How to Compost in a Yard


Composting breaks down plant material and food waste into a rich, fertile soil amendment and reduces the amount of trash that ends up curbside. Finished compost is black and has no off-odor. Depending on your method and the conditions in your yard, compost can take three weeks to two years to decompose. In addition to a good mixture of green and brown plant material, compost needs air and water to break down.

Step 1

Lay a 2- to 3-inch layer of small sticks and dry leaves on the bottom of your compost pile. These break down slowly and get the compost off the ground, allowing air to get in and speeding up the composting process.

Step 2

Add 3 to 4 inches of green plant material. Nitrogen-rich grass clippings and food waste break down quickly, but tend to compact and become a slimy mass without the addition of slow-composting brown materials.

Step 3

Add 6 to 8 inches of brown materials. Continue building your compost pile until it is 5 feet tall, using a ratio of 1/3 green matter to 2/3 brown matter. Poke holes in the compost pile with your pitchfork to allow air in.

Step 4

Water the compost pile with a hose until the compost is as moist as a wrung-out sponge. Check your compost pile every few days and moisten as needed. Compost breaks down faster when it is constantly moist. Gardeners in dry, western climates need to pay especially close attention to the moisture level of compost piles.

Step 5

Add one or two shovelfuls of garden soil to the top of your compost pile, along with a shovelful of manure. These additives contain bacteria and fungi that begin the composting process.

Step 6

Turn your compost every few days with a pitchfork to add oxygen and hasten decomposition. Continue adding plant material in the ratios mentioned previously.

Tips and Warnings

  • Don't add fatty foods like meat, salad dressings and oil to your compost. These items don't break down well and attract animals and pests. Avoid adding garden waste that's been treated with pesticides to your compost, especially if you want to use the compost on a vegetable garden. Don't add diseased plants, weeds or poisonous plants, such as poison ivy, poison sumac and poison oak, to your compost pile.

Things You'll Need

  • Brown plant material (newspaper shreddings, dry leaves, straw, sawdust, coffee grounds)
  • Green plant material (grass clippings, green leaves, vegetative food scraps)
  • Pitchfork
  • Shovel
  • Soil
  • Manure


  • University of Missouri Extension Office: How to Build a Compost Bin
  • "The Garden Primer"; Barbara Damrosch; 1988
  • "Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook;" Martha Stewart; 2006

Who Can Help

  • Integrated Waste Management Board: Building Your Own Composting Bin
Keywords: making compost, compost pile, backyard compost

About this Author

Julie Christensen has been writing professionally since 2001. She is a full-time freelance writer and former teacher with writing credits from several regional and national publications, such as Colorado Parent and LDS Living. She specializes in parenting, education and gardening topics. Christensen studied early childhood education at Ricks College, and spent 20 years as a teacher and director in university and public school settings.