Fall Composting Tips

hotpile

A hot pile at Rotary Botanical Gardens

As fall returns, so does the frost that ends our summer bounty. The home gardener may be wondering what to do with all the plant material left. How about composting? Not only does composting save you money, but it improves the soil structure and water holding capacity of your soil, as well as promotes plant growth. Here are a few tips for composting this fall.

#1. Don’t compost diseased plants! Often, inoculum for disease can overwinter in plant tissue, allowing re-infection in the spring. The temperature of home compost piles will not rise high enough to kill of the disease. This means that next spring, you’ll have a compost pile ripe with fresh disease inoculum. Spread this in your garden, and you’ll lose the battle before the summer heat even begins!

#2. Give your pile a little love. There are two typical methods for composting: hot and cold piles. Hot piles are maintained by regulation of water and regular turning, producing compost in two to six months. Cold piles are built a little at a time and are not often turned, producing compost in a couple of years. If you’d like to improve your composting skills, consider creating a hot pile. Check out the how-to, here: WI DNR Home Composting (pdf)

#3. Incorporate compost into your soil this fall. When compost is incorporated into the soil, microbes break the organic matter down to release nutrients. This process takes time, which is why compost is considered a slow release fertilizing method. To give your spring garden a head start, incorporate compost into the soil in the fall. Not only does this allow more time for microbes to do their work, but the freeze-thaw cycle of winter further breaks down the organic matter. You should incorporate 2” of compost into the top 6-8” of your soil.

#4. Additional options for the abundance fall leaves. If you’re left with too many leaves to compost, check out additional options offered by Janice Peterson, here: Five Eco-Friendly Ways to Get Rid of Those Leaves.