How to Use Compost

Use this plant-by-plant guide to take advantage of all the benefits your garden can gain from compost − a fantastic all-purpose amendment that offers plants a nutrient boost.

| November/December 2016

  • Composting In The Garden
    Many expert gardeners use compost as their only form of mulch.
    Photo by iStock
  • Compost
    Food waste, including used tea bags, eggshells and nutshells, can go into making rich, fertile compost material.
    Photo by iStock
  • Woman Gardening
    Compost is useful in garden beds, worked into the soil in the fall or used as side dressing throughout the season.
    Photo by iStock

  • Composting In The Garden
  • Compost
  • Woman Gardening

Compost is one of the most important and versatile tools available to gardeners. In fact, many expert gardeners use compost as their sole garden amendment and in turn reap abundant harvests of organic vegetables and fruits. Compost is easy to use, yet some of us may not be sure exactly when and how to use compost on our garden plants. This plant-by-plant guide outlines the best ways to use compost in your garden to achieve your own healthy harvest. Compost gives us a way to recycle food waste back into the earth, and get delicious, nutritious food in return. What’s not to love?

Compost Basics

The most advantageous time to incorporate large volumes of compost into the garden is the late fall. This is the time to spread whatever compost you have made during the summer over the entire growing area. You can do this any time after the first killing frost and before the soil freezes hard. It is not a requirement that it be turned or tilled; you can let it lie there over the winter. If you want to do the garden the most good, mix the compost in with the soil.

You can also add finished or nearly finished compost about a month before planting time in spring. At any time of year, you may add completely finished compost as mulch — especially in the hottest, driest periods of summer.

If you plan to make new raised beds, make the job easier by incorporating compost thus: Mix a 2-inch layer of compost into your soil. Then mound the soil into raised beds 8 to 12 inches high and 3 to 4 feet wide.

Compost for Popular Plants

All plants benefit from compost worked into the soil — from seedlings and potted plants to garden crops, shrubs and trees. The best additional applications of compost for some popular garden crops are outlined here.

Mixed annual flowers and vegetables: As part of routine maintenance, mix 2 inches of compost into soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. Also add compost as a side-dressing to give plants a boost periodically throughout the season, especially in late spring and then a month or two after new plantings.

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