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The most convenient spot for my new compost pile happens to be under a young apple tree. I would put it there, but I have a few questions first.

  • Will I be able to make successful compost in heavy shade?
  • Will the tree's roots be bothered by (or bother) the compost pile?
  • Will the decomposing plant matter promote disease in the tree or it's fruit?
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Will your pile attract any critters that will be inclined to nibble on your tree? –  bstpierre Apr 3 '12 at 2:05
    
@bstpierre Possibly, but I have a tree wrap thing that is supposed to keep that from happening. –  jmusser Apr 3 '12 at 2:06
    
Heavy shade shouldn't be a problem and might be beneficial (it won't dry out as quickly, if this is usually a problem in your area). I would worry about rotting/disease though. –  winwaed Apr 3 '12 at 13:01
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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Yes, heavy shade is fine. In fact, it may be better, because the pile will dry out slower.

The compost and its leachates will be good for the tree. I don't know about apples in particular, but the tree will grow roots up into the compost, and you'll need to keep cutting them. On balance, it still should be good for the tree. It's a minor nuisance. Don't let the roots get deep into the compost (say, 2-3 years without turning) and then cut all at once - that will stress the tree.

I don't know if it will promote disease in the fruit. If concerned, you might avoid turning the compost while fruit is ripening, to avoid throwing up lots of mold spores.

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Most tree roots are within 6 inches of the surface and extend from the trunk to the drip line because that's where the oxygen and water are. If you raise the existing grade by more than an inch or two over more than two thirds of the rooting area there is a good possibility that the tree will decline as the roots starve for oxygen.

This is most commonly seen in new construction areas where contractors put safety fencing around an established tree to "protect" it and then kill it by raising the grade a foot.

Younger trees have a better chance of growing new roots up into the compost but that's not what you want either.

I do not recommend putting a compost pile under the tree unless it occupies no more than twenty percent of the rooting area.

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Compost isn't fill. I'd certainly agree if the pile was lined - which is often mistakenly recommended in this situation. But otherwise, I think it's probably ok. There's so much experience with vigorous, persistent root growth into piles that I don't think oxygen's a problem. It seems like any shortage thereof (which would impede nutrient uptake, if it exists) is more than offset by the rich environment. And water shouldn't be a problem either. –  Ed Staub Apr 3 '12 at 15:51
    
It depends on the size of the pile and composition. For example if you dump two cubic yards of sawdust around a tree that's one thing. A mix of branches, leaves, grass clippings occupying 9 square feet is another –  kevinsky Apr 3 '12 at 17:25
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