How Can I Make a Compost Pile for My Garden?


Making a compost pile is a win-win situation, as it is a way to recycle disposable materials while making rich soil for your garden. Before starting, check with your local municipality to see if there are any restrictions or ordinances regarding compost piles. Select a well-draining, flat, convenient location out of the way of pets and children. Avoid areas with extreme direct sun or exposure to wind, which will cause over drying of the pile. A location with about half a day of sunshine is preferred. Do not place the pile next to a building or under trees.

Step 1

Gather organic materials to add to your compost pile. Use nitrogen-rich materials, such as lawn clippings and green garden debris, as well as carbon-rich materials such as straw, hay, and twigs. Adding both nitrogen-rich and carbon-rich ingredients will speed the decomposition process.

Step 2

Spread a 6- to 8-inch even layer of organic material on the bare ground. Make the perimeter of the compost pile approximately 5 feet by 5 feet.

Step 3

Add a 1- to 2-inch layer of cow or horse manure to the pile. If manure from a grain-eating animal is not available, evenly spread 1 cup of 10-10-10 or 12-12-12 commercial fertilizer over the first layer.

Step 4

Spread a 1- to 2-inch layer of garden soil over the first two layers.

Step 5

Sprinkle the pile with water as needed to keep it moist but not soaking wet or muddy. The material in the pile should feel as damp as a wrung-out sponge.

Step 6

Turn the pile about once a month, or if its internal temperature drops below 110 degrees F. Initially, it will take about two weeks for a compost pile to reach the desired temperature.

Step 7

Add additional organic material to the composted pile by burying the material in the center of the pile. Turn the pile more frequently as you add more material.

Tips and Warnings

  • Do not add large items to the pile. Only add twigs less than ½ inch in diameter to the pile. Do not compost meat, poultry, used kitty litter, colored paper, human waste, fat, oil, particleboard, treated wood or sawdust, cat or dog feces or dairy products.

Things You'll Need

  • Garden hose
  • Pitch fork
  • Compost thermometer
  • Cow or horse manure or commercial fertilizer


  • University of Illinois: Building Your Compost Pile
  • Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet: Composting at Home
  • North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service: A Guide to Managing Organic Yard Wastes
  • Cornell Composting: Compost Engineering
Keywords: garden compost pile, making compost pile, starting compost pile

About this Author

Ann Johnson has been a freelance writer since 1995. She previously served as the editor of a community magazine in Southern California and was also an active real estate agent, specializing in commercial and residential properties. She has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from California State University of Fullerton.