Summary: A compost pile has long been used for gardens, lawns, golf courses and growing plants in general. Compost provides a natural way to put organic material back into out lawns, landscapes and garden. For more info read on…
Question: My dad always had a compost pile, he said it was “nature’s fertilizer”, but with today’s modern fertilizers are compost piles worth having? Matt, Rockville, Maryland
Answer: Matt, for many decades every golf course that makes any pretense of having good greens kept a supply of compost for use in topdressing them several times during the year. The purpose of this treatment is to maintain an even surface by working this material into the low, uneven places, and to provide a surface of new soil for the grass roots. No reason homeowners cannot take advantage of making and using their own compost.
The humus-forming materials for a compost pile may consist of animal manures, peat moss, or other partially decayed vegetable matter.
The actual compost pile is built up in alternate layers of soil, manure or substitute organic materials and sand. The proportions will vary according to the quality of soil used in the pile. If it is a good garden loam equal parts of soil and manure with one-fourth part coarse sand should give good results. If the soil tends toward a heavy clay as much as two parts manure and one part sand may be necessary. With real sandy soils, ordinary clay should be substituted for sand and at least two parts of manure used to one of the native sandy soil.
As the alternate layers are being placed commercial fertilizer should be mixed into the mass, using about one-half pound to a cubic yard.
One Year Needed
A compost pile may be built up of 8 or 10 layers of these various materials. It should be kept moist, and turned over every two or three months. This aids the decomposition process and insures a complete mixture of soil and organic matter. At least a year is needed for thorough decomposition and destruction of weed seeds. This latter is most important as there are sure to be many weeds in the materials used for compost.
After the compost is ready it should be screened through a quarter inch mesh screen following which it is ready for use as a topdressing material. The coarse material should be saved and incorporated into the next pile. If possible a new compost pile should be started every year so that a continuous supply of top. dressing is available.
Probably the easiest way to topdress a lawn, without purchasing special equipment, is to dump the material in small piles and then spread it out over the turf using the back of an rake. It can be worked down into the turf with the same implement or with a stiff straw push broom. For the average lawn, top-dressing should be at least one-fourth inch deep. If the surface is very uneven as much as a half inch can be applied without smothering the grass. To cover a lawn area of 1000 square feet to a depth of a quarter inch about one cubic yard of compost is needed.
Seeding and Fertilizing
Seeding the lawn before topdressing is an excellent practice. The compost makes a fine covering and bed for the seed. A lawn can also be fertilized at the same time by mixing the proper amount of commercial plant food into the topdressing material. Mixing should be thorough.
Use Leaves in Compost
While it is possible to incorporate manures and peat directly into the compost pile, leaves or other decomposed matter should be allowed to rot at least a year. These materials should be placed where they will be kept moist at all times and stirred occasionally. Decomposition will be faster if a complete mineral fertilizer is incorporated into the mass at the rate of about one pound to every cubic yard of composting material. A sprinkling of lime is also beneficial.