Compost provides organic matter to the soil, increasing aeration, promoting good drainage and adding nutrients to the soil. Well-rotted compost should be dark brown and smell like fresh earth—even when wet. If particles like eggshells, coffee grounds and bits of fruits or vegetables are easily identifiable, the compost is not sufficiently decomposed and may rob your garden of nitrogen as it continues to decompose. For best results, use compost that is fully decomposed to add texture to your soil.
Till the garden area to a depth of 8 to 10 inches. Remove rocks, roots and other debris from the soil. Break up clods of moist soil with a hoe or rake. Rake the areas smooth with a garden rake.
Spread a 2 to 3 inch layer of compost over the garden soil. Work it into the existing soil with a garden hoe, rake or garden tiller. Plant as usual.
Side dress plants with compost when they are 4 to 6 inches high. Spread the compost 4 to 6 inches from the plants. Work it into the top 2 to 4 inches of soil, using care not to disturb young roots. Water thoroughly to moisten the soil to a depth of 4 inches.
Layer 3 to 4 inches of compost around the base of plants as a mulch. This provides slow release nutrients when it rains or plants are watered. The mulch suppresses weed growth and holds in moisture. Mulch to within 2 to 4 inches from the stalk of your plants.
Make compost tea with any leftover compost. Fill a porous bag, like a grain sack, with compost and secure the top of the bag with garden twine or rope. Soak it in a barrel or bucket of water for several days. Agitate the bag occasionally to speed the process. Use the tea to water plants. Dark tea can be diluted with water until it reaches the color of iced tea.