Collecting compost, mulch, potting soil from the woods

Today I collected some woods compost. I use this a few different ways… i mix it with my homemade compost to make a nice potting soil type mix. I top dress my veggie garden with it in the spring. It is a good add to any planting hole or new bed that i make.

There is a little work to collect it but it is pretty simple. I use a wheelbarrow, leaf rake, garden rake.

I raked the leaves off the area that i will collect from… in this case about an 8 x 12 ft strip of woods floor. Then simply rake up and collect the leaf mold, leaf compost layer under the leaves.

The first rake… you get more like a really nice leaf mold… and i collect that with just the leaf rake… once i rake up all i can with the leaf rake. I put that into the wheelbarrow.

Next i rake that area good with my garden rake to loosen up more of that woods compost layer… and then use the leaf rake to rake that all into a pile in the center and then load it into the wheelbarrow.

From a 8 x 12 area… collected around 150 lbs of nice woods compost… in 45 minites or so.

Nice stuff !

Anyone else collect compost material or mulch from your woods ?

I know that you can collect pine straw for mulch on the Natchez Trace… with specific daily limits.
I have not done that… but read about it in their guidelines for collecting berries and nuts from the Trace.

So even if you dont have a bunch of land there may be parks or woodlands near you that allow this. There is one near me that does.

Ps… the PH of my woods compost runs between 5.2 and 5.7.


im jealous. our soil is so thin here as we have more conifers that deciduous trees. on the hills we are lucky to have 6 to 12in. of topsoil. the rest is clay and ledge. river bottoms tend to have a couple feet. ive collected under old growth pine/ spruce stands but it tends to be very acidic. great for planting blueberries.


Just make sure there is no armillaria (pathogenic fungus with thick black rhizomorphs) growing on trees in the area. It attacks roots and will kill trees. Apples are susceptible. There is no known chemical control for it.


Huh. That got me wondering about doing that here in the Piney woods. They say they take a few years to break down. But once composted , pine is ph neutral. But some crops respond poorly to it. Tomatoes, cucumbers, and asparagus, as well as culinary herbs such as basil and parsley. Additionally, a variety of flowers, including marigolds and geraniums respond poorly.

Another article points out other leaves to avoid.

Composting Leaves - a Worthwhile Challenge.

Guess you have to evaluate your available wild trees first. Sounds like I can go get good free pine compost for my apples though. Sound like a great way to get your local microflora going for your new trees.


My woods are mostly oak… several varieties… hickory again several varieties… but there are patches of poplar and maple.

I get the best woods compost from those patches of maple and poplar. The leaves from maple and poplar break down faster and that leaf mold leaf compost layer seems to be both deeper and softer in those patches.

I got into forest farming back around 2010…

I have done lots of diging and raking of the forest floor.


Thats some valuable forest ag youre doing there. Tried planting at a relatives farm but didnt see any seedlings. I think the deer pressure may be too heavy. False sasparilla/spikenard does grow there though.


The one thing that drives me nuts is whoever lived here before ringed the pond in pines. It is too bright and sunny and has created a grassy pond. I’m going to thin those pines out and plant river birch and other riparian trees and shrubs. We did luck out with male and female Silver Buffalo’s I like.


I’ve collected some acidic humus/O-horizon pine needle material from the forest/pine plains (red pine mostly, some white, a little jack, with some Cladonia lichen & Polytrichum & Dicranum moss patches for added color) for my blueberry & lingonberry patches. And some Sphagnum (living & below) for my cranberry & lingonberry patches.

Attempts to get some arbuscular mycorrhizae & acidic mulch of course in this, and the added beauty of the lichen & moss, if they ‘take’ (some might, some haven’t, as expected–it’s hard to transplant moss, more so lichen).



I have an old youtube channel that includes several vids on growing wild simulated ginseng… some demonstrate the rake and scatter method of planting… some show the results the first and second spring (3 leafers and 2 prongs)… then later 3 prongs. It takes about 5-6 years here at my place… for them to go from a first year 3 leafer… to a decent sized 3 prong producing first berries.

Once you get that far along… you no longer have to purchase stratified seed… you can then just start planting your own seed.

Good stratified ginseng seed if planted properly will produce small plants with 3 leaves (mostly) that first spring.

They will do that just about anywhere you plant them… but if your location is not right… they will not thrive and develop as they should. They may die in a year or two… or may just stay small and never really fully develop.

If in year 3 or 4… you have some 8-10 inch tall 3 prongs… many of which are producing flower spikes… you got the location right.

Down here in TN we have to plant (mostly) on north facing hillsides to have success… north east facing hillside will work as long as you dont get too far in the east direction.

Ginseng needs mineral rich soils (especially high calcium levels) to thrive and be healthy and reproduce. and a low PH… 4.5 to 5.5 works well.

On my old YT channel there are also several vids of ginseng hunting. The one linked below shows the results year 2 of planting a 5 x 50 bed using rake and scatter method.


Just guessing but I think this is because oak leaves are high in tannins, delaying decay and putting them closer to pine needles if you want to think about it as a spectrum, better for low pH applications. As you already said any decaying plant material will be somewhat acidic anyway. This is great usage of your soils, especially on thinner soils like yours


This winter a windstorm took down a wild cherry tree I had girdled about 10 years ago, I decided to use its decaying log and limbs to create a soil enrichment project along my sidewalk frontage where historically the soil was very rocky, too hard and dry to support plants. Having read about the use of Hugel beds I decided this decomposing tree was perfect for my project to convert this poor soil into a new planting area. This area has all day sun exposure so improving the soil for fertility and water retention to support my new plum trees is the longterm goal of my Hugel project.
So I dug a trench deep enough to bury the log pieces about 2’ away from my sidewalk. Then on the right uphill side of the partially buried logs I broke up and placed the decomposing limbs. On top of the decomposing tree limbs I placed a 2-3” deep layer of imported clay soil.
In the below pic you can still see the partially exposed log and branches. I am now using winter rainfall to drive the clay particles into the Hugel bed. As springtime arrives, I will sow the bed with snow peas and crimsom clover then cover the seeds with some imported mycorrhizae that I recently discovered in a nearby forested area. (This will innoculate the underlying decomposing wood debris.) Then to keep the innoculate healthy and protected from sunlight I will covered the entire area with aged woodchips. When I am done the Hugel bed will be covered with chips. On the sidewalk side, only flowers and ground cover will grow. On the uphill side will be a series of new plum trees that I will be grafting this spring.

Site of Hugel bed: Area to the right side available for new fruit trees is about 30’ by 12’

Source of hardwood:The tree’s limbs are completed covered with lichen which will help hold moisture in the Hugel bed while the mycorrhizae breakdown the hardwood log.


Presence of Lichen and moss populations indicates good healthy air quality as well. According to the experts there are likely 1500 of both in Georgia. My favorite is the one that makes multicolor bullseyes on tree trunks. But it is tough to walk around here and not step on a moss or lichen of some sort.


When I lived in Washington state, I used to volunteer to help remove native plants from woody tracts scheduled for construction.

We would get the last hour to dig for ourselves. I used to leave with several five gallon buckets filled with the most wonderful, aromatic compost.


I have not heard of collecting future wild construction sites. But it sounds like a great idea. Most of the farms here will set aside lands they know is unique habitat. My wife’s Goat Farm buddy has a cool setside near one or the ponds with lots of carnivorous plants.Sundews, Bladderworts, Butterworts and various pitchers. Some terrestrial, a few aquatic. I watch the huge Softshell Turtles back there a lot.


The collecting of material was organized by the county conservation district. Native plants and trees could be saved and get re established with volunteers. The county arranges permissions from developers to allow folks to dig up nice plants for reuse. The plants might be sold to the public or maybe used to stabilize slopes, river beds, etc.


I added red worms to my compost pile which is about half leaves and half garden and food waste in the fal . It definitely speeds the process for me and reduces need for turning the pile.

1 Like

I started collecting oak leaf mold and compost almost 60 years ago when I discovered that the live oak trees that flourished near streams, even temporary ones in S. CA tended to accumulate several inches of both at their bases. There was a particular oak tree rooted in a steep, small canyon in a way that made it the perfect tree for a rope swing that you could swing from uphill down to a lower part of the canyon wall. I discovered the swing when I was with my parents looking for the home my father would live in for the rest of his life and would remain in my dreams for the rest of mine. It was that swing that inspired my pleas that we buy that house- I was 10 years old and we moved there a few months later from Ariz when I was 11.

When I was 14 I became the family gardener (I was one of 5 children) and I began growing fruit trees. The soil on the property was almost pure sand and sandstone and I discovered I could help the trees grow by breaking up the sandstone and mixing in a lot of oak compost and then mulching them with oak-leaf mold. The first I “harvested” was at the base of the oak tree that held the beloved swing.

A few years after scalping the soil of its rich oak-leaf bounty the tree fell over during a flood. It suddenly occured to me that removing all the compost and leaf-mold may have contributed to the trees

Moral of story: Take some, but not too much if you care about the tree that is growing in the forest compost of its own creation. The thin layer is of great importance to it.


I have 30 acres… and 27 of that is wooded…

I have not collected from the same location twice yet… but expext it would be ok to do that as long as you only collect in narrow strips (8x12… or 8x24) for example. And only hit the same location perhaps every 5 years or more.

That is going to be only a small portion of any trees root zone. Multiple trees will have roots growing into and across that strip… but all those trees have roots covering a much larger area outside that strip… that was undisturbed.

In the areas that i have collected from absolutely no sign of even slowing down timber development.

I do agree… it would not be a good idea to completely strip the rootzone of any single tree of leaf mold, leaf compost and do that on a regular basis, year after year.

Ps… the reason I collect from 8 ft wide strips… is that a man (with a good stout leaf rake) can easily walk the center of that strip and rake the material collected to the center.

From a 8x24 ft strip in my woods… my rather large wheelbarrow would be near full… 250-300 lbs leafmold/compost.

Ps2… after a hard deep freeze, snow … followed by rain and a warm up period… that is the best time to collect. It just rakes up much easier after going thru all that. A deep hard freeze will cause the top layer of soil to heave upwards and then when it thaws out it remains softer for a while … easier to rake and collect.



I have a nice little gully behind my house that is engulfed by hardwoods and such. I can get about 30 50G bags of leaves in a weekend and it doesnt look like i made a dent in it.

I have done mostly trial and error… even bought a used chipper/shredder that does a fantastic job making leaf mulch. However i dont think its the best way. There are steps missing.

I have found that leaving the leaves in bags open while it rains then letting them sit for a year or so makes something different. Poking holes in the bottom of the bags attracts worms which go up into the bags and make very nice vermicompost. (Black Gold)

The soil that i rake up is rife with myco and fungis and bacterias and things that consume the leaves anyways and transport to the trees roots on the forest floor. Those things decompose the leaves 24/7.

So bagging up leaves for me along with a little forest floor inoculation with the bacterias and fungis along with worms makes a very potent compost.

If you leave good sized holes in the bags you will also get lizards and salamanders that go in and hunt for bugs… if they are native to your area.

I do this in a very shady area where not much grows and is useless to me anyways… prime for making compost…and letting nature do all the work for me.

You could probably do the same thing with a tarp or something… but bags make it easier for me to keep the rotation going… and i know which bags are a year old and which are too fresh. I also did it in totes with holes drilled in the bottom… same result mostly.

If you dislike worms and waiting this is probably not a good thing for you.

Also to note is that adding this supercharges the living soil of what you are planting… for me that means that whatever woodchips i add disappear fairly quickly and i do have to deal with more weeds and grasses than i would like…as the woodchips do not suppress the light for very long. Likely not the same result for those that use pine bark mulch…as its not favored as highly in decomp from what i gather.

Perhaps this is wrong to do im not sure…but my things grow well and im using what is local and free to me that would likely happen if i were not here anyways.

The grasses in my walkways seem to enjoy the runoff of nutrients as well… which in turn lets me not have to worry about watering i think.

I mow a couple of times a year onto my rows which likely gives the nitrogenless compost a boost of nitrogen… which then turns into a more complete addition i think.

So leaf litter for me is a nice free resource… that has many benefits or downfalls…however you view things.

As a fun little experiment take a few shovels from various areas under leaf litter and spread onto a tray and let those seeds germinate… its pretty insane at the ferns and things that are lying dormant waiting for sunlight…maybe for eons. This is good for areas of your property that you want to re-wild just throw handfuls of that soil and things grow that you likely havent seen in awhile.

I found this out by adding those soils to my garlic beds. Which was ok to me.

You can likely buy similar product without the biome… and the worm castings… which to me is not the same. And not Free.


One way you can see the effects if forest floor heaving with hard freezes over winter is this.

A ginseng berry normally has 2 seeds inside… occasionally 1, occasionally 3… but 99% of time 2 seeds.

So if you plant ginseng berries… you are putting 2 seeds in one hole.

A ginseng berry that is planted… in the fall… (berries normally ripe mid sept)… the seed in those berries will not germinate the next spring… they require a longer stratification period. It will be the second spring before they germinate.

So they are planted in the fall… go thru the first winter, then spring, summer, fall, winter, and then germinate the second spring.

A small percentage of them may not germinate the second spring but will the 3rd, or 4th spring.

I have seen that happen many times.

When they do germinate and the little 3 leafers appear… the 2 seeds from that 1 berry… that were planted in the same hole… those 3 leafers will often be located 3 or 4 inches apart.

The result of forest floor heaving.

There you go… something only a seasoned ginseng grower would know :wink: