garden q&a: compost bins targets for invasion
Q: I have a compost bin under a honey locust tree. It's been there three years. I have wire rabbit fence staked to the bottom so rodents can't get in. I harvest the compost in fall and spring and spread it in different gardens.
This fall, when I went to remove the compost, it was filled with small roots throughout the bin. At first I thought some seeds from the vegetables I put in the compost had sprouted, but there were no green tops anywhere. Did the honey locust discover a food source and send roots up? Do I need to move the composter? If so, do you have pointers on where I should place it?
A: It sounds to me like that is precisely what happened. Most trees have not only large primary roots but also many small, fibrous feeder roots. These feeder roots absorb soil moisture and procure nutrients for the tree's growth and maintenance. Nearly all tree roots are found within the top 3 feet of soil, though some species have a larger, deeper tap root. It is also the job of the roots to exchange gasses and help anchor the plant. Since your compost bin is filled with light, nutrient-rich organic matter, it is no surprise that the feeder roots of your honey locust have found their way into the bin.
Unless you want to tangle with those roots every time you harvest compost (they'll manage to re-grow every year), I suggest you relocate the bin. Place it somewhere well beyond the drip line of any large trees and locate it in full to partial sun if possible.
Another option would be to put a sheet of plastic or canvas over the ground below the bin, thereby providing a growth barrier to the tree's roots. You'll need to make sure that the bin is elevated a little off the plastic to allow it to drain (a few wooden shims should do the trick) and plan on replacing the plastic or canvas every time you empty the bin.
If you decide to go this route, also be aware that it means that none of the microorganisms and ground-dwelling insects that help break down your compost will be able to climb up out of the soil and into the bin contents. That means that as you fill your bin, you'll need to toss in the occasional shovelful of finished compost or garden soil to help introduce those organisms. It isn't a big hassle, but a hassle never-the-less.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Grow Organic” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.
Send your gardening or landscaping questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers accomplish mission to get younger, faster on defense
- Bubble players get last chance to impress Steelers
- Asking price for Penguins franchise said to be at a record $750M
- Locke struggles again early, Pirates lose again in Milwaukee
- 4-year-old transplant recipient Angelo Giorno from Derry on life support, family says
- American to halt 2 direct routes from Pittsburgh International
- Western Pennsylvania schools’ denial of access to roofers prompts suit
- Movement along the offensive line continues for Pitt as opener approaches
- Police: Woman faked Mt. Pleasant robbery
- Picketer found to be at fault in accident at ATI plant
- South Fayette native looks forward to competing in Miss America Pageant