The Benefits of Composting

Discover the many reasons that compost is good for you and your garden.
Compost Bin in Garden

Compost Bin in Garden

Photo by: DK - The Complete Gardener's Guide © 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - The Complete Gardener's Guide , 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Good for the Environment

Some folks get into composting for environmental reasons. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, compostable materials such as paper, yard trimmings, food waste and wood waste account for more than half of our country’s waste. When fresh green-waste from the kitchen or landscape are sent to decompose in a landfill, they release high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane. Home composting is a great way to recycle waste that would normally be sent to a landfill. The result is a great product that can improve soil around the home and benefit the plants and animals that inhabit the landscape.

Good for the Wallet

Depending on the techniques used, composting can create great alternatives to store-bought compost, humus, mulch, seedling mixtures, potting soil and other soil amendments. Some compost may provide plant nutrients at levels comparable to store-bought fertilizers, although that is not usually the case. Even if your homemade compost is low in nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, when added to the garden the microbes in compost can help unlock nutrients that are already in the soil, making them more easily available to plants. Depending on your garden needs, a little extra work with a compost pile could result in significant savings.

Great for the Garden

If you’re looking for a way to improve your garden soil, compost is hard to beat. For instance, garden compost improves both the water retention and drainage of soils. How does that work? Water tends to cling to small soil particles – the smaller the particle, the higher the soil’s water retention. Clay soils have much smaller soil particles than sand, which explains why sandy soils tend to be freely draining while clays can become fairly murky. When added to the soil, larger compost particles allow water to drain better than packed, small soil particles. Yet the organic material in compost acts like a sponge to retain just the right amount of water for plants and soil organisms.

Add Compost to Hanging Basket

Add Compost to Hanging Basket

Photo by: DK - Simple Steps to Success: Herbs © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Simple Steps to Success: Herbs, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Mixing compost with your garden soil adds organic matter. A healthy topsoil should have at most 5% organic matter. However, topsoil may be lost to erosion or during initial home construction. Some state extension agencies are able to tell you how much organic matter is in your topsoil when you mail in a soil test. When mixed in and given time, compost can improve hard-packed clay soils to create a fluffier, more desirable texture. The compost will feed soil organisms and make it easier for plant roots to penetrate the soil, eventually making clays somewhat easier to work in.

Composting is Fun!

There’s nothing quite like seeing a pile of grass clippings, autumn leaves, kitchen scraps and other materials transformed into dark, humusy finished compost. It’s exciting! Whether you choose to be a relaxed composter with a slowly decomposing pile, a speedy composter who has finished compost in a matter of weeks, or the scientific composter who carefully measures temperature, adds certain ingredients in specific amounts and turns at the exact right moment to get a high quality product, you will certainly end up with something that makes you feel proud.

Gardening Tips: Composting 03:14

Learn how to make a simple compost bin that lets nature do the work.
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