Compost is a mixture of organic waste products that have been combined and allowed to decompose, turning items once thought of as garbage into a rich and fertile planting medium. The composting process is simple but time-intensive, taking anywhere from six months to a year to complete. Dedicated gardeners routinely maintain a compost pile, using the finished product as a fertilizer or soil conditioner. But for those who don't have the time, energy or room to create compost from scratch, garden centers sell pre-aged, ready-to-use bags of compost that can be applied in all the same ways as the homemade variety.
Spread 1 to 3 inches of compost evenly over the garden. Use a bow rake or garden rake to work the compost into the topsoil until the two are well blended and thoroughly combined. This type of application will condition and enhance the overall quality of the soil, improving soil structure and providing nutrients for the surrounding plants.
Apply 3 to 4 inches of compost around the base of established plants and trees, effectively replacing your standard mulch. As the compost decomposes, the nutrients will filter down into the soil beneath. Mulch-type compost applications do not need to be worked into the soil, saving time and effort.
Combine equal amounts of compost and coarse sand, pine bark or perlite and use the mixture to fill planters and small pots, saving on the cost of potting soil. Break up any large pieces or screen the compost to ensure a fluffy, even texture throughout the planting media.
Fill a burlap bag with compost. Tie a string around the top to close the bag and then put the bag in a large bucket. Cover the contents with water. Allow the bag to sit in the water for one to eight hours. Remove the bag and use the "compost tea" to water plants and shrubs.
Sprinkle a 1/4-inch layer of compost evenly across the lawn as a topdressing and then sweep away any excess with a leaf rake. This will improve the soil without disturbing the existing turf.