All Things Gardening forum: roots growing into compost

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Name: Jai or Jack
WV (Zone 6b)
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Jai_Ganesha
Jan 10, 2017 11:15 PM CST
Today I went out to stir my compost pile since it is above 40º and what I thought were at first twigs turned out to be roots from one of the trees or bushes several yards away. I did not anticipate this.

Is there anything in particular you should do for tree/bush roots that seek out your compost pile? Are they good or bad (or neutral)?

Just curious because I've never had this problem before, especially in the middle of winter.
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Name: stone
near Macon Georgia (USA) (Zone 8a)
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stone
Jan 11, 2017 7:43 AM CST
Tree roots often seek out the horse poop when it's left piled any length of time.
Not much needs to be done, except maybe pile the compost in the middle of the vegetable garden where the bushes and trees can't reach it....

I always pile the compost in the garden, where the nutrients aren't lost....
Piling the compost out of sight means serious losses through drainage, and as you've found, the hungry nearby bushes.....
Name: Sandy B.
Ford River, Michigan UP (Zone 4b)
(Zone 4b-maybe 5a)
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Weedwhacker
Jan 11, 2017 9:22 AM CST
My compost pile is on the north side of our yard, in the edge of the surrounding woods -- I like it there because it's out of the way and seems to do better in the semi-shade that it has (which I think is because it doesn't dry out so quickly). I don't doubt that there is a loss of nutrients, as Stone said, although it certainly seems to be very beneficial to the plants that I use it on.

I definitely have a problem with roots growing into it, as it's right between a couple of big white cedar trees. In fact, the garden is about 15 feet away from the trees and I find the roots in there, as well. This past fall, when I turned the pile over in preparation for the winter, I noticed it had actually kind of built up to a point that there was about a foot of pretty much impenetrable compost because it was so full of roots. My solution was to run my rototiller through it to break that layer up (while the "loose" part of the compost was out of the way), and then put the rest of the pile back on top of it. Using the tiller on the bottom when I turn the pile will now become a regular part of my routine Smiling .
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Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
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RickCorey
Jan 11, 2017 12:42 PM CST
It seems to me that it can't be very good for the trees to grow roots into your heap, and then have the roots cut off every time you use the compost.

Or, I don't know - are there trees that don't mind repetitive root pruning? The nutrients they gain might be worth re-growing one patch of roots every year or so.

Name: Sandy B.
Ford River, Michigan UP (Zone 4b)
(Zone 4b-maybe 5a)
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Weedwhacker
Jan 11, 2017 7:02 PM CST
I just think of it as "tough love," Rick...

I really would hate to see those cedars die (if nothing else, because they would likely fall on my greenhouse), but I think they have plenty of other roots (these are big, like 40-foot-tall, cedars). If it turns out I'm wrong, I'll let you know Blinking
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Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
Frugal Gardener Garden Procrastinator I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest
Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database.
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RickCorey
Jan 11, 2017 7:34 PM CST
I'm squeamish about roots. I flinch every time I hear someone talk about ripping apart tangled seedlings' roots.

Trees are about as unlike seedlings as anything could be.
Name: Jai or Jack
WV (Zone 6b)
Om shanti om.
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Jai_Ganesha
Jan 11, 2017 9:57 PM CST
To be honest, trees ARE seedlings. Everything that grows from a seed is a seedling. The point at which a "seedling" becomes a "plant" is an artificial distinction.

In my mind, though, if the tree is sending roots left toward the compost pile it must also be sending them right, up, and down in all the other directions. So there's no harm in cutting them if I have to. At least not yet. :P
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Name: Sandy B.
Ford River, Michigan UP (Zone 4b)
(Zone 4b-maybe 5a)
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Sages Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Seed Starter Vegetable Grower
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Weedwhacker
Jan 11, 2017 11:09 PM CST
LOL -- I'd run outside and get a photo of a "cedar seedling" and my "cedar trees" that are invading the compost, except the seedlings are kind of buried in snow at the moment...

However, I agree about the roots being everywhere else, as well as in that 8 square feet or so that my compost pile covers. Smiling
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Name: Sally
central Maryland
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sallyg
Jan 12, 2017 7:35 AM CST
I don't worry when I have to cut tree roots out of compost. I made 3 nice big leaf piles under the trees last winter, then found out how the trees invaded. I raked off what I could, and the roots that were left too exposed will have to die as the leafy bits dry and decomp.
So this year, like stone, I piled leaves on the garden, last week spread them and covered them, so they decay right where I want to good stuff. Down side is working around the remaining stuff when it's planting time.
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Name: Rick Moses
Derwood, MD (Zone 7b)
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RickM
Jan 12, 2017 7:52 AM CST
Trees and shrubs will send roots along the path of least resistance. In this case, they likely followed the food source. Once there, they multiplied to suck up more nutrients and water.

The only way you're going to keep roots out of the compost pile is to place the pile on some type of non-permeable barriers such as pond liner. However, if you do that, the works won't be able to get into your pile either. Even a small hole in the barrier is an invitation to root invasion. A few years ago, I was shifting and shuffling a couple of large planters with hosta in them. The planters wouldn't move. I removed the hosta and found the planters were full of tree roots! After removing all of the roots from the soil, I placed the empty planter on top of a small (12x12) concrete paver. The planter is still able to drain, but the drainage hole is now inaccessible to the roots.

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