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compost pile full of roots How do I stop this from happing?

Last fall I cut up a pile of leaves about 3 feet high. In the spring I added grass and kitchen scraps. when I tried to turn the pile it was so full of roots that I could not turn it over. I am unable to use it because these roots are so small and intertwined it is useless. how do I stop the roots?

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kretz14 years ago
I have used massive amounts of shredded leaves in my compost pile every year and have witnessed these roots invading the compost pile at times. These roots are almost like thick hair and very tough. My compost piles are big enough that I use the front end loader on my tractor to turn them. These piles are located under the shade of large trees yet they heat up very well, with lots of steam escaping at each turning. Even with regular turning these roots seem to come up under the pile from the roots on the trees!!! The next problem I have with the black gold, compost, is that my wife and I used it around the trees in our front yard so we could plant flowers in it. Another mistake, as the roots from the trees themselves soon fill up the compost and choke out the flowers!! When I add the compost to amend our vegetable garden there is no problem. We're talking compost piles 15 feet in diameter and 6 feet tall! I sounds like I may need to put a barrier material down before using the compost around our trees.
Sunkicked6 years ago
Your compost pile is probably not getting hot enough. If you're using a frame to box it in (as opposed to just a pile on the ground) you may want to try to increase the height of the pile while reducing the width. This will allow the same amount of mass to exert pressure on a smaller area, thus increasing the heat of the core. A really efficient compost pile or bin will actively and visibly steam after a light rain. Another thing to consider is the contents of your compost pile. I try for a 3 to 1 ratio of carbon to nitrogen where carbon is represented by dead leaves, wood or sawdust (in small amounts), shredded paper, or something like peat moss; nitrogen will be there in the form of kitchen scraps (don't try to compost meat or dairy - the smell will be awful and you will get pests), grass clippings, and even pet hair (no really!). There are several compost accelerators on the market that you can pick up at any Lowe's store, but I don't think you really need them with the right compost 'recipe'. One last tip: The best results I've ever had came after I decided to start composting a few bags of grass clipping each season. I mix one full bag from a 21" mower with about 1/4 of a bag of compressed peat moss. When I add these two items to my compost tumbler along with a liberal spray from the water hose (and a small batch of other things mentioned above), they break down in about a week to around 25% of their original mass and within 3 weeks I have completely usable compost (but longer is better).
writerlady7 years ago
Sounds like your pile is not heating up enough to kill off the growing roots. You want a certain mix (google for exact ratio) of "browns" - dead leaves, newspaper,etc. vs. "greens" - food waste grass clippings and so on. If you choose to stick with cold composting, you still want to turn it on a regular basis, as advised by Jeff-o.
seandogue7 years ago
line it with impermeable membrane. They sell something called agricultural fabric that will stop roots from penetrating the compost bin. Ask at your local garden store. It often happens when a compost pile is created nearby any moderately sized (or larger) tree. Where I live (in the middle of an urban forest, it's quite common to discover that your compost pile is a mat of roots, feeding on the yum scrumptious soil that is delivered by the worms)
Note that by doing this you're also helping the trees in the area local to the compost pile because you won't be killing off a large amount of its feeder roots by chopping them up, especially if you find enough that it has become problematic...that indicates heavy feeding in your compost from one or more other plants.. The trees will send roots to wherever they find good food. simple law of nature. By blocking them from reaching the food source, they will eventually look elsewhere and not come to depend on your compost pile for food.

I learned this in a sidelong manner from a vegetable garden I created in my backyard nearby a Mulberry tree. When I first created the garden, the digging was easy. I mulched and fed and augmented the soil each year, making a wonderfully rich, smooth soil perfect for veggies. But I also noticed over the course of several years that it was becoming more and more difficult each spring to turn the garden. The I noticed that my Mulberry tree, which once was in perfect health, started to deteriorate and began to lose branches. (The tree is a big squirrel/bird feeder and is over 80 years old) I know that the roots I was chopping thru in the spring were from that tree, because of a particular color and aroma that is specific to mulberry root, as well as the prevalent direction from which those roots seemed to be originating. Since I have given up the area to the tree, my old mulberry has started to recover, throwing out new branch growth from the main trunk (not suckers, actual branches). Unfortunately, it will take years to fully recover, since some of the branches it lost were 2-3 inches thick... So I recommend it for both the ease of composting and also the health of your other plantings.
One thing to remember though, you'll need to "seed it" with worms if you close it in, since they won't have a natural route into the bed
jeff-o7 years ago
Sounds like you have to mix up your compost pile more often to keep it broken up.
Gorfram7 years ago
Hunh - I wonder if the roots could be from the grass bits creating "turf" as they try to regrow?

Or else, if you've had mushrooms on your compost pile, they may not be "roots" as such, but the mycelium that serves mushrooms in the place of roots.

Either way, I would chop up the pile as much as possible (a sharp hoe might be handy here), leave the chunks spread out as much as posible for a day or so, and then re-build the pile with lots of sticks and twigs on the bottom for aeration & drainage, and lots of dry material like straw, corn cobs, etc. Throw in some nice slimy greens like the stuff in the veggie drawer of your my fridge; and keep turning it every week or two, and you should be fine.

The thing about compost is that while you can slow it down, you can't ever really stop it. Anything organic will eventually become compost if you wait long enough. :)
Re-design7 years ago
What are the roots coming from? I've never gotten roots in mine unless I put them there and they were from stuff I pulled up in the garden. Maybe you should turn it over more often. That would break up the roots as they get started. Don't try to add anything to kill the roots it'll just kill the good stuff also.