How to Compost in the Desert


Compost is made of decomposed plant material, broken down by the action of beneficial bacteria. It is used to add organic matter to the soil---the nutrients flower or vegetable gardens need to grow. In desert regions, adding compost is an important first step when starting a garden because the soil may lack sufficient organic matter. Turning the soil and mixing in compost breaks up compacted soil, typical of desert regions, allowing air to more easily reach the plant roots and improving drainage. Making your own compost is an inexpensive way to enhance soil quality while using materials that would otherwise be thrown away.

Step 1

Construct your own compost bin with wooden stakes, wire ties, and ½-inch-wide hardware cloth (wire mesh). Make the bin at least 3 feet high and 3 feet wide. Pound four 4-foot stakes into the ground to form a 9-square-foot area. Lay the hardware cloth on the ground and bend it into a square with sides 3 feet long. Attach the square of hardware cloth to each wooden stake with three pieces of wire. The wire-mesh construction allows oxygen to reach the bacteria that cause decomposition while keeping the compost in place.

Step 2

Place the bin within reach of the hose or attach a sprinkler-type irrigation emitter set on a timer. The compost pile must be kept moist. Decomposition slows when the material is dry. In the desert climate, this means you may have to sprinkle the bin twice a week, especially in the summer or during dry, windy periods in late spring.

Step 3

Add raw composting materials. Use vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds, eggshells, grass clippings, annual or perennial plants that are finished producing, or dead flowers. Leaf litter dropped from trees in late autumn can also be added.

Step 4

Add several shovels full of already finished compost or soil from your garden. The bacteria in the soil will help initiate decomposition.

Step 5

Cover the bin during rainy periods. The desert regions get their most intensive rainfall during mid-winter and the July-to-August monsoon periods. Cover the bin with a tarp or plastic to prevent the compost from being soaked, which cools it off and slows decomposition.

Step 6

Turn the compost with a shovel at least once a month. Turning it more often may speed up decomposition by increasing air circulation. Check to see if the compost pile is becoming warm as the bacteria do their work. If it is cold, add moisture. The compost should be ready within four months. Look for material that is dark and crumbly in texture.

Tips and Warnings

  • Don't add fat, meat scraps or bones left over from dinner, which could attract rodents to your yard. Don't use ashes from a charcoal grill. Shred large leaves, plant stems, or corn cobs before adding them to the bin. The smaller the materials, the faster the decomposition will occur.

Things You'll Need

  • Hammer
  • 4 4-foot wooden stakes
  • 12-foot section of ½ inch hardware cloth, 3 feet wide
  • Wire
  • Wire cutter
  • Water hose
  • Rake
  • Emitter
  • Raw composting materials
  • Shovel
  • Tarp or plastic


  • "Burpee Complete Gardener;" Maureen Heffernan; 1995
  • "The Desert Gardener's Calendar;" George Brookbank; 1999
  • University of Missouri Extension: How to Build a Compost Bin
Keywords: desert gardening, organic gardening, making compost

About this Author

Brian Hill's first writing credit was the cover story for a national magazine. He is the author of three popular books, "The Making of a Bestseller," "Inside Secrets to Venture Capital" and "Attracting Capital from Angels." Among his magazine article credits are the March 2005 and June 2008 issues of "The Writer." His interests include golf, football, movies and his two dogs.