Initial preparation of Soil vs Cottonwood Tree roots

compulsivegrower(8)March 10, 2013

Hi there!

I have a new plot of land to grow vegetables on this season. I am in the initial prep stages. The landowner removed 3 Cottonwood trees in January that were bordering the garden. Well the top portion of the trees anyway.

Yesterday I was doing some digging around collecting a soil sample and investigating the soil/ground I'll be working with and almost everywhere I put my shovel down there were large roots spread out across the entire plot. Even 30 feet away from the spot where the tree originally sat. Call me naive but I had no idea the entire 30 by 90 foot area would have cottonwood roots 4-6 inches below the surface in all directions.

My questions are

1) can a walk behind roto tiller be damaged if it goes over these roots?

2) should I just dig down and pull out every root in the space & then Till ?

3) am I gonna break my back before I even get a seed in the ground !!


Thank you

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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

1. Just depends on the tiller. Most of the small tillers (Little Mantis, etc) have tines that can very easily be bent by such roots. I wouldn't try tilling with one of the smaller tiller with these kinds of roots. The larger tillers are probably just gonna jump when they hit a large root. Both front and rear tine tillers can be dangerous if they hit a root just right. Just be careful and take it slow.

2. It might be easier to pull the roots out once you do till. Tilling can cut through some of the smaller roots to allow easier removal of the big ones. It can be a lot or work, but you may be able to get most of the roots out with a little work.

3. Sometimes vegetable gardening can seem that way. Good luck!!!

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 6:27PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

trees are said to be twice as big below ground than above.. but in a different shape.. i would be surprised if you found the roots 50 or 100 feet away ...

what exactly are you planting.. that it matters what is 6 inches down????

most veggies are not going to be that deep ... or can work around such ...

your bigger issue.. might be all the suckers that pop up from the CWood ...

i wouldnt abuse MY machine on trying to find out its tolerance.. but i might try the neighbors machine.. lol ...


    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 6:51PM
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Comp, is there the possibility that you can import material-soil, compost, etc. to build up the area? If so, you could let the roots soften up as they rot while still having good depth of soil for your garden.

BTW, someone correct me if they've seen otherwise, but I don't think cottonwoods root sucker like some of their brethren in the genus Populus.


    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 8:14PM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

I don't think you have a choice. You have to dig the area anyway to plant veggies. Dig up the Cottonwood's roots and be done with it.
Cottonwoods profusely sprout from the roots here. Your work is cut out for you.
Mike....I just happen to like shovel work....except for ditches. :-)

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 9:00PM
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Now you know. You can use a walk-behind 11-13 hp and maybe you'll bend a tine, but you are going to have a bouncy ride that way. And a lot of work. Probably better to use a pick and pry method at first.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 10:01PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

in my area.. CWoods are hundred foot trees...

his garden is 30 feet away ...

but we dont know if they are dealing with 6 to 8 inch monster roots..

or bad hair day roots ...

no tiller is going to go thru the large roots ... until they decay enough ...

let us know if you want to know how to kill suckers ...

again.. if they are 6 to 8 inches down.. unless you were trying to grow potato ... i think i might just ignore them.. and work over it all ...

BTW .. rotting wood uses available nitrogen.. OVER THE YEARS ... you MIGHT need to fert IN THE FUTURE . ... but i am loathe to tell you to get carried away with such ....

and dont be surprised.. over the next 5 years or so.. you dont end up with a myriad of mushrooms popping up everywhere... enjoy the show.. otherwise ignore them.. it will be your key to understanding.. that the wood underground is finally decomposing.. thru the fungus attacks ... i consider them a free show in the garden .... and there is not much you can do to avoid them.. other than get the rotting wood out of the soil ....


    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 8:58AM
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I think the best way to prepare the area for your garden is to buy a Pick-Mattock. Using this tool you can cut through roots, remove rocks, and level high spots.

Make sure the blade end has a good blade for cutting.

Also get the heaviest that you can handle, as you don't have to work as hard when cutting roots. The weight of the Mattock provides most of the cutting force.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 10:11AM
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Agree with Knuttle-if it's dig you must, the mattock is the tool to use.

Botann, I'm at least a bit surprised to hear of root-sprouting of this tree in your area. As far as I've ever seen, they're not doing that here, although I've probably never specifically looked to see. Now white poplar, balsam poplar, quaking aspen, etc.....lots and lots of colonial development!


    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 10:05PM
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I sure have ripped some roots with my cutter mattock! I hate that thing but I love it at the same time.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2013 at 6:22AM
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