Soil and Compost forum: Compost vs. Maple [Trees] warning

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Name: Teresa
Indiana (Zone 5b)
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TsFlowers
Oct 8, 2017 7:45 PM CST
I hadn't read much here in the Soil and Compost forum, but this evening I did enjoy reading the threads Composting for Beginners and Composting Frustrations. This matter was addressed in Composting Frustrations but I seldom see anyone else list this as a "don't" in composting.

Are all trees equal in the composting frustration?

Here's my situation. Several years ago I did a little reading and wanted to start composting. I needed to be a lazy composter because I had too much other work to do. So I just thought I'd create a large cold pile, and that's just what I did on the east side of a huge (probably 24" diameter or more) maple tree. The pile became *very* large fairly fast. It extended probably 5 feet wide at the base of the tree, and 6 to 8 to 10 feet away from the tree toward the east. 2nd or 3rd year, I can't remember which, I decided I'd try to turn it since I had put many daylily scapes on it, and they just don't seem to like to compost very fast. When I attempted to turn it, I found I couldn't. That's when I found it was full of the incredible mass of fiberous roots of the tree. I was very discouraged, and gave up for a year or so. I just didn't have a lot of open spaces and all places where I wanted to put the compost pile where space was available was fairly near a maple tree.

So, I had another idea, because I really did want to compost. I put down heavy black plastic sheeting in another location (because I don't know what I'm going to do with that original *hump*) but this new pile was still about 6' from a maple tree. So I started making my pile, which I had to keep in proportion, on top of the sheeting. Soon the pile was to the edges of the sheeting and over the edges of the sheeting. I *thought* the sheeting would keep the roots out. But guess what, it didn't. I get so very busy that I just couldn't mess with the pile except to throw more things on. So probably 2 years later, I decided to turn this pile. Same problem!! The roots come up the one side of the sheeting and entered into the pile. It was a mess again, but not as bad as the first pile. I managed to move as much of this pile as possible into large plastic trash bags for future use.

What I decided and am still trying and working with, is that the roots entered the side closest to the tree right along ground level where the pile was to the edge of the sheeting. Instead of using black plastic, now there is a heavy tarp. I am currently keeping the tarp pulled up and over the compost on a couple sides closest to the tree. I am really hoping to monitor it now much closer to make sure the tree roots aren't invading, but the worms still have a way to enter. the only thing is, because of all this, I find myself limited to a smaller size pile. I don't know if the pile will get water logged now since the drain off side (slope of the yard) is where I've now had to keep the tarp held up so the roots won't invade. I just finished cleaning it up about a month ago, so really won't know until next year, or two years down the road, how things work out.

So do all trees do this, bring their roots up to the surface like this when they find great organic matter like this to reside in?

Anyone else compost near a tree without any problem?

So hopefully anyone coming along wanting to compost in an easy pile will read this and avoid making a compost pile near a maple tree.

Or if anyone has any other good ideas for composting near a tree, please . . .
. . . it's always better to ask questions, than jump to conclusions.
AND . . . always hear both sides of the story before making a judgment.
Name: Larry
Enterprise, Al. 36330 (Zone 8b)
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Region: Alabama
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Seedfork
Oct 8, 2017 7:59 PM CST
I have made many piles under oaks. Some I managed to turn on a regular basis so there was no problem. Others I have left for months (not years) and only had minor root problems. I do have a large pile that has been there for just over a year, and I used a large portion of that pile recently and had a few roots but no major problem.
Name: Teresa
Indiana (Zone 5b)
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TsFlowers
Oct 8, 2017 8:04 PM CST
So then, probably the key to success in having a compost pile under *any* tree, is to turn the pile often? [And if you are not going to be able to turn the pile often, then don't put it near a tree.]
. . . it's always better to ask questions, than jump to conclusions.
AND . . . always hear both sides of the story before making a judgment.
Name: Larry
Enterprise, Al. 36330 (Zone 8b)
Composter Garden Photography Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Garden Ideas: Master Level Plant Identifier Celebrating Gardening: 2015
Region: Alabama
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Seedfork
Oct 8, 2017 8:18 PM CST
I have no idea about all trees, maybe pine roots would not grow into the pile. Oaks are what I have so that is all that I have worked with.
Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Shadegardener
Oct 9, 2017 7:33 AM CST
I wonder if the shallow-rooted maples are more of a problem. I used to mulch around my oak trees and over the years, the roots would eventually grow into the mulch.
Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will we realize that we can't eat money. Cree proverb
Minnesota (Zone 3b)
RpR
Oct 11, 2017 10:28 AM CST
You NEVER compost near a Maple tree; you never put piles near any shallow rooted tree, without exception.
Name: Ken
East S.F. Bay Area (Zone 9a)
Region: California
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CaliFlowers
Oct 31, 2017 1:19 AM CST
Over the years I have realized that if you wish to have a nice garden, trees are best admired from a distance. So, unless you refer to your property in terms of acreage, or as "the estate", "the ranch" or "the farm", it's probably best to stick with shrubs and perennials.
Name: Larry
Enterprise, Al. 36330 (Zone 8b)
Composter Garden Photography Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Garden Ideas: Master Level Plant Identifier Celebrating Gardening: 2015
Region: Alabama
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Seedfork
Oct 31, 2017 6:37 AM CST
Trees can cause problems with gardens, but I do manage to grow a lawn (as weedy as it is), have many flower beds, and quite a few lovely trees. I admit the trees do often cause problems both with the garden and otherwise, but I feel it is worth working around those to maintain as many trees as I can. I do have to have them pruned back, and I have had some removed, but I would hate not having such lovely trees to go along with the garden. I don't have a ranch or farm, just a fairly large city lot (about an acre).
There is a lot to be said though for admiring trees from a distance in many cases.
Minnesota (Zone 3b)
RpR
Nov 2, 2017 2:16 PM CST
You can grow hostas around a Maple tree.
I used to keep a black dirt space around the maple trees for mowings sakel then my brother planted hostas in that black space.
You do not put dirt over any roots that get in the way, you just work around them and pretty soom the hostas will hide the bare spots, although I do use one root, that I flattened the top of with a lawn mower, as a table for scraps I give to the squirrels.
They all seem happy together.
Name: Teresa
Indiana (Zone 5b)
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TsFlowers
Nov 3, 2017 9:20 AM CST
As for hostas vs. any around tree, I think they will do okay. Even black walnut trees. Thank you for the imput.

But for the compost vs. maple trees, my compost is doing just fine now with a little monitoring on top of the tarp, but I've just started. And we must keep in mind that I have just started. Next year and the year after will give more answers. I continue to pull up the edges to make sure that no roots have invaded. Yet I leave the edges of the tarp laid down and I feel sure that during warm rain the worms use it as a lounging area like concrete.
. . . it's always better to ask questions, than jump to conclusions.
AND . . . always hear both sides of the story before making a judgment.
Name: Christie
43016 (Zone 6b)
Plays in the water.
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cwhitt
Feb 22, 2018 1:57 PM CST
When I owned a house, I kept my compost pile under my pine trees. I had a wire, 4 sided cage type bin that I used. I never turned it, just kept adding to the top. Then i would open one side of the wire bin and rake out the compost. I never had an issue with tree roots. The compost pile seemed to really like being under those pine trees. Now that I live in a condo, I have a big black pot that once held a tree. It has drainage holes in the bottom - worms climb up the drainage holes into the compost, and start families, then leave again before winter. And when it rains, nutrients drain out of the pot and fertilize whatever I have the pot sitting next too.
Plant Dreams. Pull Weeds. Grow A Happy Life.

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