What do you do with old plant material when you clean up your garden? It can be difficult to dispose of garden refuse, especially if you live in an area where yard waste is banned from landfills, but composting is a good answer. Fall is a great time to build up your compost pile, whether you already have one or are just starting it.
You’re going to be picking up a lot of leaves and other yard waste in the next few weeks, so here are a few hints for building your compost pile:
- If you don’t already have one, create your compost pile in an inconspicuous place where it won’t offend the neighbors – but try to make it convenient to the garden. Containing the pile in a compost bin will save space, hasten decomposition, and help keep it neater. Many types are available at home centers and garden stores, or you can build your own.
- If possible, build your compost pile in layers. A good scheme is to start with a 4– to 6–inch layer of coarse material such as chopped brush. If you have grass clippings, add a 3– to 4–inch layer. On top of that, add a 4– to 6–inch layer of leaves or garden waste. Those two layers should be damp. Then top it off with a 1–inch layer of garden soil. Continue building the pile by adding layers.
- You can aid the composting process by sprinkling a high-nitrogen garden fertilizer over each layer of leaves and garden waste.
- Yard waste can be supplemented by adding vegetable scraps, coffee grounds (even the filters), or eggshells from your kitchen. Shredded newspaper can also be used. Do not use any animal material such as meat scraps, bones, dairy products, grease, or pet waste, because those will cause unpleasant odors and may attract rodents.
- To speed the process, you can periodically turn or aerate the pile. The objective is to shift material from the outside closer to the center, where it may be heated up and decomposed. In cold climates, little decomposition occurs in winter except in the center of larger piles. Adding water periodically to keep the composting material moist (about like a damp sponge) will also help the process.
When the composted material is ready to use, it will be dark and crumbly, and it will have an earthy odor. Till or turn it into your garden soil to provide a better growing environment for your plants.