Collecting compost, mulch, potting soil from the woods

Yeah, that’s how I manage it on my property. I plant so many trees in my business and always dress them with about 5 cubic feet of pure compost that I buy from a nearby yard- made out of yard waste that consists mostly of wood chips, leaves and lawn clippings- the yard charges them a dump fee at one end and then about $30 a yard for compost at the other- about what they charge for the shredded wood mulch they create out of woodchips alone. It isn’t as light and airy as oak compost and tends to be somewhat alkaline- so if I happen to be planting blueberries I scrape up some compost from my woods and mix with peat moss to create an airy soil suitably acidic.

What to add to woods collected leaf mold, leaf compost … that is on the acidic side (mine normally runs 5.2-5.7.

Bone meal is rich in calcium, phosphorous… and requires an acidic soil (less than 7 PH) for those to be avaible to the plants.

Best I remember bone meal itself has a PH around 12. Sounds like a good add to me in small amounts… if you want to move your PH to something more like 6.5.

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I collected from another location this afternoon.

When you rake back the top layer of leaves to the point that what remains is mostly decomposed leaf litter… I find a lot of this…

Pretty sure that is what they call mycorrhizal fungi.

You might find a few very sleepy tree frogs too.

I found a new location for him to sleep off the rest of winter.

I harvested from a 8x20 ft strip of woods today and below is what the first rake looked like.

The first rake alone filled my wheelbarow quite full. It was all I could do to get that back home.
Estimate 250-300 lbs.

When I can I will return to that spot and rake it good with my garden rake and then use the leaf rake to collect again. The mix of soil, leaf compost, leafmold from the second rake is some fine stuff.

The location I collected from this evening has some very nice white oak and lots of them. Tall, straight, no limbs for 30 ft. Timber scout’s like to see those.



Just a little clarification: the white stuff in the first photo is fungal mycelium; mychorrizal fungi produce growth on living roots of plants.


Acidic does not necessarily mean acidifying, composted leaf mold ends up being only slightly acidic here, in the low to mid 6’s. I’ve never tested the pH of the mold though, I use it as mulch and I don’t think the roots directly grow into it although I’m pretty sure trees quickly acquire mycorrhizal access.

In some soils, apple trees seem to do very well down to a pH of 5.5 or so. Cornell used to and maybe still does pitch creating about a 7 pH to address storage issues in apples, but I believe it was the result of the wishful thinking of a single soil guru on their campus. It never solved those storage issues and commercial growers continued to rely on calcium foliar sprays even when their soils were converted to neutral. .That was my experience with Jonagold and Honeycrisp and some years, other apples like Pink Lady and even Goldrush. But I raised my pH with firewood ashes, so it wasn’t a fair test given all the excess potassium my trees must have been getting, They are surrounded by nursery trees I mulch with woodchips, which adds to their Special K breakfast.


@alan … in 2010 before i started forest farming projects on my place I collected soil samples from 3 locations and sent them off for soil test.

Ginseng seeds are planted in that layer of composted leaf litter just inder the leaves. 1/2 to 1 inch deep works well.

That is what i sent in for soil test… the 3 locations came back showing 5.2, 5.5, 5.7 ph.

My calcium levels were not ideal… 750 -1500 range. I used gypsum to supplement. 2000 or greater is best. I know some guys up north (in States with glacial deposits) that have soils with calcium in the 4000-6000 range. They grow some very healthy happy beds of ginseng.


If you wanted to raise you pH, why didn’t you use ground limestone instead of gypsum? I think of gypsum being used to rescue sodic clays and add calcium where pH is already too high.

Because … i did not want to raise the PH.

Ginseng is a woodland plant known to thrive and be healthy in special soil conditions often only found in forrest floor with high levels of acidifying organic matter combined with high levels of calcium in the soil.

In TN… i find those conditions around the bottom of creek or river bluffs… or up on the bluff on any flats that can be planted. Or in hollows with significant rock outcropping.

Where you have limestone rock above ground in TN… the soil nearby is often filled with limestone rock chips… and also full of organic matter.


To be healthy and thrive ginseng needs a low PH (4.5-5.5) and high levels of calcium in the soil.

You dont find that everywhere… nor do you find ginseng everywhere.

Gypsum… unlike lime… will raise the calcium levels without affecting PH.


Notice the ginseng roots in the pic below…

The 4 smaller roots (top right area) have long rhizomes (root neck) which means they are older roots. Each flat on the ginseng root rhizome represents a year or growth. Those 4 roots are all in the 20 year old range.

They were found in average woods, calcium levels in the 1500 range… and in 20 years or more produced roots that size.

Just about 100 yards down the same hollow… you get to a Creek with a Creek Bluff… and along that creek bluff I found those other much larger roots (notice with very short rhizome)… much larger roots on much younger ginseng plants.

Why ?

They were not growing in regular woods type soil. They were growing in soil that was loaded with limestone rock chips and good organic matter.

9-3-big ball root

The pic above shows the soil that one of those larger roots was harvested from. Notice all the limestone rock chip in the soil… and notice the abundance of fine hair root on that one… it is obviously happy healthy and thriving. And in 4-6 years grew to be much larger than any of those 4 roots that were 20+ years old,


You should have used a Benjamín. :wink:

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Check out the rhizome on this root…in the 50-60 year old range.

I have found them in the past with more than 100 flats on the neck.

Each year on that neck (rhizome) a bud developes that will be the next years top… in early spring that top grows up, forms the top, folwers, produced berries, and eventually dies of late fall, with frost… when that top dies it breaks off the rhizome, leaving a flat spot, The bud for the next season develops at the top over the summer months… and then produces the top for the next season.

That is how you can somewhat reliably age a ginseng root by counting the flats on the rhizome.


@TNHunter @alan

It is worth noting that ginseng begins to shrink as it gets older just like people. Age can be deceptive. Like young people the roots grow when they are young faster.

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@clarkinks … not necessarily true that ginseng roots shrink with age.

It depends…

In 2010 I collected 44 nice mature ginseng plant roots. These were all 30+ years old, big healthy plants producing a nice cluster of berries.

I transplanted them to a bed that I had prepped that had ideal light and fertility levels. I put 6 … 5 gal buckets of limestone chip filled soil in the bed and supplemented with gypsum and other trace mineral components.

I burried gypsum board strips in the bed and planted the roots in between those strips. That supplies a steady stream of calcium for many years to the roots as it leaches out from the gypsum board strips.

This was done to create a seed producing bed. I harvested 400-500 berries a year from that for 10 years. That is 800-1000 seeds.

After ten years i harvested and sold the roots and in those 10 years they all basically doubled in size. Not one of them decreased in size.

So… i would say the only way a ginseng root is going to shrink in size over time is if the location changes… either soil fertility wise or light level wise.

It is very common for a huge tree to fall in the woods…

When that happens and there happens to be a small ginseng plant (that has been struggling for a few years to grow and develop)… and this new hole in the forest canopy givea that small ginseng plant a couple hours of morning sun… BOOM… it will grow like crazy the next several years simply because the light levels became ideal. Once other trees grow and fill that hole… the top on that plant will decrease in size as the light levels decrease… and once the top size reduces … the root size will decrease.

If light and fertility levels remain constant… (and ideal)… ginseng could get very large.

In the woods… those dont often remain constant. Select harvesting of timber, or clearcutting ridge tops (only) can give wild ginseng that has been struggling for years in low light conditions… with the new light light supply it will double ot tripple in size over the next 5-10 years.

A large mature ginseng plant that grew under ideal light conditions… (first 10 years after select cut timber)… could definately shrink in top size… followed by root size for the next 20 30 40 years as the forest floor recieces an ever decreasing supply of light.

75% shade is ideal for ginseng growth.
Mature hardwood forests floors are normally much deeper shade than that… unless a tree falls or timber is harvested.

The absolute best location for ginseng growth (light wise) is on a east facing bluff. Ginseng in the south can tollerate and grows best in locations where it gets lots of morning sun … but none of the hot evening sun. Fast growth, huge tops and roots in 5-8 years. The larger roots in the pic above were in such a location.



soil under big autumn olives is great

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@Hellbrook … my Autumn Olive story…

I bought one from burnt ridge… planted it… it was budding and leafing out…

Then I found out it was considered very invasive in TN and not allowed here… yanked it roots and all and trashed it.

Oh well i had one for 3 or 4 weeks.


yes, but I raid the soil from existing bushes .
Under locusts might be rich too .


Rich? To me that means loaded with organic matter, not a bit higher in N. Of course, a soil rich on OM also releases more N, but N itself speeds the loss of organic matter, so, by my def., I doubt soil affected by N fixing nodules tends to become richer.

I think that N fixing plants have an edge in weak soils and that is when they tend to be invasive, or at least, become dominant. If soil has adequate N it is a disadvantage to invest energy is the mechanism of fixing N.

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Im going to leave my woodland soil in the woods. This soil is worth more than gold to me. It can grow morels and other things.


@clarkinks … morels are known to be triggered to fruit in areas where the forest floor has been disturbed… for example when a new road (perhaps for logging) is cut into your woods.

Or where a old tree falls and the rootball lifts a chunk of dirt up…revealing bare soil.

Or even when a flash flood washes away leaves and some top soil…

Buck paw (scrapes) or areas where turkeys have been scratching…

Basically anywhere in the forest floor where the top layer of leaves has been removed and the soil disturbed a little…

Are known to be Hot Spots for the morel to fruit.

You dont have to collect compost for that to happen… but areas that you do collect compost in… when finished be sure and leave those areas bare … at least until morels have stopped fruitng in your area and check them weekly as morels are fruiting.

If you have a hot spot where you often find morels… go to it with a leaf rake and rake back the leaves … just about a 3 ft wide strip… 30, 40 50 ft … a few weeks before morels start fruiting in your area (ground temp 52F… is when they start fruiting).

The under ground (not roots… but the part of the morel that lives and travels long distances under the leaves)… when it runs into a barrier or sudden change… like a bare spot… BOOM… up pops the morel fruit.

Good to know if you are a shroomer.




When i say growing morels thats not all of what i mean but thats part of it. You will understand when you see the photos below. Damp rich woodland soil is necessary for many plants that live in the woods including ginseng like those seeds below.