En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
2 ratings

Thursday - November 04, 2010

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Soils, Trees
Title: Do leaves with tannins make good compost from Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I have a couple of old native pecan trees in my (or neighbor's) yard that drop bushels and bushels of leaves every fall. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I have a recollection that pecan leaves have too much tannin (or something else) to make good compost. Was I dreaming? Now that I am composting everything I can lay my hands on, should I throw the pecan leaves in the pile? Thanks!

ANSWER:

First, congratulations on your composting practices; nothing is better for the environment, in our opinion. Second, there are always arguments about what is okay to compost and what is not. We found this comment from an article by Neil Sperry for the Wichita Falls, TX Times Record News:

"Leaves of oaks, pecans and walnuts all contain tannins, and there are always those out there who contend that you should not include any of these in your compost piles or in your garden soils. Let me answer from my personal experiences. I grew up in College Station, where I used post oak humus as my main source of organic matter in my gardens and greenhouse soils. It was naturally composted beyond recognition of its origin, so the tannins were of absolutely no concern. For the past 32 years, I have lived and gardened at the floor of a pecan forest, and I’m knee-deep in pecan leaves every fall. I run them through the mower, compost them, and proudly use them without any repercussions at all. Two pieces of advice: Use your mower to speed the composting along, and include other forms of organic matter in your compost pile. Decaying manure, grass clippings, “scalpings” from your first lawn mowing of the spring, etc. A combination of several forms of organic matter is always a better idea than having only one."

The message here is compost early and often and long enough to do the job. The organic matter mentioned in the excerpt contribute nitrogen and help in the "heating up" part of composting. If you don't have enough "green" material, you can buy a bag of cottonseed or alfalfa meal at the feed store, and layer your leaves with that, remembering to moisten the pile and keep turning it. By all means, don't waste those leaves!

 

More Trees Questions

Oak trees losing leaves in Longview, Texas
August 18, 2009 - One of my oak trees is losing its leaves (it is the first week in August). They are turning brown and falling at an alarming rate. The ground under this tree is covered, but my other trees seem unaffe...
view the full question and answer

Wilting of Mountain Ash in Wisconsin
August 21, 2008 - What type of disease would cause a Mountain Ash to entirely wilt? The bark on bottom of tree is opening up and is spongy feeling. No sign of any disease until last month and it quickly wilted with b...
view the full question and answer

Ecosysystem with pecan at center from Austin
February 21, 2014 - Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, I would like to create a native tree guild around a mature pecan. It shares its space with native shrubs and ephemerals but I would like to add a nitrogen fixing plant. I am...
view the full question and answer

Re-landscaping neglected garden in Franklin CT
April 03, 2011 - I am starting from scratch in a yard that has no planting beds or, for that matter, plants at all. House was vacant for quite some time, grass was three feet tall when we moved in. I would like to p...
view the full question and answer

Mountain laurel with fasciation
July 24, 2014 - My Texas Mountain Laurel bush has developed several "crested branches." What causes this, is it harmful & how do I get rid of them??? Thank you!
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP | STAFF
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center