I have some bare patches under trees. I've taken some of the fall leaves and covered up the bare ground and exposed roots already. I would like to put some soil and shade tolerant plants in these areas but I'll need soil to do so.

Is it possible (or wise) to set up a small compost pile directly over the bare patches where I want soil? Seems like it would save some hassle since I can just compost right where I'm going to want it.

  • What kind of tree? Where in the world are you? – Jay Bazuzi Nov 15 '10 at 14:51
  • Its a maple and I'm in Kentucky. – Freiheit Nov 16 '10 at 15:20

Why do you want dirt? Grass under trees is common in yards, but uncommon in the wild.

In the wild, things compost at the base of trees all the time. The best mulch for a tree is its own droppings + the droppings of the plants that like to grow under it. (e.g. ferns under cedars, salal under douglas fir).

You can also just add a mulch around the tree. It holds in moisture and protects the soil. My favorite is shavings from a planer at the local wooden boat school. Peeing on the mulch provides nitrogen that helps break down the mulch and release its nutrients in to the soil, which the tree will like.

  • I want good soil there to replace whats been lost and so that I can plant something shade tolerant (hostas). – Freiheit Nov 16 '10 at 15:20
  • Accepted. Since its fall I've got lots of leaves to cover the bare patch with. I'll start with that simple step and see what happens in the spring. – Freiheit Nov 16 '10 at 15:21

Putting leaves and things under there would be fine, but you don't want actual hot composting going on as it will heat up the tree and perhaps damage the bark. Also, if you put mulch around the tree, leave a gap around the tree trunk so you don't damage the bark or make it rot.

A lot of people rake all their tree leaves up under their trees before winter, the slight insulation value plus the nutritional value of the leaves is good for the tree. If you want to have a bed around the tree in the spring, add soil then, no need to now before winter.


One risk you face immediately is pests hazard. Various pests lay eggs or hibernate in dead leaves. If you compost them right under trees it means that in spring pests can immediately attack trees. I don't know how dangerous it is but you definitely have to think of it.

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