How to Make a Compost Tumbler for Plants


Compost enthusiasts who convert small amounts of plant waste into a nutrient-rich soil amendment often prefer compost tumblers over other composting styles. According to the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension, compost tumblers produce mature compost in eight weeks or less. Turn your tumbler regularly--aim for at least once per week--to provide the composting microbes with plenty of fresh oxygen for more rapid reproduction and waste consumption. Rather than creating an elaborate raised compost tumbler, Deborah Martin, co-author of "The Complete Compost Gardening Guide," suggests that you start out by making a simpler compost tumbler from a garbage can.

Step 1

Remove the lid from the top of your trash can and invert the trash container on level ground. Drill 12 to 15 5/8-inch holes in the bottom of the trash can to allow excess moisture to drain from your plant compost; this keeps the compost from becoming so wet that smelly, anaerobic bacteria take over your compost tumbler. Space the holes evenly to provide even drainage.

Step 2

Drill five evenly spaced rows of holes in the sides of the compost container to provide adequate airflow for the compost. Create five to six evenly spaced holes in each row.

Step 3

Place the trash container in an upright position. Fill the bin with equal amounts of fresh, green plant waste (such as dead flowers and grass clippings) and dry, brown organic materials (such as dead leaves, straw or sawdust). Dampen the plant waste with water until it's about as moist as a wrung-out sponge. Toss a shovelful of plain topsoil over the plant waste compost to jump-start the composting process by introducing plenty of microbes to your tumbler.

Step 4

Secure the lid on your compost tumbler with a piece of sturdy twine. Turn the tumbler on its side and rotate it across the ground at least three complete rotations once or twice weekly to produce mature compost within approximately two months. Check the moisture level of the compost each time you rotate the tumbler to make sure it remains about as damp as a wrung-out sponge.

Tips and Warnings

  • Never use a trash container that has contained toxic chemicals, since the toxins may have infiltrated the plastic and could contaminate your mature compost.

Things You'll Need

  • 30-gallon cylindrical plastic trash can with lid
  • Drill with 5/8-inch bit
  • Moist green nitrogen-rich plant scraps
  • Dry brown carbon-rich organic waste
  • Water
  • Shovel
  • Plain topsoil
  • Twine


  • University of Illinois Cooperative Extension: Composting Methods
  • "The Complete Compost Gardening Guide;" Deborah Martin & Barbara Pleasant; 2008
Keywords: compost tumbler, plant compost tumbler, easy compost tumbler

About this Author

Regan Hennessy has been writing professionally for 11 years. A freelance copywriter and certified teacher, Hennessy specializes in the areas of parenting, health, education, agriculture and personal finance. During her time with Demand Studios, Hennessy has produced content for Ehow, Answerbag and Travels. Hennessy graduated from Lycoming College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.