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Learn to Compost

Composting for a healthy garden

Composting helps your yard and the environment by recycling common household scraps and yard waste into nutrient-rich fertilizer or mulch. You can work compost into your home’s landscaping beds every spring to give annuals and perennials a quick, natural boost. Compost is also the perfect ingredient for vegetable gardens to give plants essential nutrients.

Tools & Materials

Use this checklist when you go to the store and purchase your items.

Preparing a Compost Pile or Bin


Select an area for your compost pile or bin. Look for a spot that gets a lot of sunlight and has nearby access to water. Make sure the location is close to the house for convenience, but not so close that decaying organics can be smelled inside.

Build or purchase compost bins. A small fenced area with no bottom allows worms and other beneficial organisms from the earth to work and aerate the compost.

Bins, with or without a bottom, can be made with wood to contain the compost.

Ready-to-use compost bins can be purchased and quickly put to work. They keep the pile contained and looking neat, while protecting the compost from weather and animals.

Start your compost pile by lining the bottom of the fenced area or bin with straw or other dry organic material.

Shop Composters and Accessories

Consider setting up two compost areas: one that is being added to and one that is ready for use as fertilizer.

Start Your Compost

food scraps

Efficient decomposition requires nitrogen (kitchen scraps), carbon (yard waste), oxygen (air) and water.

Step 1

Collect kitchen and household scraps for the compost pile in an airtight container with a carbon-charcoal filter container to collect household scraps. For more efficient composting, cut large scraps into smaller pieces.

Useful items to save include:

  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Coffee grounds and tea leaves
  • Eggshells (rinsed of whites and yolks)
  • Shredded newspaper (not magazines)
  • Fireplace ashes
  • Sawdust


Do not compost meat, bones, fat, grease, dairy products or pet waste.

Step 2

When the collection container is nearly full, empty the scraps to the compost bin or pile.

Step 3

Add a layer of leaves, grass clippings, and/or weeds from your yard. If not available, add straw.

Step 4

Moisten and mix the compost pile every few weeks. Water the pile, then use a pitchfork or shovel to turn the compost so that oxygen reaches all ingredients to encourage decomposition.

To make sure there is sufficient moisture, examine a clump of the material. It should be damp, but not soggy and drippy.

Step 5

Adjust the proportion of compost ingredients by odor. The compost should have a good earthy smell. If the compost has an ammonia odor, add more carbon materials such as leaves and newspaper. If the compost smells foul, it is probably too wet and needs more dry materials such as leaves or straw.

Step 6

Allow the compost materials to decompose before use. It should feel crumbly, look dark, and smell earthy. The process typically takes a few months, depending on ingredients.

Do not use compost before it’s ready — the decomposing ingredients can attract pests.

Use Your Compost

  • Use compost as a mulch to retain moisture around your plants, trees or shrubs. Use 2 to 3 inches to help keep your plants' roots wet and prevent weeds, just as you would with any other mulch. You should replenish your compost mulch once or twice a year, since it will break down.
  • Use your compost as a soil amendment to enrich any soil. Flowers, vegetables and fruits will all thrive as the organic materials break down and feed their roots.
  • Create a compost tea by soaking a shovelful of your compost in a bucket full of water for 3 to 4 days. Pour the liquid over your plants for a quick, nutritious treat.
  • Apply about 1 inch of compost to your lawn, and rake it into the grass as a quick fertilizer.

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