How to Prepare Compost from Trimmed Tree Materials

Trimmed Branches of Live Oak

Trimmed Branches of Live Oak, Jan 2014

Composting plant materials is one of the best sources for Spring garden nutrition and soil amendment. After trimming dead and unruly branches from trees in winter, use that material for compost to revive Spring gardens. The Photo (left) shows the cut branches of live oak, ready for the shredding process.

This post briefly describes composting and how to use the trimmed tree and shrub material for a Spring garden that will reward the efforts! Before trimming trees and/or shrubs, always consult a tree expert for advice—and possibly for the trimming service. (You’ll do the trees a favor and potentially save yourself a bit of grief.)

Combine Browns and Greens in the Compost Pile/Bin.

When composting, use alternate layers of browns (carbon source) and greens (nitrogen source) for a “lasagne” style compost pile. This layering effect provides a variety of nutrients for the final compost, and it is the style that I use in the Summer (plant materials from the garden are in abundance at that time!). Additionally, I add kitchen refuse (peelings, plant parts cut off, etc., as well as egg shells.)—use only raw plant materials and do not use any kind of cooked foods or any meats (raw or cooked) as they can attract rodents and raccoons that will promptly disrupt the composting process.

Shredded Live Oak Materials

Shredded Live Oak Materials

Now, back to the tree materials—I have a separate composting bin set up this year to find out how well it works (and I’m shredding the materials rather than cutting and chopping into small pieces). The shredding process combines browns (fallen leaves, and dead branches) and greens (evergreen leaves and the live branches) into a fairly uniform mixture — see photo.

Keep Moist and Aerated.

Keep the compost pile moist, but not overly wet, and turn it about each 3 to 5 days (as the pile shrinks down, use a turning fork to add air). Add some sort of ventilation in the center of the pile (I use about 4 or 5 feet of fence wire that is rolled into a tube and placed in the middle of the pile while adding the plant materials–the wire can be easily cleaned and dusted off then re-used for the next pile.)

Compost "bin" with central aeration tube.

Compost “bin” with central aeration tube.

My compost “bins” are made from fence wire, folded to create sides of 2 1/2 to 3 feet and placed on a rubber mat (I used an old one from a horse stall)—the mat is used to keep weeds and tree roots from entering the bottom of the pile. There are more sophisticated ways to build compost bins, but these work for my purposes and left over fencing materials are already in my barn! NOTE:  the sides of compost sometimes dry a bit, so watch the process to ensure there is adequate moisture available for the composting process.

If you have space, set up two bins; one for starting materials, and a second for turning the entire pile of starter materials. (I have 2 “starter” bins, and add air using a turning fork.)

Waiting for Spring!





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