from mulch to compost

Asked December 15, 2015, 2:58 PM EST

I have 10 + acres of woods in Carroll county. It has never been thinned and resembles a jungle. I would like to cut up the downed trees and invasive plants like multi-floral rose and compost them by rendering them in a chipper shredder and placing the material into a large, 3 step bins arrangement I'm able to drive my front end loader into to turn and load the piles. If composted properly would I run the risk of transferring unwanted plant species to my garden and beds?

Carroll County Maryland

7 Responses

A healthy woods should have a top, middle, and understory--which can make it look sort of like a jungle. Things are constantly dying and new plants growing up to replace them (provided the deer are not eating all the new native plants!) The deer are such a huge problem, that it's extremely important not to remove anything native or that the other wildlife needs. That includes dead standing or downed trees. An incredible number of bird and animal species need those dead trees to either live in, or eat the insect species that move into, the dead wood. (Those insects aren't harmful to live wood--no need to worry about that). So, we'd recommend that you leave the downed trees, which saves you a ton of work.

As for the invasives, if you can chip them in place, you can use the chips to cover the bare soil and let them compost in place. Also saving you work. Plus, invasives are very likely to sprout up taking advantage of any bare soil, so preventing more of them saves you even more work. This doesn't seem like it would be a great idea, of course, if you've got vines full of, say, bittersweet berries. However, chances are that there are "seed banks" (undecomposed build-up) of the invasive seeds already in the soil.

If you hot compost the chipped invasives, which sounds like your plan, bittersweet berries (for example) may not decompose. So, yes, you run the risk of spreading them.

There is more info about invasive species on our website.

Lots of good info in your response! And I have many more questions based on your response. I recently cleared almost 15k sq. Ft. To put up a new building on the lot. I want to plant trees and shrubs to replace what I took out. Also I'm trying to get rid of multyflora rose and Johnson grass covering large areas of the lot. That area will be replanted as well. I think I need to talk to somebody to help with a plan. Can you suggest someone local (Westminster, Carroll county) who would be willing to assist me. There are a lot of things I want to there and I want to minimize my effort and mistakes.

By the way I have been reading information from your sight and I think I'll still need some help.

You may want to talk to Jonathan Kays. Click on Directory at the bottom of our home page, and put his name into its search box.

Also, put 'Forestry' into our website's search box. You can look through an array of courses and sources that should prove helpful. Managing a large forested area such as you describe is beyond what our office does, but there are programs and short courses set up to help landowners such as yourself.

Getting educated as you are doing will put you far ahead because, as you pointed out.


You may also be interested in attending the upcoming Reforesting Your Neighborhood workshop this January. Please see It is 1/16 at the Westminster VFW.

Steve, thanks for the info on the Saturday class. Will this class be directed toward neighborhoods in suburban settings or can it also apply to my 10 acre parcel?

This will be directed toward smaller landscapes; however, now that I think of it, you may be interested in the Woodlands Stewards program that University of MD Extension offers. This is coordinated by Lyle Almond, he will be speaking at this conference in January.
Here is a link to the Woodland Stewards program -