How to Add Compost to Amend Soil


Compost is a byproduct of the normal decomposition process and adds nutrients to the soil. It also allows the air into the soil so the roots of plants can breathe. You can buy compost, but it's better to make it yourself from your yard and kitchen waste. As the leaves, grass clippings and vegetable trimmings break down, they turn into a rich black or dark brown soil that crumbles in your hand and holds onto moisture well. Use this compost to amend your soil indoors and out.

Garden Beds

Step 1

Remove all weeds and garden debris from new or existing garden beds in spring before planting. Level the surface of the bed and make sure it is no longer frozen just under the soil surface.

Step 2

Apply a 3-inch layer of compost on top the bed. Till into the soil to a depth of approximately 6 inches using a power tiller or a hoe.

Step 3

Apply compost to perennial garden beds without disturbing the plants once new and empty beds are composted. Lay a 1- to 2-inch layer of fresh compost over the bed and around the plants.

Step 4

Till the compost into the top 2 inches of soil using a hand cultivator tool. Work around the plans, taking care not to damage the roots or stems during the process.

Potting Mixes

Step 1

Mix 1 part compost with 1 part peat moss and 1 part perlite or course sand. Plant seeds, seedlings or transplant established plants into the mixture.

Step 2

Top dress existing plants with a 2-inch layer of compost each spring. Watering allows the nutrients to leach into the potting soil over time.

Step 3

Apply a second compost dressing of 2 inches to potted plants before they enter dormancy in late fall. Nutrients will then be available immediately in spring when the plant returns from dormancy.

Tips and Warnings

  • Only use compost that is no longer hot and has no visible organic matter in it. A few pieces of wood is acceptable. Composting doesn't take the place of fertilizing, especially for potted plants.

Things You'll Need

  • Compost
  • Power tiller
  • Hoe
  • Hand cultivator
  • Peat moss
  • Perlite
  • Sand


  • University of Illinois Extension
Keywords: soil amendments, using compost, garden composting

About this Author

Jenny Harrington has been a freelance writer since 2006. Her published articles have appeared in various print and online publications. Previously, she owned her own business, selling handmade items online, wholesale and at crafts fairs. Harrington's specialties include small business information, crafting, decorating and gardening.