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Benefits of Compost for Lawns and Small Gardens

Everyone wishes that their garden looks beautiful and has a few open spaces with a lovely lush green lawn where they can relax. But many gardeners think that this is almost impossible or needs a lot of effort. Well, certainly it needs some amount of effort; but it’s certainly not impossible, and not even difficult.

If one wants to make their dream of a beautiful small garden and lawns come true, composting is one of the easiest, cleanest, cheapest, most organic, and most effective ways to apply.

Published: July 19, 2021.

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What is Composting?

If one doesn’t know what composting is, it’s the creation of compost i.e. organic material by decomposing living matter, like yard waste (fallen leaves, grass clippings, etc.) and kitchen waste (food scraps), and using it to enrich the garden soil.

As such, nature on its own keeps creating compost by decomposing fallen branches, leaves, twigs, and dead animals. One can speed up this process by systematically decomposing skins and other remnants of fruits and vegetables, food left-overs, eggshells, and other organic objects in a compost bin, and then adding the compost thus formed to the soil.

Gardeners also need to know that not all kitchen wastes compost well. Those which don’t compost well include tomatoes and highly acidic citrus fruits (because bacteria that break down the organic matter may be killed by them) and tea bags (the tea residue composts well, but one should remove the bag).

One should also take care of avoiding weeds in the compost as their seeds will spread and flourish, competing with one’s plants for water and nutrients.

Benefits of Compost

Compost is also rightly called ‘Black Gold’ as it has so many benefits for gardens and lawns.

Benefits Root System

Winter is the period of dormancy for most plants and lawns, but it’s also a good period for their maintenance.

Composting is great for benefiting the root system of garden plants and lawns during dormancy. Compost helps soil retain water and thus makes it easily available for grass roots. Because of this, nutrients (potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen) also make their way to the roots through the water. This makes the roots healthy and the healthier the roots, the deeper they can penetrate. This in turn holds soil together and its erosion due to wind and water is prevented.

Enriches Soil

Fertilizers one buys from a garden store don’t always contain all the nutrients and micronutrients like iron, zinc, manganese, and copper. However, compost breaks down slowly and acts as a slow-release fertilizer. The more diverse components one adds to the compost, the more varied types of nutrients are added to the soil.

As such, aerating the soil helps break compacted soil. However, organic matters such as compost and humus when combined with inorganic matters like clay, silt, and sand form clusters of particles known as aggregates which make the soil structure stronger. These clusters are loosely formed masses bound by compost and earthworms. They make the soil structure crumbly as they actually have tiny holes and air channels that hold air, water, and nutrients.

So, they make the soil ideal for water retention and drainage, and easier to work with. Adding compost especially to soils that are overly clayed or heavily sandy will lead to an overall healthier substructure that will facilitate air circulation.

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Adjusts Soil pH

Another benefit of compost is that with the decomposed compost (also known as humus) the gardener can adjust the soil pH as desired. Thus one can make the soil acidic, alkaline, or neutral as required by adding particular ingredients to the compost bin. This way the pH levels of the soil become capable of absorbing the nutrients.

One should first test the pH of the soil and compost with a pH test kit. 7.0 is the neutral pH. To make the soil alkaline, one can add substances like ground limestone or wood ash to the compost, whereas to make it acidic, ingredients like elemental sulfur, iron sulfate, sphagnum peat, or aluminum sulfate can be added.

Ideally one would want to produce neutral compost. In that case, they should test the pH of the soil to check if it’s high or low on the pH scale, and add ingredients mentioned above to level the pH. Certain flowering plants and vegetables (e.g. foxglove and astilbe) do better with a more acidic soil environment whereas some others like yarrow and thyme enjoy alkaline soil.

Prevents Erosion, Compaction, and Thatch

A healthy lawn has around 50% of air trapped in spaces and pockets in the soil. When the soil is compacted, water and nutrients can’t get filtered down towards the plants’ roots as nicely as they should. Compost changes this situation by loosening the soil and thus creating more compliant surroundings and generating natural energy.

How to Identify Compacted Soil: There are certain signs to identify compacted soil, such as:

- No proper draining of water

- Surface of soil is hardened and is difficult to dig

- Plants’ growth is not proper and their leaves are discolored

Compaction can be best prevented by adding compost to the soil. In severe cases, one may need to add even up to 50% compost. This will also help control thatch buildup by decomposing thatch, as excessive thatch leads to choking of the root system.

Better than Store-bought Fertilizers

As mentioned earlier, store-bought fertilizers don’t necessarily contain all the nutrients and micronutrients which are essential for plant growth, whereas compost has most of them.

Also, store-bough fertilizers are often chemical-based and are given in large and quick doses to plants, whereas compost is 100% natural and is released more slowly, enabling plants to absorb food for a longer amount of time.

Plus, store-bought fertilizers are not soil friendly and often disturb the balance of soil chemistry. Compost being 100% organic, facilitates soil chemistry.

Boosts Balanced Ecology

Organisms like earthworms, redworms, sow bugs, centipedes, beetles, millipedes, bacteria, worms, fungi, and a variety of other microbes and critters are beneficial for the health of the soil and thereby plants. Composting attracts these organisms to the soil, and they break the organic material by eating, chewing, and munching on it and then defecating. Also, these little guys keep propagating throughout the compost and their movements and life processes make the soil well-aerated because they stir and mix it well.

This should exactly be the purpose behind composting as breaking of chunks in the compost and releasing the nutrients in them is almost impossible without these critters. Thus, while turning one’s compost to let it breathe, one should see a myriad of critters and their rapid activities to get a cover. This is exactly what a gardener wants to happen! Then when the compost is applied to the soil, these critters continue enriching the soil with their life processes.

Make the Soil Resistant to Pests and Diseases

Composting makes the soil more resistant to pests and diseases. Compost that predominantly contains leaves has been proven effective against nematodes, whereas compost high in grass clippings suppresses many types of fungal diseases. Some microbes even produce antibodies and offer an antibiotic property to the compost and therefore the compost can protect plants from many soil-borne diseases.

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Environment Friendly

Perhaps the best thing about composting is its environmental friendliness. By composting the kitchen waste and yard waste, one can prevent it from going to landfills.

Gardeners can also eliminate the need of using artificial fertilizers. One should however take care of keeping the organic matter in the compost bin moist in order to keep insects away, and thus eliminating the need of using insecticides.

Compost also creates air pockets in the soil that hold more water; so, gardeners have to water the garden less frequently and thus the water is saved.

Since compost prevents erosion, it reduces the runoff by boosting healthy root systems. Reducing water runoff helps to protect water bodies by reducing pollution from fertilizers, pesticides, and overall soil runoff.

Money-Saving

Composting saves money on many factors involved in gardening such as garbage pickup, fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides, water, and so on. Thus in an economical and easy way, it provides an effective solution to make one’s garden and lawns flourish.

Looking at the tremendous benefits of compost, every gardener should start composting and enjoy a healthy and beautiful garden and lawn.

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