How to Use Grass Treated With Herbicide in Compost

Overview

Herbicides on your lawn won't necessarily doom your grass clippings to the landfill. Most weed killers will decompose in a well-maintained aerobic compost pile. As long as you ensure that no heavy metals or chemicals classified as "persistent herbicides" are present, your herbicide-treated grass clippings will break down along with the rest of your kitchen and yard waste into healthy, safe and nutrient-rich humus.

Step 1

Identify precisely which chemicals have been used on the grass you mean to compost. Ensure no "persistent herbicides" or heavy metals are present. If you applied the herbicide yourself, check the label on its packaging. If you've thrown it away since, check online or with the store where you purchased it. If someone else administered the herbicide, such as a homeowners association or a municipal maintenance department, ask to review their records.

Step 2

Identify the sources of any compost that was used on the grass. If it contained manure from cattle or other livestock, identify which herbicides (if any) were applied to their grazing area.

Step 3

Add the grass to your level, well-drained outdoor composting site once you've determined that no persistent herbicides or heavy metals are present.

Step 4

Continue building your compost pile, alternating layers of high-carbon "brown stuff" like dry leaves, straw or sawdust, and high-nitrogen "green stuff" like kitchen waste, hay, manure and more grass clippings. Each layer should be 2 to 4 inches thick.

Step 5

If you're short on "green stuff," you can add about a 1/2 cup of commercial fertilizer for each 10-inch layer of compost. If you're short on "brown stuff," you can add shredded newspaper, but avoid color inserts as the inks can contain toxic chemicals and heavy metals.

Step 6

Mark a date 90 days out once your compost heap reaches the ideal size for efficient heating, about 4 to 5 feet in each direction. After three months in a healthy compost pile, all non-persistent herbicides will have been rendered harmless.

Step 7

Monitor the moisture level in your compost heap. Water it as needed to maintain an environment conducive to aerobic composting--about as damp as a wrung-out sponge.

Step 8

Aerate your compost heap by punching holes in the sides with a hay fork, narrow shovel or other suitable gardening implement.

Step 9

Monitor the heap's temperature either with a compost thermometer or by occasionally reaching your hand into the pile.

Step 10

Begin turning the compost heap when it reaches peak temperatures of 130 to 140 degrees F or when the inside of the pile becomes uncomfortably hot to the touch. Turn the heap every second or third day such that outside and inside materials swap places. A hoe, shovel or pitchfork is perfect for this task.

Step 11

Continue maintaining your compost pile for the full 90 days. Extend this period as long as necessary to allow your compost to convert completely into a cool, crumbly, soil-like humus.

Tips and Warnings

  • Do not compost the grass clippings if the lawn was treated with any form of clopyralid (as in the Dow product called Confront) or aminopyralid (as in Milestone, another Dow product) or with manure from livestock that grazed where these chemicals were used. These persistent herbicides do not break down during the composting process or in animals' digestive tracts and will remain toxic in your finished humus. Other herbicidal chemicals contraindicated for composting are arsenic, borate, picloram, simazine and sodium chlorate. These too are likely to survive the composting process. Do not compost grass clippings if you cannot positively identify which chemicals they were exposed to. It's not worth the risk. Don't add meat scraps, other dead animal parts, cat or dog manure, diseased plant material or noxious weeds to your compost heap. Be aware of local or state regulations governing composting practices if you live in an urban area.

Things You'll Need

  • Compostable materials
  • Shovel, pitchfork or gardening hoe

References

  • Compost Fundamentals: Composter's Needs
  • USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service: Composting

Who Can Help

  • Main.gov: Persistent Herbicides in Leaf and Yard Compost
  • Mother Earth News: Milestone Herbicide Creates Killer Compost
  • University of Illinois Extension: Composting for the Homeowner
Keywords: compost pile, compost heap, persistent herbicide, aerobic compost

About this Author

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little is a freelance writer, blogger, and web designer from New Orleans, Louisiana. She is a graduate of the professional SF/F workshop Viable Paradise (2006). Recent published work appears at TwilightTales.com and Pangaia.com, with a short story forthcoming at Ideomancer.com (March 2010).