But, much to many people’s surprise, there are different types of charcoal – BBQ charcoal, horticultural charcoal, and activated charcoal. Let’s look at each in turn. 

BBQ Charcoal for Plants

BBQ Charcoal for Plants

BBQ charcoal is specifically made for accompanying your barby, helping you cook all sorts of delicious meat and veg.

But while BBQ charcoal plays a prominent role in summertime socialising, it won’t reap any benefits for your plants. 

BBQ charcoal contains many additives, such as fillers, chemicals, and binders.

These are often petroleum-based chemicals that can seep into the soil, reducing fertility, damaging your plant’s roots, and contaminating water sources through soil runoff. 

READ NEXT: The UK’s Best Charcoal BBQ’s


Horticultural Charcoal for Plants

Horticultural charcoal comes from natural materials like coconut shells, bamboo, and wood.

Companies specifically design horticultural charcoal for garden use, so they leave out all the nasty chemicals found in BBQ charcoal. 

Horticultural charcoal involves heating natural materials at high temperatures without oxygen in a process called pyrolysis. Once heated and converted into charcoal, it’s cooled and crushed to a suitable size.

You can buy different-sized horticultural charcoal for different gardening jobs:

  • Large charcoal chunks are best for flower beds and veg gardens, as the large size can have more long-lasting effects on the soil. 
  • Smaller charcoal chunks are useful for adding nutrients to the soil, as well as improving drainage and aeration.
  • Fine dust charcoal is highly beneficial for improving water retention and drainage in pots and containers. It also provides small habitats for useful microorganisms.  

OUR TOP RECOMMENDED CHARCOAL FOR PLANTS: Terra Core Horticultrual Charcoal 


Activated Charcoal for Plants

Activated Charcoal for Plants

Like horticultural charcoal, activated charcoal is made from organic materials like wood and coconut shells. However, the two differ in the heating methods. 

Activated charcoal is heated at a higher temperature than horticultural charcoal (around 600 – 1200°C) with oxygen present. This heating method, known as activation, gives the charcoal a wider surface area and lots of little pores. 

When you see charcoal used medicinally – for skincare and teeth whitening – this is activated charcoal. As well as its use in gardening, it also has many medicinal properties. 


The Benefits of Using Charcoal in Your Soil

Both horticultural and activated charcoal have benefits when used in soil, but their benefits differ. 

The Benefits of Using Charcoal in Your Soil

Horticultural Charcoal in Soil

Horticultural charcoal is an excellent soil amender – improving soil drainage, water retention, and aeration. It has a neutral pH, so it won’t affect your soil’s pH, making it the perfect solution if you’ve already spent time optimising this.

READ NEXT: The Best Soil pH Testing Kits

Additionally, horticultural charcoal’s high porosity keeps more minerals and nutrients in the soil for the plants to use rather than losing them through soil runoff. 

If you’re buying horticultural charcoal, go for hardwood rather than softwood charcoal. Hardwood charcoal is made from maple, oak, or hickory, while softwood charcoal is made from spruce or pine. 

Hardwood charcoal is much denser and contains more carbon, making it better at improving soil structure and fertility and helping the soil retain more water. 

Activated Charcoal in Soil

Activated charcoal also has a high porosity, providing small openings for nutrients, water, and air – this improves the soil structure and texture by boosting drainage and aeration. 

This charcoal can also absorb certain toxins, chemicals, and pollutants, helping remove harmful substances from your soil that could otherwise damage your plants.

Finally, activated charcoal removes odours from the soil and prevents mould buildup, keeping your garden stink-free! 

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