Compost: Should You Buy or DIY?

Get valuable hints to help you decide whether to buy compost or make it yourself.
Spray Leaves for Composting

Spray Leaves for Composting

Spraying water onto dry leaves is an effective method to speed the decomposition of leaves for composting.

Photo by: DK - Simple Steps to Success: Lawns and Groundcover © 2012 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Simple Steps to Success: Lawns and Groundcover, 2012 Dorling Kindersley Limited

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When applied to a garden, compost can do fantastic things for soil and plant health. If you have space, time and interest in composting at home, it can be a fantastic way to recycle your landscape and kitchen scraps, reduce the amount of waste you send to a landfill, and create a product that you’re proud to use and share. However, even if you do compost at home, there may be times when you need to supplement by buying compost to meet the demands of your landscape. Below are some valuable hints to help you decide whether to buy compost or DIY.

Bagged Compost

Bagged compost can be picked up from most garden centers, nurseries or box stores. The cost of bagged compost may be a bit higher than from other sources, because in addition to paying for the compost, you are also paying for the packaging and associated shipping costs. However, the packaging also makes it a bit easier to load and cleaner to transport home from the store than un-bagged compost.

Municipal Compost

A growing number of towns, cities and counties are starting compost programs as a way to divert green waste from landfills. Your local government may offer curbside collection of fall leaves, branches and other yard waste during the year. This material is taken to a large facility where staff will monitor and encourage decomposition. It’s usually relatively inexpensive to buy this compost. 

However, the quality of municipal compost tends to vary between and within batches. This is understandable when you consider the fact that the ingredients came from thousands of individual landscapes across the area. Municipalities with limited means may not be able to ensure composting operations are done in a way that kills weed seeds and plant pathogens, which means that these pests could hitch a ride to your garden in the compost you buy. 

If your compost pile at home can achieve temperatures high enough to kill pests (135 degrees Fahrenheit for a few days after mixing thoroughly), consider letting municipal compost cook a little longer in your pile at home before adding to the garden.

Local, Professional Sources

An enthusiastic new breed of professional composters is popping up to fill the demand for high quality compost. They may collect materials from local farms, zoos, restaurants, landscapers and tree service companies to create their product. Before purchasing, consider doing an interview or asking for a tour of the facility. You’ll want to know what ingredients they use and whether their piles become hot enough to kill weeds and plant pathogens. If they don’t offer delivery services or only deliver by the truckload, transporting smaller amounts in your personal vehicle could get a bit messy. Professional compost will probably be a bit more expensive than municipal compost, but the finished product will usually be fairly consistent and of good quality.

Gardening Tips: Composting 03:14

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