As soil quality continues to deplete, composting becomes more popular and essential. With the increased use, the benefits of composting have become more measurable and evident. Many of these benefits go well beyond the immediate benefits of a lush, green garden or yard. In fact, the best benefits of composting are long-lasting.
Improved Physical Structure
For growing, soil must possess an optimal physical structure. Dense soils make the planting process more difficult. These dense soils can also stunt plant growth, and in some cases, even make it impossible. Sandy soils can make root formation very difficult for plants. Composting, on the other hand, changes the soil’s physical structure.
For both soil types, composting can add the needed structure to planting soil. This results in a reduction of erosion, increased water permeability, and soil workability. As a result, plants are able to achieve proper root formation, proper growth, and water retention.
Studies have shown that an increase in specific microorganisms found in compost can reduce diseases in plants. Diseases like pythium, fusarium, and nematodes have been reduced in plants that have been planted in composted soil. Protection from these diseases results in increased plant fruit production and a decrease in plant death.
Soil contaminates can create dangerous living conditions for more than just plants. Heavy metals, like lead, can seep into water sources and pipes, causing increased lead inside the home. This can have serious health complications, especially for children.
According to studies, compost has the ability to bind these contaminants. While research is still being conducted, there is indication that replacing native soil with compost may reduce the level of contaminants found within the soil.
Wetland areas have suffered dramatically from a decrease in native plants. In recent efforts, wetlands have undergone restoration with compost soils. The characteristics of the compost soils have been found to closely resemble the characteristics of wetland soils. These restoration efforts have led to a reestablishment of native wetland plants.
Composting can provide numerous benefits to plants, soils, people, and our planet. While there is still much to be learned about composting and its benefits, research continues to prove that it is well worth the efforts.
If you are a new gardener, you may not be familiar with the differences between compost and fertilizers. This can lead to a great deal of confusion when browsing the gardening aisle at the store. If you plan on gardening in the future, understanding these differences can be extremely important.
In the simplest terms, fertilizers feed plants. Compost feeds the soil. While this may not sound like it makes a very big difference, it really can make a big impact on the future of your garden and its soil, and there is actually a difference.
Fertilizers do add nutrients to the soil. However, the ingredients are focused on meeting the needs of the plants. Fertilizers have been shown to actually prevent the growth of microbes needed to keep the soil healthy. This throws the soil’s chemistry out of balance and can actually lead to breakdown of the soil food web, especially if used year after year. The impact can be even worse if chemical fertilizers are used instead of organic fertilizers.
Compost, unlike fertilizers, actually promotes healthy microbe growth within the soil. It feeds the soil food web and increases the health of the natural soil. Over time, this creates a more nutrient rich soil that is beneficial for the plants and vegetables that you place in it. This is because compost is actually made up of microscopic fungi and bacteria. Other organisms like crickets and earthworms are also present in compost, which further benefits the soil. The end result is soil that allows the plants and vegetables to feed themselves.
Composting also helps the soil retain much needed moisture, and research has also shown that composting can also assist in enhancing the disease resistance of some plants, like tomatoes and vegetables. This can reduce the amount of crops you lose to disease, which often leads to wasted expenses.
Fertilizer and compost can be used together. However, it is important that you remember how fertilizer can affect the future composition of your soil. If you do choose to use fertilizer, it is recommended that you stick to organic fertilizer or only use it for the short term.
Composting can be a wonderful hobby to take on, but for many, it is also a way of life. Using the compost process is excellent for your lawn and for the Earth. Capable of suppressing plant disease, improving soil structure, and degrading specific pollutants, compost is used by gardeners all over the world in order to practice a positive, environmentally friendly way of gardening.
While composting is extremely beneficial, it is an intricate process that requires just as much time, knowledge, and skill as other gardening practices. One question many gardeners ask is how much compost they should use. This can be a tricky question because it usually depends on its use and the characteristics of the native soil.
The amount needed can vary, and while adding any amount will be beneficial, there is an amount within a fairly broad range which will yield optimum benefits. For example, new lawns, established lawns, and gardens that are both new and established require different amounts of compost. There are various ways to determine how much compost you’ll need, but the first factor you have to consider is the area of the soil you’ll be amending with compost.
In your garden, for example, if you plan on using 1 cubic foot bags, one good rule of thumb to determine the proper coverage rate is to multiply the length by the width of your garden to calculate the area. Next, take the area and divide it by 10 to find the minimum number of bags you’ll need. Double that number of bags if you have particularly high clay or sand content. Let’s say you have built a 4 foot by 8 foot raised bed garden and filled it with topsoil or commercial potting mix. Adding 3 bags of compost will make a dramatic difference in your results. If you are using poorer soil for your initial fill of the bed, you could add 6-8 bags for the best benefit.
Also, in general, it’s ideal to mix your compost deep enough that the roots of your plants will be surrounded by the mixed soil and compost. This can be done with a rototiller or with a hand rake, scrabler, or cultivator.
For established lawns, spreading a layer of about 1/4 inch will give good results, although an inch or more would not be too much. Although there are machines made to top dress lawns with compost, an easy way is to hand broadcast with a standard round-pointed shovel.
Be sure to measure the area you need to amend with compost, and talk to a local nursery or compost professional to make sure you use the proper amount for your specific lawn or garden. By knowing a few general guidelines such as these to base your amounts on, you’ll not go wrong.
Compost is the most beneficial soil addition available for your plants. It provides plants with much needed nutrients and helps to improve soil composition. However, this valuable soil component can be used for more than just gardens.
Compost can easily be used for indoor plants, outdoor potted plants, and around trees and shrubs. Doing so helps to keep your plants healthy and vibrant, but there is a special method you must use when adding compost to these plants.
Using Compost for Indoor Plants
Before using compost on indoor plants, you need to be sure that your compost is completely ready. It should be dark and have a soil-like smell. It should be mostly broken down and crumble easily. If it is not ready, then you will need to wait to use your compost on your indoor plants. You should also only use compost on established house plants, meaning that they should not still be seedlings.
To use compost on your indoor plants, add about an inch of compost to the pot. Mix this into the top one to two inches of the topsoil. You can repeat this process every year when you repot the plant.
Using Compost for Outdoor Potted Plants/Containers
Container plants can also benefit greatly from the use of compost. To create a mix for your potted containers, use one part compost, one part perlite, one part sharp sand, and one part good soil. Just be sure that the compost is mature to avoid burning the plants’ stems or roots.
Using Compost for Trees and Shrubs
You can also use compost on your outdoor trees and shrubs. To do this, spread about one or two inches of compost over the topsoil around the tree or shrub, starting about six inches from the trunk. You can add mulch if you choose but you don’t have to mix this in. Worms will help to meld the compost into the soil over time.