50 Things You Can Compost in the Gardens

12/30/2021 | Ken Davis Fertilizer, In the Garden

by Ken Lain, the mountain gardener

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Happy New Year – A Prosperous New Start!

There has been a 29% increase in gardeners helped here at Watters Garden Center since the pandemic, and the trend is growing. The significant increase represents more than growth. We are helping many people new to gardening all together. It’s inspiring! Gardeners experienced first-hand what plants and gardening can do for the community and the importance of a healthy lifestyle.

compost bin

Soil is everything when it comes to gardening, and I’m not talking dirt. Enrich your garden soil, and thriving plants naturally grow. Throw lettuce, tomato, flowers, or trees into crummy mountain dirt, and struggle is soon to follow.

January is ideal for preparing new garden beds for spring planting or refreshing soils from last year. Now is the time to amend your gardens with manure, mulch, and compost.

I was helping a proud gardener with her new compost bin this week.  Her question was, “what can I put in my compost bin?” Here are the 50 things you can compost for healthier gardens. There are two basic compost materials, greens and brown (nitrogen-rich and carbon-rich).

Greens for composting

Greens for Your Compost Bin are nitrogen-rich additions to your compost pile. They tend to have lots of moisture, break down quickly, and provide a quick burst of heat to your bin. While they are labeled greens, technically, any plant matter works. Coffee grounds are brown in color, but they’re rich in nitrogen, so considered green for composting purposes.

25 green ideas added to your compost bin:

  1. Broccoli stalks
  2. Citrus rinds
  3. Coffee grounds
  4. Cooked plain pasta
  5. Cooked plain rice
  6. Corn cobs
  7. Corn husks
  8. Dead plants (as long as they aren’t diseased)
  9. Dried herbs and spices that have lost their flavor
  10. Eggshells
  11. Fresh leaves
  12. Fruit and vegetable peels
  13. Grass clippings
  14. Holiday greenery from wreaths and swags
  15. Houseplant trimmings
  16. Melon rinds
  17. Pinched, or deadheaded flower
  18. Seaweed
  19. Sod that you’ve removed to make new garden beds
  20. Spent bulbs that you used for forcing indoors
  21. Stale bread
  22. Tea leaves and paper tea bags
  23. Thinnings from the vegetable garden
  24. Vegetables that aren’t suitable for eating anymore
  25. Weeds that haven’t gone to seed
browns for composting

Browns for Your Compost Bin are the carbon-rich materials that add aeration to the pile and structure to compost. They break down slowly, so it’s a good idea to chop each relatively small.

25 brown ideas added to your compost bin:

  1. Barnyard bedding from chickens and horses
  2. Bedding from hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits
  3. Brown paper lunch bags, shredded or torn
  4. Brown paper shopping bags, shredded or torn
  5. Chopped twigs and small branches
  6. Coir liners from hanging baskets
  7. Excelsior
  8. Fall leaves
  9. Fallen bird’s nests
  10. Nutshells (avoid walnuts)
  11. Shredded newspaper
  12. Shredded office or school papers
  13. Shredded, non-glossy mail
  14. Torn corrugated cardboard boxes, non-glossy coatings
  15. Peat or coir from seed starts
  16. Pine needles
  17. Pine cones
  18. Pressed paper egg cartons, torn into small pieces
  19. Raffia
  20. Sawdust from untreated wood
  21. Straw
  22. Toilet paper, paper towel, or wrapping paper tubes
  23. Used napkins
  24. Used paper coffee filters
  25. Wood chips

These items are safe to compost in your gardens. Not everything on this list will be for every gardener. Worried about pests in the compost, some decide to forgo composting grains like rice, pasta, and bread. Others choose to recycle newspapers rather than compost. An additional guide to Composting for Better Gardens.

Meat: While you can technically compost meats, dairy, and fats, they are left from the list because extra care is needed to compost safely.

Poops – Manures carry a variety of parasites that make them less safe to compost. It’s best not to add poop to your compost pile. If you do, don’t use poopy compost around edible plants.

4 to 1 – For super-fast compost, pay attention to these proportions. You should have about four times as many browns as greens. If your bin gets wet and smelly, add more browns and cut back on the greens for a bit, then give it a turn. If the contents of your bin aren’t breaking down, add some greens, turn it, and it should start compost faster. If the goal is to avoid sending your organic matter to landfills, more than composting, you don’t need to worry as much.

Until next week, I’ll be helping local gardeners compost smarter here at Watters Garden Center.

Ken Lain can be found at Watters Garden Center throughout the week, 1815 W. Iron Springs Rd in Prescott, or contacted through his websites at WattersGardenCenter.com or Top10Soils.com.