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Composting in home gardens

Quick facts

  • Adding compost to light, sandy soil helps it hold moisture and nutrients. 
  • Adding it to heavy soil improves drainage.
  • Contain your compost in some type of structure 3 to 5 feet wide.
  • Put your compost pile close to where you will use it.
    • Away from drying winds, but in partial sunlight to help heat the pile.
  • Do not compost pet feces, meat, bones, grease, whole eggs and dairy products.
  • Do not compost diseased or insect-infested plants and weeds.
Two wire compost bins side by side filled with grass clippings and other organic matter.

Composting is a process that allows naturally occurring microbes to convert yard waste, such as leaves and grass clippings, to a useful organic soil amendment or mulch.

Gardeners have used compost for centuries to improve their soil and help plant growth. Incorporating compost into light, sandy soil helps it hold both moisture and nutrients, while adding it to heavy soil improves drainage.

Different yard waste conditions affect how well you compost. The microorganisms responsible for decomposition need oxygen, water and nitrogen.

Particle size also affects efficiency. The smaller the plant pieces, the more rapidly they will break down. Use a shredder or power mower to chop up leaves and small twigs before adding them to the pile.

Composting considerations

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Deborah L. Brown,  Carl J. Rosen, Extension soil scientist; Robert J. Mugaas, former Extension educator; and Thomas R. Halbach, former Extension educator

Reviewed in 2018

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