About this Project
Compost is the Foundation of a Healthy, Sustainable Lawn and Garden
There’s gold in your garbage! Black gold, that is. All of your non-meat food waste and much of your lawn waste, can be turned into rich compost for your lawn and garden. It’s easy to do and saves money on fertilizers and other amendments.
Composting beautifies your lawn, protects the environment and it transforms your yard and garden trimmings—grass clippings, leaves, and pruning material—into a dark, crumbly, sweet-smelling material that naturally enriches the earth. Much of the 1,606 pounds of garbage each person creates every year (2013 EPA estimate) is organic and can be composted.
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.
Our first recommendation is for everyone to start with yard trim composting. It is the easiest type of composting and it has little risk of attracting pests. Plus, it utilizes the leaves and twigs that naturally occur around your home and turns it into great soil for your lawn or garden.
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. Montgomery County has a yard trim educational website.
How to Yard Trim Compost
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. (Don’t use nitrogen sources alone.)
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 3 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 week or two, 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.
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.
Food Waste Composting
At home food waste composting requires more steps and work, but it has a huge impact on how much you contribute to the waste stream. It is a great family project as well.
Montgomery County requires a rodent proof compost bin. Just throwing the food waste into a pile would not work as it attracts rodents and other pests. The County provided compost bins are for yard trim and leaves, but not one approved for food waste.
- Indoor vermicomposting
- Outdoor rodent proof bin
- Private contractor service. There are several County businesses that will pick up your food waste and compost it for you.
For a guide on best practices to food waste compost, visit the University of Maryland Master Gardener program.
The Montgomery County estimates that approximately 147,000 tons of food waste, or food scraps, was generated in the County in calendar year 2015. This makes food waste the next frontier material. The Department of Environmental Protection is strategizing on a County-wide long term food waste plan.
Get a free yard trim compost bin from Montgomery County. Find out where to go to pick up a free compost bin and whether they have them in stock. The County does not deliver compost bins.
By composting, you won't have to spend money on amendments to your lawn and garden - you'll make your own!