Every gardener dreams of having healthy plants and, in the end, having a great harvest. And how do you make this dream come true? Composting is one of the main ways you can use it to improve your garden’s health and output.
So, it’s time to stop handing over every kitchen waste or other type of debris to the garbage collector. Yes, you can keep some garbage to create your compost.
But, if you are not comfortable with making compost, no worries, you can buy some bags of finished compost from nearby plant nurseries or home improvement centers.
In this article, I’ll guide you on how to use compost in the garden for great outcomes. After that, I will give you some tips on using compost and its benefits.
Table of Contents
Using Compost in The Garden
Let’s see the different ways of using compost in the garden:
Compost can make a great gardening medium for potted plants.
Here’s how you do container gardening using compost:
- Pass the compost through a sieve to eliminate the large particles
- Mix two parts of compost with two parts of loam and one part of sandy soil or perlite
- Add one tablespoon of phosphate and one tablespoon of potash to the above potting mixture
Vegetable and flower gardening
If you’ve got a lot of compost, you can apply about 2 inches to your entire garden once a year and mix it with the soil.
But if you have a low supply of compost, you can use it instead with transplants. So, dig your holes, then mix a trowel of compost with the backfill. Here, the compost will help loosen the soil holding your young plants and feed the plants with nutrients.
Using compost as a mulch
You can apply a layer of pure compost on the soil surface of your garden to prevent evaporation and weed seeds from germinating.
On that note, apply a 3 to 6-inch layer of compost on the soil, then rake evenly.
Brew a compost tea
Yes, you can serve your plants some tea – compost tea. This way, compost nutrients reach the plant roots quickly and are easier to absorb.
The most common ingredients that are used in making compost tea include:
- Non-chlorinated water (you can use rainwater or tap water that has sat over 24 hours)
- 1 to 2 cups of compost
- ¼ or ½ a cup of food source for fungi or bacteria (foods, e.g. molasses, groundfish, humic acid, and seaweed)
Feed fall perennials
You can use composted manure when planting your perennial plants to feed them and extend their bloom time. And how do you do this? Simply, dig the planting holes, then add 2 to 4 cups of compost to the holes.
Top dress garden beds
As your crops grow, you can sprinkle some compost on the soil twice a year. Then the rainwater will help the compost nutrients to sink into the roots to feed them.
Grow squash, melons, eggplants, cucumbers, and tomatoes
These are high feeders; this is why you will find plants like squash thriving in a pile of compost.
So, add some compost in the planting holes while planting the above plants. You can later side dress for better results.
Intensive gardening – raised beds
If you want the most produce possible, the secret is having fertile soil rich in organic matter.
So, to your raised bed, add two to three inches of compost and mix with about 6 to 8 inches of your garden soil. Repeat this process annually.
Spreading on lawns
For a new lawn, you can apply about one inch of compost to the soil before planting; this will improve the health of your soil and provide nutrients to the seeds helping them to thrive.
Also, you can use a compost pile on an existing lawn. Spread about ¼ an inch layer on the grass, then use an aerator or another device to get the compost to the soil. Do this work during spring when your grass is actively growing.
Tips for Using Compost
Hereunder are several top tips to help you when using compost in the garden:
Create the compost in the right way
When making a compost pile at home, ensure you use a proper composting process and the recommended ingredients to get great and faster results.
What you can include in compost:
- Garden waste and grass clippings
- Sawdust and wood chips
- Small twigs and dead leaves
- Hay and straw
- Coffee grounds, filters, and tea bags
- Food waste, fruits and vegetables
- Cardboard rolls
- Fireplace ashes
- Vacuum cleaner and dryer lint
- Cotton and wool rags
- Shredded newspaper
- House plants
What you SHOULD NOT compost:
- Treated yard cuts – chemicals like insecticides and herbicides can kill important composting organisms
- Dairy products – may attract insects and cause a foul odor
- Charcoal or coal ash – might contain substances that can harm your plants
- Pet waste – could contain parasites, germs, or bacteria harmful to humans
- Diseased plants – the diseases can survive the composting process and get back to your garden
- Fish bones or meat scraps – can attract insects and cause a foul odor
- Oil, fat, lard, and grease – can attract insects and cause a bad odor
- Black walnut tree leaves and twigs – release harmful substances that can damage your crops
Check if compost is ready
Before using your homemade compost, check first if it is ready. Some of the clues for a finished compost heap include:
- Shrunk pile to almost half the original size, and ingredients becoming unrecognizable
- The pile’s interior will be warm to touch and produce steam from the microbes’ activities. However, you will need to wait until the compost cools down before using it in the garden.
- Finally, the finished compost will have a dark color, a crumbly texture, and a nice earthy aroma.
Something to remember here is that microbes feed on nitrogen to help them process compost until it’s done. Therefore, using unfinished compost in your garden means that the microbes will be competing for nitrogen with your plants, leading to unhealthy plants.
Screen your compost
Even after the composting process is done, you might still find some large particles in the compost pile, and you wouldn’t want to use these for gardening. So, you can use a compost sifter to help you remove unwanted particles from your compost.
Also, remember that compost isn’t a soil replacement; compost is not well-draining, and not many crops can do well on compost alone. Therefore, ensure you mix compost with soil when planting or apply it on top of the soil.
Store extra compost
You can compost any time, even if you don’t garden oftenly. But don’t use more than enough compost in your garden.
Using too much compost can stress your plants, leading to impaired growth. Also, excessive compost burns crops like too much fertilizer do.
So, if you have more compost than you need, just screen it and store it.
A perfect compost storage container should be breathable to ensure you don’t suffocate the aerobic microbes. You can use woven or punctured plastics to store the compost.
After packaging your compost, store it in a cool, dry place until you are ready to use it in the garden.
Benefits of Using Compost in The Garden
So far, we have seen how you can use organic material in the garden and some tips to ensure you do everything right. Let’s now see the benefits you will enjoy after using compost.
Better moisture retention
As I had mentioned earlier, compost is not well draining on its own; it holds a lot of water. But when you use compost with soil, you get a balanced water retention capability essential for healthy crops.
Also, the water retention ability of compost ensures you don’t water your crops often, which can be time-consuming and costly.
Improved soil structure
Having organic matter in the soil creates air pockets that facilitate the free movement of water and nutrients to the garden plants. Therefore, you can make your soil fit for gardening (whether using clay soil or other types of soil) using compost.
Higher nutrient levels
Good compost is rich in potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus nutrients. Additionally, compost contains magnesium, calcium, zinc, and iron traces. All these nutrients are essential for growing healthy plants.
Attracting useful soil organisms
Worms and flies feed on compost, and in return, they help improve the condition of your soil.
Earthworms, for example, burrow in the soil, thus improving soil aeration and water infiltration; this helps the plant’s roots to access nutrients and water quickly.
Also, the castings from worms, fries, and other essential insects help form soil aggregates which translates to healthy soil.
Balanced soil PH
Compost protects your soil from becoming acidic or alkaline.
A high PH leads to:
- Unavailability of important soil nutrients
- Increase in the negative effect of toxic elements
- Reduced garden yield and water use
- Vulnerability of soil to erosion and soil structure decline
- Poor biological soil functions, e.g., nitrogen fixation
We have discussed the benefits of compost and the various ways of using it in the garden.
Mulching is one of the uses of compost. But did you know there are other beneficial types of mulch besides compost? Check that out in my next article: Different Types of Mulch: Which is The Best?
- Using compost in your landscape
- How to make compost tea
- Composting at home
- How to make composted manure at home
- How to use compost
- How to use compost in landscapes and gardens
- Aggregation as part of soil structure and function
- Benefits of compost
- Raised bed gardening
- Using organic matter to improve garden soil