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How to Compost the Right Way

You can make composting on-site a goal for your sustainable landscape maintenance to reduce waste and help the soil thrive. You’ll know when the compost is ready to use when it has an earthy smell, has cooled off, and doesn’t reheat when stirred. Next, look for a uniformly dark brown or even black color. You shouldn’t be able to identify any of the original particles.

Spread compost directly on the soil surface to use it as mulch. That can prevent erosion and help plants and soil filter pollution, such as hydrocarbons and metals from road surfaces. Most greenwaste-based composts can be applied to a depth of three inches. Use up to two inches of bio-solids.

If you don’t produce your own compost on site, get it from a reputable source that guarantees high quality. Commercially produced quality can vary significantly due to the diverse nature of feedstock, processes, and maturation standards.

Use compost to make healthier soil

For native plants in your sustainable landscaping, use roughly 15 percent compost by volume to repair disturbed or damaged soils.

Clay-based soil amended with compost leads to more productive and healthy plant growth at a lower cost than amending the same soil with the necessary 45 percent sand. Therefore, you can mix poor soils that are compacted, lifeless, or subsoils with about three to six cubic yards of high quality compost per 1,000 square feet to improve the soil structure.

If your compost is based on bio-solids, it can be high in ammonium nitrogen. Use this type of compost sparingly.  When using bio-solids, be sure you know exactly where they came from.

Read more at Gardening Know How: Composting With Biosolids: What Are Biosolids And What Are They Used For https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/composting/ingredients/composting-with-biosolids.htm

This article was inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at SustainableLandscapesSD.org. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

How much mulch will you need? It depends on how you'll be using it in your sustainable landscaping. Photo: Phil Roeder/Flickr-Creative Commons License

More About Mulch You Need To Know

 When using mulch in your landscaping, how much mulch do you need? It depends on what job you want it to perform. 

  • To hold in moisture and keep down weeds: Use three to six inches of mulch on top of the soil. 
  • To maintain planting beds: Maintain two to four inches of mulch on beds at all times.

Remember to keep mulch one to six inches away from plant stems. Mulch can cause plants to rot. 

How Much Mulch Do I Need? 

A few simple measurements and calculations will help you determine your mulch needs. Graphic: Water Authority How much mulch

A few simple measurements and calculations will help you determine your mulch needs. Graphic: Water Authority

You first need to know these numbers: 

  • Square footage of your landscaping  
  • Thickness of your mulch cover in inches

Then take your square footage, multiplied by mulch thickness, and divide it by 12. This will give you your amount of mulch in cubic feet. 

For instance, 891 square feet of land, multiplied by one inch of mulch, divided by 12 = 74.25 cubic feet of mulch.  

Avoid These Mulch Types Around Plants 

Inorganic mulches don’t decompose to feed soil microbes and keep your plants and garden healthy and thriving. There are also some organic mulches containing dyes or other chemicals. Other mulches, such as shredded redwood, take a very long time to break down. These are the types of mulches you should use only in areas without plants, such as in pathways or dry decorative areas: 

  • Shredded redwood 
  • Dyed wood mulch 
  • Decomposed granite 
  • Gravel 
  • Rubber pellets 

Read more about sustainble landscaping: Take The Soil Test

 This article was inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at SustainableLandscapesSD.org. Hardcopies are available free of charge at the Water Authority’s headquarters, 4677 Overland Ave., Kearny Mesa. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.