Soil question

Asked November 12, 2018, 1:18 PM EST

Last spring I had two large maple trees removed from my yard. The trees were fairly close to the house and their roots grew into a solid plate over 50 years. I had a contractor come in and grind out the roots with a large industrial stump grinder and now, would like to turn this area into a garden patch for growing vegetables. There are still shards of wood lodged in the soil. Should I sift the soil and remove them, or leave them in? They vary in size from small pieces - about the width of a pencil, to larger chunks that are 1" x 1" x 4" Does wood left in the soil act to retard growth of say tomatoes and basil, or act to promote growth? Many Thanks

Baltimore County Maryland soil vegetables

5 Responses

When you say 'last Spring' do you mean this year? Were the shavings and sawdust removed from the area? Fresh wood chips can rob Nitrogen needed for plant growth from the soil. To plant this area, you would want to allow the chips and sawdust to age and rot for a year, or remove as much as you can and add a good amount of organic matter and mix it in.

How is the soil right now? Can you easily drive a shovel down into it?

Good soil for gardens should be loose, easily dig-able and crumbly. Fallen, mown/shredded leaves are a great, free amendment.
Take a look here for information on getting your area ready for a vegetable garden:

Now would be a good time for a soil test. This page will give you the details, including how to take a sample, and a list of labs where you can send it through the mail for a professional analysis:

You will want to remove the largest wood pieces and any stones as best as you can.


Thanks for your response. The root mass from the maple trees were ground up on 5/1/18. I attempted to pull out the biggest pieces of wood, but the grinder acted as sort of a rototiller mixing the shards of wood in with the soil. The soil is fairly loose and you can easily drive a shovel into it. The ambient soil contains a good deal of clay, but right after the grinding was completed, I worked 2 cubic yards of a 50/50 mix of leafgro and organic topsoil into the 20' x20' plot. ( I purchased the mix from Hollins Organic off of Falls Road.)

Your explanation about the wood robbing nitrogen might explain why my tomato yield was less than expected this season.

Since the garden area is fairly small I will try and sift the soil through a sifting box that I just built. Per your suggestion I'll add mowed fallen leaves to the soil, and supplement with several bags of leargro.

I have access to an unlimited amount of horse and donkey manure. Would composting this over the winter and tilling it in with the leaf mulch in the spring be a good thing to do?

Thanks - Dave

Yes, but be aware that both types of manure typically carry a huge weed populations. The pile needs to reach a temperature of at least 135 degrees F. (throughout the pile) for at least three days to ensure that weed seeds are killed.

Two other practices to minimize weed spread in the garden: 1) a thick organic mulch (e.g., shredded leaves, straw) and 2) spread the pile out to a one foot height in the spring, tarp it with clear plastic that will encourage weed seed germination and kill plants on warm sunny days.

We also recommend that you test the soil this fall (see link in previous answer).

Be prepared to apply a soluble nitrogen fertilizer in spring if your spring crops have pale leaves and weak growth. jt

Many Thanks!!!!