Composting Yard Waste: Compost as Soil Amendment and Mulch

Over the last few days we have covered the topic of composting and prior to that, mulches. Now, learn how compost can be used as soil amendment and mulch.


Mix soil amendments well with the soil to separate clay particles or hold water in sand. For this reason, prepare soil before planting lawns or trees. Areas planted every year, such as vegetable or annual flower Gardens, can accept frequent applications of compost. Indoor potted plants and outdoor container plants benefit from compost as an ingredient in potting soils. As with peat-based mixes, potting soils that use compost require a material such as perlite to avoid waterlogging. Some weed seeds can survive composting, but weed plants can be easily pulled.
Mulches suppress Garden weeds, cool soil, conserve moisture and reduce soil erosion. To mulch, apply a 4- to 5-inch layer of organic material on top of the soil instead of mixing it into the soil as with amendments.
Compost can be used as a mulch. It has the disadvantage of being light and easily blown away in the wind, unlike bark or rock mulch that stays in place. Like any organic mulch, compost supports weed growth, which can cause problems if weed seeds blow into the area. While mulches eventually become incorporated into the soil, amending the soil directly with compost is a better solution where soil conditions limit plant growth.
Table 1: A troubleshooting guide for effective composting.
Compost has a bad odor.
Lack of air.
Turn or use a tool to aerate it.
The center of the mass is dry.
Lack of water, not watering regularly.
Moisten materials while stirring or turning the pile.
The outside couple of inches are dry.
Dry Colorado air.
Water regularly or cover with a plastic sheet or tarp.
The center is damp and warm.
Too small a plant mass overall.
Collect more plant materials; mix with the old to form a new mass.
Outside is cool and slightly dry. Plant wastes are damp and sweet smelling but mass will not heat up.
Lack of nitrogen.
Mix in a nitrogen source: fresh grass, granular fertilizer, bloodmeal or manure.

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