How do I Use Compost for Mulch?

Dee Baugher

Gardeners use compost in numerous ways; one of the most popular ways is to use compost for mulch. When compost is applied as a soil amendment, only finished compost may be used without damaging plants. When utilized as mulch, however, either finished or unfinished compost may be used. Properly apply compost for mulch by spreading from 3 inches to 4 inches (7.6 cm to 10 cm) around the base of the plant, keeping it from 2 inches to 3 inches (5 cm to 7.6 cm) away from plant stems. Do not incorporate it into the soil.

A compost bucket.
A compost bucket.

Compost should be created with a mix of so called brown and green items. Brown items include fallen leaves, twigs, sawdust, and newspaper. Green items include kitchen scraps — including egg shells but excluding meat and meat trimmings — grass clippings and recently pulled weeds. Do not add meats or dead animals, poisonous plants, chemically treated wood or dairy items. Compostable items will decompose over time if left alone, but regularly mixing the compost pile will keep it decomposing much more quickly, meaning the compost will make it to your flowerbeds sooner.

Using compost for mulch can attract earthworms, which can loosen and further enrich the soil.
Using compost for mulch can attract earthworms, which can loosen and further enrich the soil.

Research has shown that compost is a good choice when selecting mulch material, because it helps improve soil fertility and plant growth. When compared to wood mulch, compost has a lower carbon to nitrogen ratio. That means it is a better quality fertilizer than wood mulch as it decomposes.

Recently pulled weeds can be used in compost.
Recently pulled weeds can be used in compost.

There are many reasons to use mulch. Mulch helps keep the soil moist by reducing evaporation and assists in moderating fluctuating temperatures, keeping the ground warmer on cool days and nights and cooling it on hot days. Mulching also encourages earthworms, which create tunnels that aid in aerating and draining the soil. It helps prevent erosion, protects plant roots near the soil surface, and lessens soil compaction. When organic matter is used as mulch, it helps improve the soil by adding nutrients as it decomposes and encourages microbial growth that stimulates plant growth.

Compost will loosen clay soil.
Compost will loosen clay soil.

Another reason gardeners choose to mulch is to help control weed growth. This is one task that compost does not perform as well as other types of mulch. In fact, using compost for mulch can encourage the growth of weeds. This can be prevented by adding a top layer of a standard mulch material over the layer of compost.

Thatch can be composted, making mulch for later use.
Thatch can be composted, making mulch for later use.

Two of the best reasons to use compost for mulch is that it can be created at little or no cost and turns substances that would normally end up in the landfill into a valuable product. Composting can redirect as much as 30 percent of household waste away from the trash can. Grass clippings, leaves, wood chips, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea leaves, newspapers, dryer lint, and other organic matter are good candidates for a home compost pile.

Dryer lint can be added to a compost pile.
Dryer lint can be added to a compost pile.

Compost is nicknamed "black gold" by many gardeners, because it is not only an excellent mulch but also a valuable, natural way to condition and enrich the soil. It loosens clay soils, helps sandy soils retain moisture, and is a chemical-free fertilizer that suppresses insects and plant diseases. Compost is cost effective because you make it yourself from recyclable materials, providing gardeners with another way to be environmentally friendly.

Egg shells are good candidates for a home compost pile.
Egg shells are good candidates for a home compost pile.

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