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How to Use Compost Effectively -Complete Guide (2020)

Don’t know what to do with your kitchen scraps and yard waste? Sending it to the landfill should be a last resort. As an eco-conscious person, what do you do?

Compost it.

Today you’ll learn how to use compost effectively.

Composting reduces waste sent to the landfill and will create nutrient-rich, organic fertilizer that you can use around your yard, in flowerpots, and in your garden.

Below you will find a complete guide on how to use compost effectively for reducing waste and having the best garden on the block.

How Compost Helps Your Soil

If you look very, very closely, you’ll be able to see compost-nurtured plants grow bigger, stronger, and healthier. Compost is super-food for your garden.

Created naturally from organic waste – which can be anything from leaves and grass clippings to food waste and manure – compost packs every nutrient that plants might need.

And then some. Here are some ways compost helps your soil:

  • organic source of vitamins and minerals that supports plant growth.
  • attracts beneficial earthworms, insects, and microbes that further enrich the quality of soil and keeps all the harmful microorganisms in check.
  • boost the water-holding capacity of the soil.
  • balance ph.
  • neutralize soil toxins and metals such as lead.

It’s no wonder that gardeners call it black gold.

What Does Finished Compost Look Like?


Finished compost shouldn’t look like the original materials.

It should rather resemble a dark brown, crumbly topsoil that smells earthy.

If there’s a piece of leaf or twig in the mix, that’s okay too.

But if your finished compost includes large chunks of decaying waste, then it’s only been partially decomposed. You’ll need to break it down into finer particles.

Not sure if your compost is finished?

There’s an easy way to tell:

If your compost is mature and ready to use, it’ll maintain its earthy smell after a couple of days spent without air in a zip-locked bag. If there’s a sour or moldy odor, you should let it rest for another week or two.

The reason you need to make sure that your compost is finished is that partially composted material can attract pests and cause harm to your plants. 

How to Use Finished Compost

If all the organic material has been composted, but there are still little pieces of hay and twigs in your compost, that’s fine.

If you want, you can put compost through a sifter to separate the bits of partially decomposed material. This will give you a finer grade compost. You can add the large pieces you filtered out back into the pile for further decomposition.

compost sifter
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Applying compost at the right time is important.

If you’re curious about when to use compost, you should know that it is most beneficial in spring and fall, when the weather and soil conditions are especially good for microbe growth.

Should you end up choosing spring, simply apply compost about two weeks before planting. Alternatively, you can apply compost after you harvest your garden in the fall. By springtime, you’ll be ready to plant.

Now that your compost is ready, how do you use it?

Add compost to your yard as a soil amendment or sprinkle compost on top of flower beds. A lot of gardeners create their garden soil by mixing compost with perlite and sand. Here is a simple potting soil recipe for flowers and vegetables:

  • 6 gallons sphagnum peat moss or coir fiber
  • 4.5 gallons perlite
  • 6 gallons compost
  • 1/4 cup lime (if using peat moss)

See more recipe’s here.

Below you will find different ways to use finished compost:

Moisture Holding Mulch

This is the easiest way to apply compost.

Simply spread the compost around plants, trees, and shrubs in your garden.

The only rule of thumb for using compost as a moisture-holding mulch is to make sure to top the surface a good 2 or 3 inches and do so at least once a year.

This will help suppress all the weeds in your flower and vegetable beds, as well as minimize evaporation and maintain soil temperature all year long.

Soil Amendment

Alternatively, you can learn how to apply compost as a soil amendment.

Just apply a couple of inches to the top of the soil and work it in with your hands or a rototiller.

Compost Tea

compost tea

Compost tea may not be delicious, but it is super-nutritious.

This is a dark brown liquid that your compost will start releasing in time, which you can use to nurture your plants and flowers – simply by pouring it on them.

You will not be able to collect compost tea if you’re composting on the ground. Collecting natural compost tea is only possible in a compost drum or compost box with a sealed bottom.

If you’re impatient to see the compost producing its tea, you can speed up the process by steeping compost in a 5-gallon bucket of water and letting it rest for a few days. Or take a look at this instructional video:

Lawn Top Dressing

spreading compost on lawn
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It’s as simple as it sounds.

Just “dress” your lawn surface with a layer of compost, and it will do its magic from there.

A little goes a long way for your lawn. You only need about ¼ inch topping so its best to use a mechanical spreader to get the compost even on your lawn.

For the greenest lawn in the neighborhood, do this every spring.

Growing Vegetables

vegetable garden compost

If you’re growing vegetables, you’ll want to spread compost on top of the existing bed (just a couple of inches) in fall and then till it into the soil in spring.

It may also help to put a handful of compost directly in holes when planting.

A recommended dose of compost for your squash, corn, tomatoes, and other “heavy feeders” is a half-inch every month.

Growing Flowers

planting flowers using compost
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One inch of compost is enough to keep your flowers perky.

Come fall, you should use it as a moisture-holding mulch – it will add moisture to the roots but also protect them from freezing.

If you forget to treat your flower beds with compost in fall, there’s always spring:

Simply loosen the top few inches and mix in a generous layer of compost.

Rejuvenating Lawn or Turf

You can use compost to rejuvenate your lawn or turf in several different ways, all depending on whether you’re establishing new turf or trying to rejuvenate an old one.

In the first case, mix in about 3 inches of compost into the soil base.

You should till to a depth of 5 to 8 inches before seeding if that’s possible. If not, seed directly over the fresh layer of compost.

To rejuvenate an existing turf, simply add a 1/4 inch of compost into the soil and reseed.

Tree and Shrub Planting/Maintenance

tree compost

Compost is powerful enough to help you grow and maintain healthy shrubs and even entire trees. You don’t need more than 2 inches of it once or twice a year.

Avoid letting the compost touch the bark or roots of the tree. This will encourage rot.

Make sure to spread the compost to the drip line of the tree. See the diagram below:

diagram showing drip line of a tree
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Maintaining Perennial & Annual Beds

One to two inches is all you need!

To prevent weed formation, do it in the early spring or fall.

New Garden Bed

Using compost in the garden has only one simple rule: never apply too much to a new garden bed.

Believe it or not, there is such a thing as excessive composting!

This is because compost can, especially if not entirely broken down, block the waterways or create a nutrient imbalance, which jeopardizes soil quality and plant growth.

You should never underestimate the healing power of a quiet moment in the garden.

Another healing power you should never underestimate is that of compost.

Being both eco-friendly and very potent, composting is an ideal way to start giving back to our planet.

Leave a comment below and tell us all the ways you use compost.

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