bubbles on tree root--hydrogen sulfide?

beckyinrichmondMarch 15, 2013

I wrote in last month about my pile of wood chips from a maple removed last fall and how much dirt to fill in the pit. I've planted grass seed and am keeping it moist so the seed will germinate. I see hints of germination. I'm writing now about a problem with one of the lateral roots from this tree. Part was above ground where it a lawn mower would have to bump over it and my husband chopped part of it off so it wouldn't interfere with the mower. I filled in the depression with some of the topsoil/compost mixture. Earlier this week while going around with the hose to keep the ground moist, I noticed that that spot looked strange. On closer inspection I found that the dirt was a sloppy, smelly goo with bubbles it it. I got a 5 gallon bucket and scooped out all the wet goo and dumped on the ground in the alley by the trash can. It rained the next day and the day after I scooped out the puddle, leaving the root exposed to the air. Three days later, which have been warm (in the 60s), sunny, and breezy, the root is glistening with wetness, there are little white bubbles in the wetness, and there is a foul odor in the general vicinity. The dirt I dumped in the alley is now just normal damp dirt and does not smell. After I scooped the dirt out, I wrote to the soil and compost forum here and it was suggested that I was dealing with hydrogen sulfide, which is poisonous. I was thinking then I had a drainage problem with the base of the root keeping rainwater from draining properly and there was some kind of fermentation because of that. But I've never had a drainage problem in that part of the yard and it's strange that it would be concentrated in just that one spot where we had chopped on a root and filled in with dirt. Something is coming from the root, and whatever it is is not good. Do you think it's hydrogen sulfide? Could it be something else? How do you test to find out? Who is qualified to deal with it? If it's hydrogen sulfide, I have a health hazard in my yard. Is this substance normal in the decay process for trees?

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andy10917(NY 6a)

You didn't specify where you live, but a decent chance is that it's nothing more complex than rotting maple sap. Maples produce tons of sap when the days go to above-freezing in the day and below-freezing at night. Some varieties produce so much sap that it is boiled down and makes (surprise!) maple syrup.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 6:32PM
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If it is Hydrogen Sulfide you will get a rotten egg smell. Have you ever been around sulfur water? What you smell with sulfur water is Hydrogen sulfide. My uncle's house had so much hydrogen sulfide inside the house that any thing that was silver quickly turned black. They lived in the house for many years. There were many similar house in the area, with more or less Hydrogen Sulfide in the air from the water.

You mentioned Hydrogen Sulfide as being a poison. It is, but the concentration has to be many times the smell threshold.
Because of the smell you will leave the area long before you reach a toxic level.


    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 6:56PM
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I'm in Richmond VA, zone 7a and it was a silver maple. If it's sap, about when could I expect it to stop? I'd much prefer it to be rotten sap than poison gas. The dirt I dug out was too soupy to grow anything in so I won't put any more in until the oozing, bubbling stuff stops.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 7:03PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

You might want to ask this question in a tree forum.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2013 at 1:07AM
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It's over a month and I thought I'd update on my maple roots. There is orange, black, and white stuff on the exposed root and it is still oozing moisture. The smell has gone. I have a picture.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2013 at 4:30PM
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There was another root that was chopped on in February and it too developed the same condition. I left that one alone. It too has the bad smell but the smell is not as bad as it was. It has turned the surrounding soil orange. Here is a picture.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2013 at 4:36PM
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