Benefits of CompostingCompost is one of the most valuable resources for beautifying your landscape, and it is virtually free.

The leaves you rake, the grass you mow, and the branches you trim are some of the ingredients you can use to make compost.

Finished compost is dark and has a pleasant smell. It is produced when organic matter — such as garden, lawn, and kitchen waste — is broken down by bacteria and fungi. Use compost throughout your landscape: dig it into gardens and flower beds, add it to the soil when renovating your lawn, or put it through a sieve and use it in potting soil.

Why Compost?

Pennsylvania and many other states are rapidly running out of landfill space. Consequently, we must make our old landfills last longer. One way to do this is to compost yard and kitchen wastes, which constitute an estimated 20 percent of the refuse going into our landfills. Homeowners who compost not only extend the lives of our landfills, they also reduce costs for collecting organic debris. Also, composting recycles waste to create a valuable soil amendment

Benefits of Composting

Compost improves the structure of soil. With the addition of compost, sandy soils hold water better and clay soils drain faster.

Compost reduces soil erosion and water runoff. Plant roots penetrate compost-rich soil easier and hold the soil in place. Water can run down into lower soil layers rather than running off.

Compost provides food for earthworms, soil insects, and beneficial microorganisms.

Compost assists the soil in holding nutrients, lessening the need for chemical fertilizers and preventing the leaching of nitrogen into water.

Compost promotes healthy plants that are less susceptible to diseases and insect pests, reducing the need for pesticides.

Composting in your backyard

Composting in your backyard recycles wastes that might otherwise go to landfills. Leaves, grass, and debris — often raked into the street for collection — tend to clog storm drains and street gutters and are costly to collect, but they make excellent compost materials.

Compost Your Yard and Kitchen Wastes.

Grass clippings and fall leaves are abundant compost materials for most homeowners. Weeds free of seedheads and crop residues, such as vines and leaves, are other sources. Collect vegetable and fruit peelings, coffee grounds, crushed eggshells, and similar kitchen waste for your compost pile. Acquire additional materials, such as sawdust (if not from treated wood), manure, hay, or straw from sources such as stables and carpenter shops.

Keys to Good Composting

Carbon-to-nitrogen ratio (C:N ratio) by volume – Combine a mixture of dry leaves; old, dead plant material; or other sources of carbon with fresh, green plant material or manure for nitrogen. The volume of the brown plant material should equal or be up to three times as much as the green plant material in the pile (C:N ratios of 1:1 to 3:1 by volume).

Presence of microorganisms – Compost inoculants, starters or activators, garden soil, and other such materials do NOT need to be added to the piles because the microorganisms can be found in sufficient numbers on the plant material.

Moisture level – The pile should have the moisture of a wrung-out sponge. Add water as needed.

Oxygen level – A compost pile should be turned periodically to promote decay of its contents. Turning the pile adds oxygen, so the more you turn it, the faster it breaks down.

Anaerobic Digestion in Pennsylvania

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Christian, Archer H., Gregory K. Evanylo, and R. Green. 2009. Compost: What Is It and What’s It to You? Virginia Cooperative Extension publication 452-431.

Christian, Archer H., Gregory K. Evanylo, and James W. Pease. 2009. On-Farm Composting: A Guide to Principles, Planning, And Operations. Virginia Cooperative Extension publication 452-232.

Evanylo, Gregory K., Caroline A. Sherony, James H. May, Thomas W. Simpson, and Archer H. Christian. 2009. The Virginia Yard-Waste Management Manual, 2nd ed. Virginia Cooperative Extension publication 452-055.

Relf, Diane. 2009. Composting. Virginia Cooperative Extension publication 426-325. Smith, Martha, Duane Friend, and Holly Johnson. “The Science of Composting.” University of Illinois Extension.

Based on the publication originally prepared by Diane Relf, Extension specialist, horticulture. Reviewed by David Close, Extension specialist, horticulture