Make Composting an Attractive and Convenient Addition to the Landscape
by Melinda Myers, horticulturist and gardening expert
No matter the size of your landscape or type of gardening you prefer, you can make recycling green debris into compost convenient and attractive. For years I gardened in a small city lot. I filled every square foot with flowers and edibles so finding a space to compost was challenging. But even with limited space, I was able to create a compost system my neighbors and I could appreciate.
I made a bin of recycled heat-treated pallets lined with hardware cloth. I used a 4’ by 8’ piece of lattice, that matched my fence, for the front of the bin. The bin looked like an extension of the fence and no one had to see my yard waste decomposing into valuable compost.
Even apartment dwellers can give it a try. My friend, a rooftop gardener in Manhattan, NY composted in containers. These micro compost bins allowed her to convert small amounts of vegetable scraps and plant debris into compost instead of hauling them down the elevator and taxing them off to the recycling center.
Now there are many more choices for creating composting stations in both small and large lots. Don’t worry, you’ll quickly recoup your initial investment of money and time. You’ll spend less time hauling the materials to the recycling center and less money on soil amendments. Most importantly, you’ll boost the health and beauty of your landscape while helping the environment.
Speed up the composting process by creating a pile at least 3 feet tall and wide. Use only insect and disease free materials. Do not include meat, fat, bones, or dairy products that can attract rodents or weeds and invasive plants that can survive most composting and end up back in your garden.
Mix nitrogen rich green materials such as vegetable clippings, and herbicide-free grass clippings and carbon rich browns such as cornstalks, evergreen needles and tree leaves. Top this 8 to 10” layer with compost and sprinkle three cups of a low nitrogen slow release fertilizer like Milorganite over this layer. The organic nitrogen helps feed the microorganisms that break down the raw materials into compost. Continue layering with plant debris, compost and fertilizer until the pile is at least three feet high.
Locate your compost pile in the landscape or garden where compostable materials can easily be moved into the bin, the pile turned, and the finished compost harvested and transported into the garden where it is needed. You found a place to stow the trashcans without ruining the beauty of your landscape or offending your neighbors, so do the same with your compost area.
Purchase or build a compost bin that matches your landscape style. Some bins are built to be an attractive addition to the landscape like mine, while others are designed to fade into the garden and go unnoticed.
Use plants to screen the compost process. Place a simple wire bin in the middle of the garden. It’s convenient; since this is the place you generate garden debris and use much of the finished product. The surrounding plantings will hide the bin.
Or place your bin in back of a garden border behind a screen of tall grasses, shrubs or other permanent plantings. Make sure your neighbors’ view is equally as nice. And leave sufficient room for adding raw materials to the bin, turning the pile if needed and harvesting the compost.
Consider teaming up with your neighbors to create more gardening and composting space. Design a shared garden and compost area across the lot line. Use steppers for easy access and beautify both yards with attractive plantings. You’ll each enjoy the extra garden space and valuable compost you create.
Up the beauty of your composting space even more and add outdoor storage space. Install a decorative fence as a backdrop for one of your garden beds. Design the screen to run parallel to a fence or hedge that runs along the lot line. Leave enough space between the two structures for composting as well as storing mulch, shredded leaves, garden stakes and more. Include a gate or entryway along the side for easy access.
Once you start exploring options, your creativity will help you build a composting space suited to your needs. Then get ready to enjoy the increased beauty and productivity the finished compost will provide in your gardens and containers.