Ken Muellers is a designer at The Laurel Group and is an ISA Board Certified Master Arborist and can be contacted at

Ken Muellers is a designer at The Laurel Group and is an ISA Board Certified Master Arborist
and can be contacted at

Step right up! If you are a gardener and are looking for a magical elixir to cure all your garden woes, then look no further! This miracle product will help your plants grow no matter where you live. It improves your soil regardless of what type you have. Clay soils, sandy soils, wet soils or dry, this product is for you! But best of all you can get it for free.

No – this is not some snake oil sold off the back of a wagon, this is good old compost. As many seasoned gardeners will attest, compost has many benefits. The organic matter in compost adds nutrients that plants need to thrive. These organic nutrients will reduce the need to apply chemical fertilizers. It also adds microbes, such as beneficial bacteria and fungi that bring life to the soil. When added to clay soils, it improves drainage and pore space and when added to sandy soils it helps with moisture retention.

Although you can buy compost from the store, many gardeners scoff at the idea of paying for something you can get for free. After all, if you have a landscape, you have all the ingredients you need (and you may be paying to get rid of them!).

The components of compost are broken into two main groups – browns and greens. Browns consist of dried leaves, twigs, bark and wood chips. These add carbon. The greens are made up of grass clippings, green leaves and vegetable waste and they bring nitrogen to the mix. When combined (you want more browns than greens) and ample moisture is added to the mixture, these elements will breakdown into humus. Keep in mind, the smaller the pieces you add to the pile, the quicker they will breakdown. Avoid adding any animal by-products or pet waste to the pile.

For the decomposition process to happen, you need enough of these materials to reach critical mass. It usually takes at least a few cubic feet of material to start the decomposition happening. These metabolic processes produce temperatures over 140 degrees. This heat also kills off pathogens and any potential weed seeds in the mixture. These natural processes take time, but you can speed it up by turning the layers periodically. This allows oxygen in to help in the metabolic process while still providing enough heat for good results. There are compost tumblers on the market to do this on a small scale.

To start composting, you can simply pile the material in layers in a corner of the yard, or if space is limited, constructing a compost bin may be in order. It is useful to have two or three bins so you can have one that is ready for the garden, while the next batch is just getting started.

How ever you store your compost, I recommend putting it away from entertaining areas to avoid unpleasant odors intruding on your party. If you like your neighbors, and want them to keep liking you, don’t place it on the property line downwind from their entertaining area either.

If compost is good, compost tea is even better. Compost tea
is basically compost extract, concentrating all the benefits into liquid form that can be spread or sprayed on and around your plants. If interested, you can find recipes on line.
If you have neither the time or patience to make your own compost or compost tea, the store-bought variety can suffice (it’s kinda like cheating though).