The 6 Rules Of Compost Gardening

Put the natural decomposition processes first, and the rest falls into place.

September 28, 2016
compost garden

As a compost gardener, you will do much more than simply make compost. While following these guidelines, you will no doubt invent even more ways to create compost in your yard and garden. As you do, keep in mind that the whole point of compost gardening is to put the natural decomposition processes first. From there on, everything else easily falls into place. 

Related: 7 Solutions To Common Compost Problems

(Whether you're starting your first garden or switching to organic, Rodale’s Basic Organic Gardening has all the answers and advice you need—get your copy today!)

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1. Choose Labor-Saving Sites

Keep your garden and compost as close to one another as possible. Compost in your garden whenever you can or at least nearby. There is a catch, because while most garden plants grow best with plenty of sun, compost piles retain moisture best when situated in shade. Address this dilemma by using in-garden composting methods at every opportunity and water as needed to keep the pile barely moist. Locate slow-rotting heaps in a shady spot near your garden, and site new garden beds close to your best area for making compost.

Related: 51 Plants That Don't Need A Lot Of Sun To Thrive

compost pile
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2. Work With What You Have

Compost what your yard produces first, and import materials only when they are convenient and of special value to your composting projects. Instead of yearning for materials you’ve heard make great compost, concentrate on doing the best job you can with compostable materials that you generate at home. Most landscapes produce plenty of fallen leaves, grass clippings, and withered plants; and kitchens spew out a steady supply of compostable riches. When you do want to bring in outside materials, start looking for them along the curbs in your neighborhood and stick with other sources close to home. In addition to being convenient and efficient, using local materials takes a bite out of local waste disposal costs and saves you unnecessary compost miles.

Related: Everything You Need To Know About Composting

3. Help Decomposers Do Their Jobs

Compost happens thanks to the efforts of a vast population of organisms—from earthworms and pill bugs to microscopic fungi and bacteria—that live in, feed on, and otherwise process organic matter into nourishment for soil and plants. Creating optimal conditions for these essential composting critters is the key to your compost-making success. Keep them working by balancing compost ingredients between greens and browns, adding high-nitrogen meals when needed, and keeping compost materials moist. Additionally, you can aerate compost piles by turning them to stimulate microbial activity.

Related: 14 Beneficial Insects You Should Be Welcoming To Your Garden

compost pile
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4. Reuse And Recycle

Reuse items from your recycling bin in your composting projects. Store finished compost in well-rinsed bulk containers, such as five-gallon plastic pickle buckets and detergent jugs. Turn cardboard boxes into bedding for your vermicompost bin. Place a thick layer of newspapers at the base of a curing compost pile to deter invasive tree roots. Look for novel opportunities to use compost-garden methods to shrink the waste stream generated by your household’s day-to-day activities.

Related: Everything You Need To Know To Start Your First Organic Garden

5. The Magic Is In The Mix

Decomposed leaves are called leaf mold, and rotted manure is, well, rotted manure. Both leaf mold and rotted manure have special uses, but they lack the diverse community of beneficial microorganisms found in true compost, which is made from a wide variety of materials. Each organic ingredient you put into a compost project—from carrot peelings to dead pepper plants—will host a slightly different group of microorganisms, and it is this diversity that makes compost greater than the sum of its parts. (Here's how to improve your soil with leaf mold.)

6. Compost To Suit Your Garden's Needs

Treat every plant you grow to some form of compost. Blanket beds as you renovate them between plantings, amend planting holes, or mix your best batches into homemade potting soil. Use rough-textured, partially decomposed compost as mulch, and sprinkle vermicompost into containers of flowers or houseplants. Match compost-garden methods to the situations you encounter most often in your gardens, and always put soil care first and plants second.

This article is excerpted from Compost Gardening.