How to use compost

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Five great ways to use compost

You can make your own compost, buy it in bags or have it trucked in by the tonne, but some gardeners just aren’t sure how to actually use compost in the garden. Our Garden Basics guide shows that it’s really very versatile stuff.

Fabulous compost
Composting is a great way to recycle vegie scraps, fallen leaves, lawn clippings and other green garden waste back into your garden. Homemade compost is a beaut money-saver of course, and top quality compost from any source should be dark coloured, smell sweet and have a crumbly texture. It looks a lot like really good, rich soil. It has several really handy uses in the garden, so if you aren’t sure what to do with your compost, try these five options for starters.

1. Use it as mulch
Just spread your compost around garden plants as a mulch, applying it up to 40mm deep, if you like. However, you’ll need a lot of compost to cover your garden beds to that depth with compost, and you’ll probably run out very soon if you don’t have it delivered in bulk.

2. Prepare a garden bed
Dig in plenty of compost and well-rotted manure a couple of weeks before planting out vegie patches or garden beds. Let it all break down for a fortnight or so, then start planting. How much compost do you use per plant? It’s hard to overdose on added compost, so be generous with it. As for the manure, use well-rotted manure that also has been composted (ie, aged) beforehand. Never add fresh manure to garden beds. Good examples of well-rotted manures include ‘milled cow manure’ sold in bags, and Dynamic Lifter, which is pelletised chicken poo. See the bags for the recommended application rates for these manures.

3. Make liquid fertiliser
You can turn compost into liquid fertiliser using a bucket or tub. Just add one part compost to three parts water, give it a good stir, then leave it for three days, stirring a couple of times over this period. Apply the liquid to plants as a gentle plant food. You can use the same batch of compost to make liquid food a couple of times, and at the end of it all just return the old compost to the compost bin, or spread it on the garden somewhere.

4. Turn it into potting mix
Compost can also be combined with other ingredients to make a good homemade potting mix. Mix together 4 parts compost with 1 part shredded sphagnum moss and 2 parts coarse river sand. It’s easiest to mix up a decent batch thoroughly in a wheelbarrow or large, wide tub. You can, if you like, add some slow-release fertiliser granules to boost the mix, and these are fantastic as fertilisers, but admittedly not strictly organic. The sphagnum moss and coarse river sand are available at garden centres.

5. Re-wet your dry soil
We’re still finding out fabulous new uses for compost. Digging compost into extremely dry soils helps to get the soils soaking up water again. Each grain of extremely dry soil is coated with a waxy substance that forms a ‘water-resistant’ coating on the soil grains. Compost is full of tiny micro-organisms, and when compost is mixed into dry soils, these little guys help to break down that waxy, water-repelling coating. Combined with the application of wetting agents such as SaturAid or Wettasoil, compost can be a superb dry soil reviver. So, dig over your very dry soil well with a mattock, spade or fork, add wheelbarrows-full of compost and dig it in well, making sure the compost is evenly spread through the soil. When that job is done, scatter the surface of the soil with the wetting agent grains (following the packet directions for the correct amounts to apply) then soak the soil thoroughly for at least 20 minutes the first time, and keep the soil well-watered with regular long, deep soakings when water restrictions permit.