How to Use Your Compost

Once your compost has fully decomposed, it can be used as a soil amendment.  Doing so improves many of the chemical, physical, and biological properties of the soil.  For sandy soils, compost increases its ability to hold water and better withstand drought conditions.  For soils heavy in clay, compost increases aeration and drainage.  Compost improves the soil’s ability retain and release nutrients.  It creates a more attractive habitat for earthworms and other microorganisms needed for plant growth.

Compost should be added to soil over time to improve soil structure.  Each year, you can add 1 to 2 inches of compost to the top 6 to 8 inches of soil.  You will likely still need to add some fertilizer with the compost to supplement the soil with additional nitrogen.  Every few years, the soil should be tested to determine if phosphorus and potassium need to be added.

If you create your own potting soil, properly decomposed leaf compost can be used in the mixture.  Typically, the amount of compost used in the potting mix should not exceed more than 1/4th to 1/3rd of the total volume.  Because some weed seeds and disease-causing organisms may survive the composting process, you may choose to heat the compost material in an over at 160° F for 30 minutes to completely pasteurize it.

Compost can also be used as mulch around vegetables, herbaceous plants, and woody ornamental plants.  Spread a 2- to 3-inch layer on the surface of the soil around the plants.  If using it around shrubs and trees, then extend the compost layer so that it extends out to the end of the branches.  The compost will help the soil below it to retain moisture and stay cool in the summer months as well as keep the soil warm in winter.