Can You Compost Yard Waste - Ways To Compost Garden Waste

Wheelbarrow Full Of Garden Waste
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Composting is easy, whether you do it in a bin or in a pile on the ground. It feels a little bit like magic as you help Mother Nature turn kitchen and garden detritus into a wonderful soil additive. 

Can you compost yard waste? Yes, you can compost yard waste together with kitchen waste as long as you look out for weeds and maintain a proper balance. If you are ready to use yard waste as compost, read on.

Can You Compost Yard Waste?

Composting is a win-win endeavor, ridding the garden of dead leaves and clippings while, at the same time, creating organic compost. While you can buy this product at the garden store, why not make your own for free by learning to compost garden waste?

In order to start viewing yard waste as compost, you need to understand the composting process. Composting is the process of piling up brown waste (like dead, dried leaves) and green waste (like vegetable peelings and spent tomato vines) and giving them the sun, water and air they need to decompose rapidly. The resulting product can be worked into garden soil to improve its texture and add nutrients.

Compost Garden Waste

You can get started composting in the back yard for free by opting for a compost pile rather than a bin. You’ll need a shady level spot some 3-6 feet (1-2 m.) square where the drainage is good. Start with dry yard clippings including autumn leaves (aka brown material), then add about half as much green matter. You can compost green waste and brown waste by adding them in separate layers, but it’s also fine to blend them together before adding to the pile. 

As the pile grows, you need to mix it once a week. The mixing adds air that quickens the compost process. Turning yard waste to compost also requires moisture. If it rains every week where you live, you may not have to add any water, but if not, get out the garden hose. The pile should be the consistency of a rung-out sponge. 

How long does it take before your pile of garden water turns into usable compost? There is no set time schedule, and everything depends on Mother Nature. In an ideal situation, with sufficient rain and sun, you may be able to start using your compost in two to three months.

Compost Yard Waste Weeds

While you can compost garden waste, you cannot compost all of it. Some items should not be added to the compost. Only garden clippings and fallen leaves that have not been treated with chemicals belong in the compost pile. That includes chemical pesticides and fungicides.

The decomposition process occurs on the surface of the waste materials, which means their shape and size impact composting. Large woody chunks of shrub won’t decompose easily, so these should be shredded or chopped into smaller particles before layering them in the compost. But leave the smaller branch clippings intact since rigid particles provide structure and ventilation to the compost pile.

Likewise, it is tricky to compost yard waste weeds. If the weeds have already gone to seed, they should not go into the compost since it may not get hot enough to kill tough weed seeds. Likewise, you should not add weed cuttings when the plants have invasive roots. This will exclude plants like dock weed, alligatorweed and bermudagrass from your compost. Even small bits of these plant roots may allow the weeds to grow back.

Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.