Composting transforms your yard and garden trimmings—grass clippings, leaves, and pruning material—into a dark, crumbly, sweet-smelling material that naturally enriches the earth.
When you compost, you create an environment for microscopic organisms to break down dry, carbon-rich “brown” material, such as fallen leaves and wood chips; and wet, nitrogen-rich “green” material, including grass clippings and flowers.
Along with air and water, the carbon and nitrogen materials decompose and create a high-nutrient compost to use for your lawn and garden.
Beautify your lawn
Compost improves soil structure, texture, and fertility so your plants and lawn thrive. It also improves water retention by holding almost twice its weight in water.
Protect the environment
Compost protects our waterways by slowing runoff from rain and melting snow, preventing soil erosion, and trapping sediments and chemicals. And unlike many commercial fertilizers, it won’t leach chemicals into the ground.
Composting reduces the need to buy commercial fertilizers, and lawn care service providers may charge less if you ask them to stop collecting your yard trim and pass the savings on to you.
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How do you start composting?
Pick your spot
Use a level, well-drained space in your yard in either sun or shade.
If you place your compost pile in full sun, you'll need to monitor
the moisture content of your compost pile more closely. Avoid setting
up your compost bin over shallow tree roots, near wooden structures,
and at your neighbor’s property line.
Add "brown" and "green" material
Mix carbon-rich, "brown" materials such as dry leaves, straw, and wood chips, with nitrogen-rich "green" materials including flowers, pruning material, and grass clippings. Brown material can be composted alone, but the nitrogen in green material speeds the decomposition process. (Nitrogen sources do not compost well on their own.) Add "browns" and "greens" to your pile in a ratio of approximately 3 to 1.
When in doubt, leave it out!
Do not add diseased plants, pet waste, meat, bones, fat, oils, dairy products, processed foods, fruit or vegetable scraps, and weeds that are in bloom or have seed heads.
Build your pile
Most compost bins are three feet high—the optimum height to ensure the most efficient rate of composting. Each compost pile must be large enough to prevent the rapid loss of heat and moisture, but small enough for proper air circulation.
Moisten the materials as you add them and then leave a concave depression at the top of the pile to collect rainwater. Keep it moist—but not wet—to promote bacterial growth. Too much moisture can kill microorganisms and slow decomposition. If your pile gets too wet, add some brown material such as dry leaves.
Mix it up
Turn your compost pile every few weeks for faster decomposition, moving the dry materials from the
edges into the middle of the pile. When adding new materials—especially
green material like grass—be sure to thoroughly mix them in or add in a thin layer between layers of browns.
Use your compost
After the materials break down, you will have dark brown-black, crumbly, sweet-smelling compost. Use it as a top-dressing for your lawn or mulch for trees and shrubs—or mix it in the soil for growing annuals, herbs, and vegetables.
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What are some composting myths?
Myth: Composting is expensive
Fact: The "greens" and "browns" used to create compost are free! They come directly from your yard. And compost bins can be made using very inexpensive materials (such as hardware cloth or wooden pallets). Montgomery County also offers residents compost bins at no additional charge.
Myth: Composting causes odors
Fact: A well-maintained compost pile smells as sweet as the forest floor. Odors happen because of mistakes such as poor drainage, a lack of aeration, or the need for more dry “brown” materials in the pile.
Myth: Composting attracts rodents and pests
Fact: Yard trimmings won’t attract rodents. Just keep food scraps out!
When is the next composting workshop?
The Division of Solid Waste Services conducts composting workshops throughout the year. Learn more about the do’s and don’t’s of composting and share ideas with others. For a list of upcoming workshops, visit our events calendar.
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