Composting is a great way to transform household vegetable and lawn waste into fertilizer for your garden, but how much compost do I need?
Even if you don’t want to go through the process of making it yourself, compost is widely sold in hardware stores and garden centers. Adding some to your garden is a great way to battle soil depletion.
Still, you might be wondering, just how much compost do my plants, flowers, and vegetables need to thrive? Is there such a thing as too much compost?
Right off the bat, adding even a small amount of compost will certainly help just about any lawn or garden. However, you’ll find that the best results come from using compost as part of an effective fertilizing strategy.
This means you’ll need to take into account several factors like the size of your lawn or garden, the current state of your soil, and the type of plants you want to grow.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the characteristics of compost, as well as how to apply it in some of the more common lawn and garden applications.
This includes things like overseeding your lawn, preparing planting beds in spring, and a fertilizing strategy for feeding plants during the summer growing season.
Table of Contents
- 1 What’s The Difference Between Compost And Mulch?
- 2 How Do I Calculate How Much Compost Do I Need?
- 3 How Can Compost Benefit My Lawn?
- 4 Incorporating Compost To Feed Your Lawn
- 5 Can Compost Be Used In Spot Applications On My Lawn?
- 6 How Much Compost Do I Need For Overseeding?
- 7 Using Compost To Feed Your Garden
- 8 What Is Compost Tea?
- 9 A few things to note with this approach
- 10 Can You Have Too Much Compost In Your Garden?
- 11 How To Set Up And Maintain A Indoor Worm Bin For Vermicomposting
- 12 What is Vermicomposting
- 13 Vermiculture vs Vermicomposting
- 14 Urban Vermicomposting
- 15 Why Vermicompost?
- 16 How to Build Your Compost Bin: The Basics
- 17 Where to Buy Best Compost Bin?
- 18 Conclusion
What’s The Difference Between Compost And Mulch?
People sometimes mistakenly think that mulch and compost are the same thing. In certain applications compost is topped dressed like mulch. However, it serves a very different purpose.
Mulch is usually made up of slow-decomposing organic matter with little nutrient value, or inorganic artificial substances.
This includes things like bark chippings, leaves, grass cuttings, hay, pine needles, shredded rubber, and plastic shavings.
Mulch is primarily intended to block protect the upper surface of the soil from compaction and potential weed problems.
In many applications, it can also play a cosmetic role to enhance a landscaping feature or a planting bed.
Compost is made strictly from organic matter and is typically richly populated with beneficial bacteria, fungi, and other important microbes.
When it’s properly balanced, the microbial presence in healthy compost breaks down and releases nutrients from organic waste, which makes them more available for plants to use.
This makes compost a very effective fertilizer for many common plants. When top dressed it can be used as a type of mulch, but it will breakdown much faster, and may accidentally promote new weed growth.
How Do I Calculate How Much Compost Do I Need?
Calculating the amount of compost your need by volume can help you understand if your current source is enough, or if you will need to purchase some more from a hardware store or garden center.
- Step One: Calculate the number of square inches by multiplying the length and width of your lawn, garden, or planting bed.
- Step Two: You can then convert this into cubic inches by multiplying the result by the intended depth you need to apply.
- Step Three: Calculate the cubic inches into cubic yards (Which is the unit of measure compost is sold in). For reference, there are 46,646 cubic inches in a single cubic yard.
For example, let’s say that your planting bed is 10’ by 10’ and you want to evenly apply 2” of compost.
- There are 12” in a foot which equals 120 inches per side for 14,400 square inches to cover.
- If you want to apply 2” of compost, you multiply 14,400 by 2 which equals 28,800 cubic inches.
- To convert 28,800 cubic inches to cubic yards, you divide it by 46,656 which equals 0.62 cubic yards.
Another example factoring in depth, let’s say you have a planting bed that is 20-feet by 20 feet and you want to apply a two inch deep layer of mature compost.
Step One: Convert feet into inches.
20ft = 240 inches. This means the planting bed is 240 inches x 240 inches = 57,600 square inches of planting bed.
Step Two: Factor in the depth
To do this you need to multiply 57,600 by 2 inches of depth= 115,200 cubic inches of compost.
Step Three: Convert the volume to cubic yards
To do this you divide 115,200 by 46,656 = 2.47 cubic yards of compost.
How Can Compost Benefit My Lawn?
The organic material, that makes up the majority of, compost is essentially humus. This provides structure for the soil and the layers of turf that support the blades of living grass.
When the turf is properly aerated, and compost is applied, the roots of the grass spread easier into the loose, airy soil, while also being able to access the nitrogen and other nutrients they need to encourage vigorous growth.
Of course, this boost of nutrients is just one of the compost’s many benefits. Compost also helps:
- Neutralize the pH of acidic and alkaline soils
- Deliver additional macro and micro-nutrients
- Prevent erosion and runoff problems by strengthening root mass
- Reduce the need for artificial or hazardous lawn chemicals
Incorporating Compost To Feed Your Lawn
If you want to use mature compost to feed your existing lawn, in the spring, you might only need to spread about one-quarter to half an inch to give the grass a boost.
This can be done through the same kind of inexpensive spreader you would use to spread commercial granulated lawn fertilizer.
Once you’ve spread the compost evenly, you can then gently rake it over the lawn to help it integrate into the turf.
This should be done after any seasonal aeration. If necessary, you can then reseed any thin or dead spots in your lawn.
If you are seeding your lawn for the first time, you should plan on working a one to two-inch layer of mature compost into the soil before seeding.
When watering the lawn, it’s best to use two to three light applications of water, rather than one heavy watering session.
Not only will this help keep the soil moist and the microbial soil culture active, but it will also keep the grass seeds from washing away.
Grass needs sunlight to germinate. When it does a small root emerges and grabs hold of the soil.
If it’s washed away by heavy watering, it can prevent the seed from making the most out of the composted nutrients. It could also potentially damage the fledgling root turning the seed inert.
Can Compost Be Used In Spot Applications On My Lawn?
Compost can be used in a variety of lawn applications. Turf fungus, weeds, lawn pests, pet damage, and inadequate seasonal aeration can cause dead spots throughout your lawn.
When this happens, simply spreading new grass seed, or trying to cover the area with sod, may not be enough to restore the dead spot.
This is often due to the changes in soil chemistry, the lingering presence of harmful microbes, or soil compaction.
When mature, balanced compost is worked into these bare patches it can help balance the pH, while replacing harmful microbes with beneficial ones, and of course providing the key nutrients new grass needs to take root.
To determine how much compost you will need for a circular area you will first need to calculate the circumference.
Step One: Measure the general diameter of the area. If it’s not a perfect circle, choose the farthest distance from the center to the edge.
In this case let’s say that the diameter is 10 feet, which is 120 inches. And you want to apply half an inch of compost to rejuvenate the dead spot in your lawn.
Step Two: Multiply the diameter by 3.14 to determine the square inches.
120 x 3.14 = 376.8 square inches
Step Three: Multiply that number by .5 for the depth. This will give you the cubic inches.
376.8 x .5 = 188.4 cubic inches.
Step Four: Convert cubic inches to cubit yards by dividing it by 46,656 to determine the cubic yards of compost you need.
188.4 / 46,656 = .004 cubic yards of compost.
How Much Compost Do I Need For Overseeding?
Overseeding your lawn can help augment your regular maintenance. The concept has been around for decades, yet many homeowners don’t use it effectively.
The process involves applying augmented grass seeds to help take root in areas where the existing grass may have become thin or died back.
It typically requires you to dethatch and aerate your turf to allow water, nutrients, and air to feed the root layers.
If you have heavy soil compost can be mixed with an equal volume of sand and top dressed with a drop spreader.
In this application, you can use around three-quarters of a cubic yard per 1000 square feet of lawn.
The general rule of thumb is that you want to apply one-quarter to one-half inch of compost to the soil before you spread the grass seed.
Using Compost To Feed Your Garden
Compost is a very common and welcome friend in the modern-day garden. It’s particularly popular with people who are looking for organic alternatives to feeding their cherished fruits and vegetables.
How Do I Use Compost In My Spring Garden?
The previous summer and fall, your plants drew up soil nutrients to grow flowers or fruit. This can significantly deplete the soil.
Fall rain, melting winter snow, and early spring rain can further wash available soil nutrients deep into the subsoil where young spring roots simply can’t access it.
Adding compost to your garden and planting beds can rejuvenate the soil nutrients as well as the beneficial microbial population that plants also need to thrive.
There are a few ways to do this. The first is to dig out the planting bed 12 to 16 inches and apply a two-inch deep layer of brown or mature compost.
You then back fill with the original soil, which will help aerate it and make it easier for young roots to spread quickly.
If your soil has been significantly depleted, you might also want to work in one to three inches of green, or mature compost into the top four to six inches of soil. This will help give young plants a boost.
Can I Use Compost To Fertilize My Garden In The Summer?
Compost can play an important role in fertilizing your garden during the summer. However, you do need to be a little bit careful.
You don’t want to apply “Hot” or “Green” compost too close to plants and their vulnerable stems. This could also potentially damage plants with a shallow root mass.
If you are willing to put in a little bit of elbow grease, you can use a small garden fork to gently work in a quarter to a half-inch of mature compost.
Just be careful not to disturb the roots of the plants. You want to be especially careful around perennial plants and bushes.
Can Compost Be Used To Feed My Trees?
Most mature landscaping trees in your yard have roots that run so deep, compost will barely affect them.
However, young landscaping trees and shallow-rooted fruit trees will certainly benefit from some compost in the spring and fall.
With many of these trees, the roots are defined by the drip edge of the branches.
You can lightly spray a small tree with a hose or watch it after a rainstorm to get a basic idea of the maximum perimeter of the drip edge.
Garden centers and hardware stores sell tree rings and flexible landscape edging that you can then lay around the drip edge.
You can then apply half an inch of compost directly to the soil. Covering it with a layer of neutral pH, organic mulch, will help prevent weeds from stealing nutrients from the tree’s roots.
To determine how much compost, you will need for this you will need to first calculate the circumference.
Step One: Measure the diameter of the drip edge with the tree trunk as the center. Then convert to inches.
Let’s say you come up with a 5 foot diameter, which is 60 inches.
Step Two: Multiply the diameter by 3.14 to determine the square inches.
60 x 3.14 = 188.4 square inches
Step Three: Multiply that number by 2 for the depth of 2-inches of compost. This will give you the cubic inches.
188.4 x 2 = 376.8 cubic inches of volume
Step Four: Convert to cubic yards by dividing by 46,656.
376.8 / 46,656 = .008 cubic yards of compost.
What Is Compost Tea?
Compost tea is another effective way to apply fertilizer to your garden and flower beds in summer. Making it is a relatively straightforward process.
- Step One: Place 1 pound of green or mature compost in a cheesecloth bag or paint strainer bag for each gallon of water.
- Step Two: Pour the water into a bucket with a lid. Then suspend the bag from the lid with zip ties or screws. Make sure there is a small hole for air exchange in the lid before securing it.
- Step Three: Place the bucket in an area where it will be protected from swings in heat, cold, and direct sun.
- Step Four: Stir the bucket every day with a stick for 7 to 10 days.
- Step Five: Put on latex gloves and squeeze all the water out of the compost bag into the bucket.
You can then use the compost tea in a garden sprayer or by hand watering plants. Just keep in mind that it’s not going to be as potent as solid fertilizer.
You can feed it to plants once a week to help encourage healthy growth throughout the summer growing season.
If you have a smaller lawn, or you have the proper lawn spraying equipment you can use compost tea to feed your grass.
It’s a great way to encourage vigorous growth in times when your turf has been dried out by drought or washed out by frequent summer rains.
A few things to note with this approach
When you are “Brewing” the compost tea, there needs to be some type of breather hole. This can be little more than a nail hole.
Compost tea can sometimes produce excess gas, which can build up in warm summer conditions.
If you don’t have a breather hole to release this increase in pressure, you could be due for a serious mess when you open the lid.
When applying compost tea, to edible vegetables like lettuce, beans, and peas, you want to make sure that you aren’t getting it on the vegetables themselves.
Dangerous E. Coli bacteria can sometimes populate in compost and compost tea, to linger on the surface of the vegetables.
Even with a good wash, some of the bacteria could remain, when you eat them raw. To prevent this from happening, you should only spray the compost or compost tea on the surrounding soil.
Can You Have Too Much Compost In Your Garden?
It is indeed possible to have too much compost in your garden. This is especially true if it’s “Green” or “Hot” compost or the compost consists of manure, which has not been fully broken down by the inherent microbes.
Plants need more than just nitrogen and carbon to thrive. They also need phosphorus to develop roots and vigorous flower growth.
Potassium, which is also known as “Soluble Potash” also plays a critical role in fruit development and disease resistance.
Giving your plants too much nitrogen-rich compost can lead to problems with burn out, or plants with foliage levels that simply can’t be supported by the roots.
Plants in this condition are also increasingly vulnerable to fungal problems like early blight, as well as other plant diseases.
If you aren’t sure of your soil’s current nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium levels, there are basic test kits sold in hardware stores and garden centers.
Some can be as cheap as $5 and the test can be performed in a matter of minutes to give you a basic idea of the state of your soil.
If you want a more accurate soil analysis that includes key minerals like calcium, and copper, most county extension offices will offer a soil testing service for a modest fee.
You can then use the result to develop an effective fertilizing strategy for your lawn, garden, or flower bed.
When in doubt, it’s better to incorporate a small amount of compost every two to three weeks, rather than one single heavy application.
How To Set Up And Maintain A Indoor Worm Bin For Vermicomposting
Vermiculture and Vermicomposting are great additions to your homesteading repertoire of techniques. If you garden and have little space, these techniques allow you to produce the best quality produce with organic fertilizer in a small amount of space.
This is great for people who live in urban environments and anyone in general who likes to compost. Simply chuck in your food waste and keep it moist. The system takes care of itself.
Literally anyone concerned with reducing wastes, conservation, and growing healthier crops would be interested in this technique. This includes homesteaders, conservationists, businesses, schools, government agencies, etc.
It’s a massive waste management technique that benefits larger entities and municipalities. At the same time, you, the average homesteader, may be interested in growing healthier crops without the need for pesticides or chemical fertilizers.
Find out what Vermicomposting can do for you below!
What is Vermicomposting
Earthworms are the best little plows. They push through the Earth with their heads and make little tunnels in the soil and fill it with nutrients. The little tunnels loosen the soil so air and water can come in and promote root growth.
In the garden, earthworms love nitrogen-rich compost. They’ll convert that to granular castings that make the soil dark and rich in nutrients.
They actually produce their weight in castings every day! The castings make great fertilizer and make it worth it to invest in vermiculture!
Vermiculture vs Vermicomposting
Vermiculture literally refers to the cultivation of earthworms. The functional usage for homesteaders is Vermicomposting. Through this, the earthworms produce waste rich in humus.
They eat manure, farm waste, and dirt and pass it through their body which turns it into vermicompost. This isn’t just any compost though. According to ScienceDaily, it’s five times more nitrogen rich, seven times more phosphorus rich, and 11 times more potassium rich.
It’s success can be demonstrated in many studies. Studies found them to improve tomato seedling growth, produce clean compost, and compost food waste.
Composting food waste is a HUGE asset, especially those in urban environments. It’s great because these worms can eat any organic waste you produce.
This includes boxes, paper, etc. Basically, perishables. The worms will eat it and then produce nutrient-rich compost that you can apply to your garden.
When Should You Vermicompost
You can actually vermicompost year round. It’s all about watching conditions. You don’t want your worms to freeze or cook or drown.
These are the conditions you’ll have to watch carefully. In other words, if it’s 90 degrees out there, don’t leave your setup in direct sun. If it’s -10 degrees outside, you’ll want to move your setup somewhere warmer, possibly even indoors.
Same with water; you don’t want your worms to drown from over-watering of the soil, nor do you want them to dry up from the dry environment.
As you will see later, there are certain conditions that these worms prefer and will flourish at.
Vermicomposting is an invaluable technique for your homestead. It provides rich, healthy soil for your garden that’ll help you produce the best harvest you’ve ever had. The plants will be more flavorful, healthier, and more plentiful because they’re getting more nutrients.
If you’re not into that, you’re actually promoting conservation and waste reduction efforts by providing the worms a safe place to grow and reproduce while reducing biomass.
Then if you are to put these into the soil, you’ll be adding to the population and providing good soil for their expansion and the plants themselves.
It’s an eco-friendly technique that mother nature will love you for!
How to Build Your Compost Bin: The Basics
The best way to learn about vermicompost is to do it yourself! Here are a few important things to keep in mind when building your compost bin setup.
1. Food Waste
For waste, try and use fruits and vegetables without peels. Ground egg shells and calcium are good too, but refrain from adding in bones or fecal matter because if they rot, it won’t be good plus it’ll attract pests. Nor does it do anything for your plants.
Your worms will need a medium to move through. This is newspaper, cardboard, manure, peat moss, etc. This is eaten by the worms but is consumed more slowly.
Worms will need to be moist because they breathe through their skin. For this, dampen the bedding to keep the whole bin moist. Then make sure to sprinkle some water to maintain moisture. As soon as the moisture levels go down, the worms will try to escape.
4. Watch the Temperature
Worms don’t like it too hot or too cold. Between 55 and 75 degrees is good. Keep in mind that this setup is closed and self-regulating. This can come in handy if you just keep it out of the direct and away from frost.
5. Setting It Up
The setup is really easy. You can use one or two bins. (The two bin option is more popular.) With the two bin setup, you simply stack one on top of the other. Then you feed the top bin as soon as the bottom bin collects all the compost.
Then, as the bottom bin’s last contents turn to compost, the worms move up the the top bin to eat more stuff while the lower bin can be emptied and placed back on top only to be filled once again.
Buy Instead of Build
If you’re busy or don’t feel confident making this setup, you can always buy one! Amazon is a great go-to, but there are a number of other sellers. Here are a few you may be interested in.
Where to Buy Best Compost Bin?
There are some great options for indoor and outdoor composting bins. For example, they have an All Seasons Indoor Composter and a Compact Single Chamber Outdoor Garden Compost Bin, both of which would be great for your home or backyard!
It’s so worth it to try vermiculture and vermicomposting, especially if you’re looking for natural fertilizer and are interested in composting but don’t think you have the space.
Lindsey Hyland grew up in Arizona where she studied at the University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center. She continued her gardening education by working on organic farms in both rural and urban settings. She started UrbanOrganicYield.com to share gardening tips and tactics. She’s happy to talk about succulents and houseplants or vegetables and herbs – or just about anything in a backyard garden or hydroponics garden.