HugelKulture Mistake


I made a MAJOR mistake in my backyard where Hugelkulture is concerned. I used the WORST possible wood in my hugelkulture beds. I used Tree of Heaven wood from a dead tree in my backyard which we cut down. Apparently, Tree of Heaven wood is alleopathic (releases herbicides in the roots, bark and leaves upon decomposition) . This means NOTHING is going to grow or it will grow poorly. So now, I need to dig up all the logs I put under my raised garden beds AND I need to remove what I put in my garden bins because I used the twigs and leaves for organic material.

I can't even. I invested so much time into this project. (Head hung low)

All, just an FYI, don't use Tree of Heaven, Cedar or conifers as the wood for your HugelKulture logs.

Cedar because it's the hardest wood to decompose, hence it being used in a lot of structures.

Learn from Ms Pooz... sigh



  • shllnzl
    shllnzl Posts: 1,820 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Sorry to hear that all your work has to be undone. Thanks for sharing so that others don't make the same mistake.

    I believe Black Walnut also inhibits the growth of other plants.

  • merlin44
    merlin44 Posts: 426 ✭✭✭✭

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Melissa Swartz
    Melissa Swartz Posts: 270 ✭✭✭

    dianne.misspooz Thanks for sharing so others don't do this. That is disheartening--all that work! So sorry!

  • Karyn Pennington
    Karyn Pennington Posts: 71 ✭✭✭

    Ugh -- I always find that gardening is an ongoing learning process, but that sure was a difficult lesson -- I'm SO sorry you're having to go through this. That's a lot of work and effort. Thank you for sharing. I've only heard of Tree of Heaven on here, so I don't think they're native to my area.

  • ines871
    ines871 Posts: 1,283 ✭✭✭✭✭

    wow "Tree of Heaven": that thing's actions... sure doesn't sound like Heaven, sigh. --- Maybe it's the fact that it grows very fast into a very large tree, reaching heights of 80-100 feet & up to 6 feet in diameter. Never heard of it, so to help others ID it to avoid, here it is in up-close detail

    Very detailed pictures of its entire size, bark, twigs, leaves, seeds, etc.

    While gardening is one Learning experiment after another, I am sorry you had to go thru that hard & lengthy, & time-consuming process. Thanks for sharing so that others don't make the same mistake.

  • dianne.misspooz
    dianne.misspooz Posts: 105 ✭✭✭

    Here is the article on Tree-Of-Heaven and it's affects on other plants.

    Now, to get busy removing as much of it as I can. 😫

    Thanks everyone! Just your comments have helped me feel better about this whole situation 💏

  • pamelamackenzie
    pamelamackenzie Posts: 143 ✭✭✭

    Thanks for sharing. I have not tried Hugelkulture yet, sounds interesting.

  • Leslie Carl
    Leslie Carl Posts: 255 ✭✭✭✭

    There are some plants that are juglone tolerant. Yarrow, St. Johnswort, Elderberry, Lobelia, Onion, Beets, Carrot, Parsnips, Beans, Corn, Squash and Melons. But it would still depend on the level of exposure and health of the plant, as to whether it will grow well. At least these would be the better choices to grow once you remove what you can.

  • dianne.misspooz
    dianne.misspooz Posts: 105 ✭✭✭

    Hi Leslie,

    I removed all the logs, as much of the twigs as we could find and just buried all the compost in the logs' place that had the leaves of the tree. I'm going to lay down cardboard on top of it all and start afresh this weekend with my raised beds. It was a LOT of work but we got it removed now so I'm feeling better about the whole thing. I was planning on growing your whole list anyway but I wasn't about to chance it with the bad logs... I'm ITCHING to get gardening and making my own medicine! lololol

  • drpclarke
    drpclarke Posts: 53 ✭✭✭

    I am with you Dianne. I built one last year and I have had no luck with anything lasting and a lot of seeds not germinating. I am going to start pulling my logs next week and use cardboard and compost on top of the topsoil. In the place where I did that last year, everything is doing great. We push our zones, but sometimes mother nature just says "NO"!

  • Sorry to hear about your problems with hugle beds. On another note, I would like to tell about my positive experiences with hugle beds. Several years ago I ran across a book by Sepp Holtzer and he talks about building hugle beds (wood core garden beds) as well as a lot of other interesting things. The book impressed me so much, I went to meet Sepp in Montana on his last trip to the USA shortly after. (Sepp is getting old and I was told that he is not making the long plane trips anymore. He lives in Austria.) It was great to meet Sepp and learn about some interesting things he is doing at his farm in Austria. I was also intrigued because my land is very much like his land. Very steep, forested, limited water mainly. So now I have a blueprint on how to create a lush food forest! I like that!

    Right away I did start some hugle beds. A lot of them. Some places they worked great, other spots not so good. The logs I use are ponderosa pine. In the main garden, which is consistently watered year round, the wood core (hugle beds) work great. The areas (mostly outside of the main garden fence) where watering is inconsistent, the wood core does not break down very fast. Totally makes sense.

    The point of adding a wood core to a garden bed is to build soil and hold moisture. If kept moist it really works great. The wood that breaks down becomes a nice spongy soil component. I work very hard to build good soil and this has helped a lot!

    Something to keep in mind when using hugle beds is that they do not work well for trees or beds with perennial plants. I think it is because there is a lot of movement and changes happening in the soil while the logs break down.

    So, hugle beds can work great, under the right circumstances and with the right wood cores!

  • ines871
    ines871 Posts: 1,283 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Thank you for this explanation. --- It also explains why "Hugelkulture" never spoke to me, the native German. Our soil already holds plenty water, & 90% of what we plant are Perennials.

  • herbantherapy
    herbantherapy Posts: 453 ✭✭✭✭

    @dianne.misspooz don’t feel bad. I used 6 months to 1 year old trimming from an escallonia on the bottom of mine, thinking I would make use of the pile of limbs I had. Then each bed had 3 feet of additional material. Guess What!? I’ve been cutting out escallonia starts all summer with hopes to suppress this monster that won’t die!

    so aware of those aggressive growers!

  • gennywu
    gennywu Posts: 96 ✭✭✭

    Thank you for that explanation of how Hugelkultur works. It has always interested me, but I have never tried it and wasn't too sure how it works. I also enjoyed your story of Sepp. I am a native Austrian and gardening in Austria is an honored tradition. I wish I could have listened in to your gardening discussion.

  • vickeym
    vickeym Posts: 2,116 ✭✭✭✭✭

    What is the reason for not using conifer? We have a lot of beetle kill spruce we had planned to put in our first hugelkultur bed. maybe, I need to rethink that idea?

  • Hassena
    Hassena Posts: 345 ✭✭✭

    Hi the conifers in a hugle bed can release tannins. If there was a mix pine and other woods it might be ok. We've done a few different types of hugle beds. Hugles seem to preform better as they age. The materials come to life as food for the soil. The hugle mound can also create a windbreak or shady area. Our next hugle bed will be rather tall, about 6ft high and 4ft wide. Not sure of the length yet, that will depend on materials.

    The bed will run North-South. On the east side we will plant pawpaws. The hugle will act as a wind break. The pawpaws won't be planted in the bed, in the ground next to the hugle bed. The hugle bed will be perennials flowers that will reseed.

    That's the plan anyways :)

  • Riesah
    Riesah Posts: 3 ✭✭✭

    Hello, thanks for the interesting information on Hugels. We moved into a small town with a larger lot and I felt impelled to get a garden in place. While I'd had a design for raised beds boxed in and such, instead, a design for 5 hugels radiating out from a centre, like spokes on a wheel came in and I went for it. The mounds are filled with local deciduous trees: trunks, branches, leaves, compost, sawdust, shredded paper and composted soil on top; 4' wide, 2' deep and 5' long. I planted both perennials and annuals and both did very well until a frost hit. Winter peas were planted as a cover crop. Do I just turn them in the spring and then plant in?

    I'd like to hear about how one builds more soil on these, using compost, manure and such. Also to both protect plants from squirrels, and insects like cabbage moths and aphids (we had a real infestation at the end of season) I'd like to make movable hoop houses and am looking for recommendations as to what materials to use, how high to make them and so on. I'm a complete novice in hugelkultur, but it seems all I'm doing in this new garden is everything is an experiment and they all seem to be working okay. Grew yams for the first time.

  • frogvalley
    frogvalley Posts: 675 ✭✭✭✭
    edited June 2020

    Wow! So many lessons learned here today.

    Wishin' I'd read this one month earlier. My husband just built raised beds and filled the first one with compost straight from the kitchen. The plants are like teenagers at the beach during spring break before the pandemic - they are everywhere, reaching for the sun and all vying for attention. The next two beds were filled with pieces of trees on hand and are more like a drive-in movie theater during a New England winter - nothing much happ'nin. We were scratching our heads 'til I came upon your kind sharing of a devastating experience.

    Michael Judd had introduced us to permaculture when he came to our house and helped us build swales many, many years ago. Needing to expand beyond those swales, we decided to line the car park with the raised beds and throw in what was at hand. Although Bill Mollison said “Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple”, turns out it wasn't as simple as we thought. We overlooked the fact that our skills are rather rusty with some of the practicality and everyday reality aspects of permaculture, biodynamics, and hugelkultur.

    Researching this topic has been eye opening and mind expanding. Onward ho.

  • dianne.misspooz
    dianne.misspooz Posts: 105 ✭✭✭

    Oh no! I totally know what you are talking about... I have shoots still coming up all over. It sure is a monster that won't die. Good analogy!

  • dianne.misspooz
    dianne.misspooz Posts: 105 ✭✭✭

    What a great idea to do hugel beds in a wheel spoke fashion! Sounds devine! I wish I had the room. I ended up tearing out my logs and now I just filled my beds with all organic material like straw, mushroom dirt, shredded paper from work, leaves and compost. My plants this summer are growing like gangbusters! Its exciting. I had rock hard sandy dirt where no worm existed... now, there are tons of worms in my beds. Its awesome to behold! Thanks for posting :)

  • dianne.misspooz
    dianne.misspooz Posts: 105 ✭✭✭

    Loved your comparisons of the plants... great analogies! hahaha... yes, its a hard lesson to learn. LOTS OF HARD WORK FOR NUTTIN, HONEY!!! But lesson learned. This is a learning process for sure and I've learned tons this year with all the trials and errors. I'm sure I've got more to learn but I'm open to it all. I hope you have success in your gardens moving forward like I have. It WILL happen, hang in there!

  • mgray11
    mgray11 Posts: 83 ✭✭✭

    I'm really glad I randomly clicked on this discussion.. Having never heard of HugelKultur nor Tree of Heaven before, this has been a really educational thread. Do any of you have photos of what your HugelKultur beds/gardens look like?

    And @Riesah that wheel with spokes idea is brilliant, I'd love to see how it all turned out.

  • dianne.misspooz
    dianne.misspooz Posts: 105 ✭✭✭

    I wish I had taken pictures but since I removed all the Tree of Heaven logs, twigs and leaves, I just put my raised bins on top and not doing Hugelkulture again. If I had more land on my property, I would consider doing it again because I live in California where water is premium and what's great about Hugelkulture is, it is almost a self watering system since decaying logs retain water from the rains. One day... one day... lolol. Glad you stumbled upon this!


  • mgray11
    mgray11 Posts: 83 ✭✭✭

    Ah yes - I can see how this could be a huge time/water/money-saver in California/any area prone to drought. I live in the PNW so the entire region is a self-watering system.

  • Deb113
    Deb113 Posts: 42 ✭✭✭

    Hugelkulture is great and well worth the effort, so sorry about that wood choice. I am going to use that process here on the Plateau due to the thin soil over the rock base here. Thanks for reminding me about invasive. Glad I do not have Chinese Tallow here.

  • Nancy A.Maurelli
    Nancy A.Maurelli Posts: 44 ✭✭✭

    I have heard about Hugelkultur, and thought it meant using older pieces of decaying wood and small pieces to fill in a depressed area (or excavated one) to help begin the soil-building process. AND that soil, compost or other small scale organic matter was layered in with the wood to inoculate and get the process jump-started. It also seems like these additions would stabilize the pile somewhat. AND, as a long-time gardener, it makes sense that such a system would require TIME to transform before it became a hospitable site for cultivation.

    The one hügelkultur I made was allowed to go "wild," i.e. did not attempt to plant into it. It filled in exuberantly with meadow beings and perennial grasses. Not anything I can eat, but great for wildlife/beneficial insects/habitat...

  • DitaMallon
    DitaMallon Posts: 7 ✭✭✭

    Never heard of the Tree of Heaven! This is the first year I did Hugelkultur.In my research I read not to use pine or cedar. We live near a creek so we were able to find rotting logs in the creek bottom. I used them in the wooden shipping crates(heat treated only) and this saved a ton in putting soil in to fill them up. And on the up side they are feeding my beds. The plants look great. I did use compost and soil mix for the top layer. And did a soil sample to make sure it was okay. Super pleased so far.

  • MartiinCentral Oregon
    MartiinCentral Oregon Posts: 27 ✭✭✭

    I am putting in raised beds and planned to try a mixed hugelkultur process. Planned to put in some old firewood (We no longer have a wood stove)in the bottom and then shredded branches from some juniper bushes. and blue spruce covered with compost and soil.....will either of those effect the plants grown on top.

  • dianne.misspooz
    dianne.misspooz Posts: 105 ✭✭✭

    Great Job, DitaMallon! You know, a little bit of knowledge here, a little bit there... it all seems to work in the end :D

  • dianne.misspooz
    dianne.misspooz Posts: 105 ✭✭✭

    You're right, older wood is preferred. My tree was cut down about 8 months before I put it in a bed... but still, it was the wrong wood. Bad mistake! lololol