Question re: use of compost

Raleigh, NC(Zone 8a)

Greetings all! I've been away for awhile (tending to a plethora of personal and professional goings-on). Hope everyone is well & enjoying a season of growth in their landscapes.

I'm trying to catch up on my yard/gardening, and want to get a load of compost delivered tomorrow to take advantage of my "stay-cation" 3-day weekend getting my yard back in order. My question is this - I can get either 2.5 or 5 cubic yards delivered, and I'm wondering how much I should get, how thick to spread it, etc. My yard is approx a 1/4 acre (including the house), and I have various beds around with gardenias, azaleas, cannas, banana plants, elephant ears, lilies, etc. Simply put - is it possible to put "too much" compost on these plants and in/around them in the beds? My thinking is to spread it heavily (couple inches) around the flowers/plants and beds, and perhaps use it to create some mounds for other/new beds in other areas. Also, since I have a couple of nice neighbors, I thought they might want to load a wheelbarrel or two for themselves too, because I know 5 yds is a LOT. But if it's not wise to spread it that thick on the plants, then I will just stick with 2.5 yds.

I'm not only trying to improve my plants but also my overall soil quality in the yard, given I have hard, red clay 3" down. If I can get this done this weekend, then I plan to get a load of mulch delivered next weekend to dress all the areas up and help retain moisture.

Any thoughts/advice on this? I've not worked much with compost in the past, and have not been as diligent with creating my own as I'd hoped due to other things going on. Appreciate your input!

North Ridgeville, OH(Zone 5b)

I wish I could remember where I read that it's better to spread compost over a whole bed than to concentrate it in spots. The book argued that as long as your soil is passably friendly to the beneficial microorganisms that feed on compost, you get more of 'em by "spreading the love."

I'll try to find it on my bookshelves.

North Ridgeville, OH(Zone 5b)

Found it.

Though mature compost is an incomparable soil conditioner and a valuable source of nutrients (with an average nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium equivalent of 1-1-1), perhaps its primary value is as a soil inoculant, stimulating greater biological activity and release of nutrients for plants. Accordingly, the best results come from spreading the available compost thinly over a large area rather than concentrating it in a smaller area.

That's on page 56, in a section written by Grace Gershuny, described in the book as "a consultant to the organic industry."

Raleigh, NC(Zone 8a)

Thanks Puddle! If I spread it a few inches thick/high, will it be too much nutrient?

Cincinnati (Anderson, OH(Zone 6a)


I'm not the best one to advise on this, but I do know that 'compost' is very different from source to source and you would be well advised to ask for an analysis of what yours is made of.

I know I buy 'mushroom compost' from several different dealers and some of it is quite strong with lots of manure content and other brands/sources are aged and mellow and made of a combination of additives. The 'composts' I buy by the bag are yet again different. I think the recipe would make a difference in how you use yours in your beds.

(Also, some 'compost' is quite smelly and other's not so much.)

But given that it's already Thursday, you probably already spread yours around last weekend..., so do tell us what you decided to do? I'm always interested in what other gardeners are up to! t.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> Accordingly, the best results come from spreading the available compost thinly over a large area rather than concentrating it in a smaller area.

My opinion is that it would be even better to spread it THICKLY over a large area.

Or put it another way: a few inchs of compost is not "thick". Six inches deep would be "good". Who thinks 8-10" deep would be too much? Why? It will certainly decompose and sink into the soil over time, self-correcting if it is too much.

There is only one way I can think of, that that would have any downside.

Is the compsot real heavy? I mean, would it pack down like soggy leaves and seal the soil away from the air? That would be bad. In that case, i would turn it into the soil until you had a mix with some structure and drainage. Or mix the compost with some really coarse mulch to make it porous.

Maybe, also, if the compost is raw, or really rich and smelly, like incompletly composted manure or biosolids, you might not want to pack it right against plants stems and leaves. Maybe leave a gap of a few inches in that case.

Otherwise, more comost is better.

Hard red clay? If you got 10 yards, and spread that mountain 6" deep twice a year for several years, that would not be "too much". And if you turn it under, 50% clay and 50% compost down 24" would be wonderfull.

(On top of lawn, I would not BURY the grass compleltely - but I might let it grow 4" long first and then lay down 2-3" of compost and rake it in ... but I know nothing about growing that kind of grass.)

Lets see: one acre is 4840 square yards.
1/4 acre is 1210 square yards.
Lets say your non-house, non-driveway gardenable area is 300 square yards.
A 6" layer EVERYWHERE would be 1/6th yard deep.

1/6 x 300 = 50 cubic yards.

If you went much over 50 cubic yards, you might need to worry about "too much compost".
If you have that problem, I'll take some off your hands!

More likely, your gardens where you WANT compost are 540 square feet or less (60 sq yards.)
108 linear feet of 5-foot-wide beds.

You could still use 10 cubic yards of compost to lay down a 6" layer, just once, and use it all up.


Raleigh, NC(Zone 8a)

Thanks so much for the info Tabasco & Corey. I haven't ordered or spread it yet as I wasn't sure yet how much, where, etc. And I didn't want a mound of compost sitting in the yard until I am ready to work it into the yard. I have been giving thought to constructing raised beds for some of my plants, so until I decide for sure on how, what & where, I am holding off. I will probably need to get a 50/50 ,is vs. Straight compost if I do the beds, as I will need to fill them.

As for the source, I was planning to get the compost from the city (Raleigh).

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> And I didn't want a mound of compost sitting in the yard until I am ready to work it into the yard.

AWWW! My feeling about having a mountain of compost would be "I am the richest and luckiest peasant in the valley!"

>> I will probably need to get a 50/50 ,is vs. Straight compost

It is a tough decision whether to just replace your soil (or plan to grow on top of it), or try to amend it and use it. I tend to remove my soil down 4-12" and cart it off to a pile where I can screen it and amend it over a period of years. Then I fill the RB up with soil that I have partly amended, and keep adding compost as the budget and time permit.

Straight compost (or even Class A biosolids, which are like "concentrated compost" will go the farthest if you are trying to improve and use your own soil. Mixing that 50-50 with your own soil might be almost as good as buying 50-50 topsoil/compost. And you get twice as much soil for the same amount of hweelbarrowing.

I beleive those who say that, as you grow in a RB on top of heavy clay soil, that "the good stuff" leaces down into the clay and gradually softens and improves it, so that roots eventually penetrate it and improve it further.

And that's a good reason to assure good drainage down and away from your RB, even from deeper levels that you plan to amend.

Or, if you have half-decent subsoil instead of impenetrable clay, your don't need to worry about drainage at all. Water can drain straight down, instead of "away". What a mircale that must be!


Glenwood Springs, CO(Zone 5b)


I have found it is far better to pick a project that you can complete without stressing out or killing yourself. Think it through thoroughly, ask other gardeners for suggestions and then get'er done. After your'e done, sit back with a glass of wine and admire your work, thank God for the strength, guidance and resources, then start thinking about the next project.

Red clay is a lifetime program of just rotating through different parts of your land. It is never really done, it just gets easier over time. :)


Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> Red clay is a lifetime program of just rotating through different parts of your land. It is never really done, it just gets easier over time. :)


>> I have found it is far better to pick a project that you can complete without stressing out or killing yourself.

I haven't figured out how to do that yet. Instead, I savor the moment (three years later) when I finally complete a project that I originally thought might take 3 weekends.

I have a five year plan ... that will probably take decades ... unless I get distracted ... in which case maybe several lifetimes. Meanwhile, at the end of every day, I sit wherever in the yard I happen to be, and daydream about what-will-be-where "Some Day" ... when I have all the time and all the compost I could possibly want ...

Fortunately it is a small yard!

I used to keep a To-Do list - but it got longer faster than I could complete things.


Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Corey -

I have a five year plan

I have something closer to a five hour plan.

Each evening I plan out what I can do the next day before it gets too hot; then, in the morning I get up early enough to get it done! LOL

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> Each evening I plan out what I can do the next day
>> then, in the morning I get up early enough to get it done!

Yikes! Wonder Woman!

I went to that kind of extreme very briefly, while I was most highly motivated: while building my first set of raised beds and first few square yards of usable soil. Now it's chaos and sleep late on weekends.

What was that word someone told me about once? Was it "discipline"? Or "planning"? I've got to look those up and find out what they are.


Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

No, no, Corey - not Wonder Woman. Crazy old lady, maybe.

This morning's plan was: water the garden, have breakfast, and dig up all the bamboo shoots that grew overnight. Took all of four hours!

I did pick some broccoli side-shoots this afternoon.

Tomorrow: put clothes in washer, have breakfast, dig up all the bamboo shoots that grew overnight, take clothes from washer and hang up to dry (I don't own an electric dryer). Pick, shuck, blanch peas and put them in freezer.

I'm retired and loving it!

Glenwood Springs, CO(Zone 5b)


Retired? Is that the same as when ya'll get new tires on the pickup? LOL :)


Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> dig up all the bamboo shoots that grew overnight,

Yikes! Do you eat them, or are you trying to contain it by ceaseless vigilance?

I have a little clumping bamboo (Fargesia rufa) that I started from a Home Depot 1/2 gallon or 3/4 gallon pot. It's in its annual growth spurt right now.

It's been years, it's just over chin-high, and barely thicker than thick grass.
It may have spread a few inches over 2-3 years.
Not exactly the prolific producer of 1/2" poles and stakes I was hoping for!

Maybe I should fertilize it, or move it on top of some imprioved soil. I thought it had very shallow roots.


Brooksville, FL(Zone 9a)

honeybee you have bamboo??? what kind and how long have you had them? I'm just getting started with Bamboo, just picked up a very pretty black bamboo and will container grow it until we decide on where we really want to live forever...LOL


Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Corey- you need a different KIND of bamboo plant.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I think so. Fargesia robusta claims to have slightly thicker culms, but I suspect "same old smae old".

One thing I won't do is plant a "runner" - I have a small yard. "restrained clumpers" only.

But I would consider anything that can take some shade, and is either COMPLELTY hardy down to 0 F, or only loses leaves down to -5 F. My average minimum is 10-15F, but I have seen some "0" years, and I figure there will be some -5 years.


Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Brooksville, FL(Zone 9a)

for now all my bamboo will be ones that do best in containers (since we rent for now) don't want to leave a lasting impression when we are gone....LOL


Raleigh, NC(Zone 8a)

I wouldn't mind the compost pile so much, but it would be on the side of my house (only place a truck can easily dump it for me), and I am just trying to be courteous to my neighbor who would have to look at it every day. Plus, the rain might wash away a good portion of it until I can get to it all.

I do, however, still have a good bit of composted horse poo from a friend with horses. I have an open invite from here to take as much as I want, and will probably make another trip down in the not too distant future for more.

My biggest concern with using straight compost on/around the plants was based on something I read about it "burning" the plants (e.g. It being too rich) or something. For this reason, I was rethinking going with the 50/50 mix of compost & top soil instead. I don't have the budget or muscle to do the entire yard. Was just going to focus on the beds for the time being.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

RickCorey_WA -

Yikes! Do you eat them, or are you trying to contain it by ceaseless vigilance?

No, we don't eat them, they are too small for that. And, yes, I am trying desperately to contain the running bamboo by ceaseless vigilance!

When we moved in here in November 2006, there was no bamboo evident. The following spring, I noticed some growing in the far corner of the lot. I knew running bamboo could be invasive but did not know how to control it. In April of 2007 I was offered a part-time job, which I accepted. I asked my hubby to please keep the bamboo cut back. He didn't!

I was laid off last September and by then the bamboo had progressed to the edge of my flower bed - about 50 feet from where it started! I whined (yelled) enough that hubby finally cut back every bamboo on our property, plus those in the woods. The tallest was 26 feet.

Since spring of this year, I have diligently cut back every culm (shoot) that pokes through each morning.

This fall I plan on whining some more - 'cause bamboo goes dormant during the winter - we are going to start digging it out!

I hope to live long enough to win the war against this terrible invasive plant.

Here's a link to a site where I learned how to control running bamboo

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

jlj--given budget concerns (we all have!) I think it best to buy straight compost and use it less liberally, unless you do have to FILL low spots. But finished compost should not burn. Thats why its supposed to be finished.
I'd only be sure you don't mound it right on any plant but plop it between the plants and then rake it to get it around and under the leaves.

Brooksville, FL(Zone 9a)

OH my I've just spent the last 2 hours looking at the bamboo web site, that of course lead to other sites... there are some incredible bamboo structures as well as furniture..

Thanks honeybee for sharing that site.


Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

You're welcome, Jan.

Brooksville, FL(Zone 9a)

I sure wish I was closer as I would come up and help and just ask for some of the plants in return. Are your's the kind that you can eat? If so why not dig and start selling them.... just thinking out loud... now I'll be quite.


Raleigh, NC(Zone 8a)

Okay, so I am back on the compost wagon lol. I have a friend who just gave me a few hardy bananas from his landscape. He said he has gotten the compost several times from the city and said it is good stuff. If his landscape is a true indicator, he is right. His 'nanas are huge, healthy, and already producing fruit - in NC! I looked at the city site, and they advertise it to be US Composting Council Seal of testing Assurance (STA) certified. I think what I will do is grab a couple bins and get those filled to try it out in a quantity I can manage vs a dump truck load. I have an SUV so I can probably get 4-6 rubbermaid tote bins in there. That way, I can use what I need now for my bed areas and not have a load on the side of my house for a month. Little more effort, I know, but it works for now. it's not like the place is far from my house (maybe 5 miles). And they are open Saturdays so it's easy enough to get more as I need it.

I was basically planning to spread it on top of the beds I just dug & planted ... Much like we would mulch them. Am I understanding that I should keep the compost from actually touching the base/trunk of the plants, or just avoid mounding it up around the plants? In new beds, I will mix it in with the soil (like double digging) to plant in.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Jan, I have read that bamboo shoots are edible, but I'm not willing to try the ones here.

I have thought of putting something on Craigs list saying: "Free bamboo - bring your own shovel" - only I wouldn't wish this invasive stuff on my worst enemy!

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

jlj072174 - do those hardy bananas produce edible fruit? I thought we were only "ornamental"

If you are using compost as a mulch, then you should keep it away from your plants' stems. Compost holds moisture well, and moisture up close to stems will make them rot.

However, incorporating compost in with the rest of your garden soil is a great idea.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Honeybee- I did see a cut your own bamboo sign once. Could be good poles for the garden.

Raleigh, NC(Zone 8a)

Basjoo bananas do produce fruit ... Not typical in NC because of the short growing season, but my friends plants And landscape are anything but typical!

I took a picture of the fruit and flower with my phone; will try to upload it in a couple mins.

Algonquin, IL(Zone 5a)

HoneybeeNC -
This link takes you to to another area of The American Bamboo Society (the same site sallyg gave you a link for), but this is specifically about eradicating organically.
I found their recommendations intriguing & very different from any I've seen.

It's possible you've already tried this method & if you have, I apologize. If not, it might be worth a try. Even though it almost seems counter-productive, it really made sense.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

I think the core ''problem'' with all our efforts on pest both plant and beast is this-- that they are fighting for their lives and we are usually more casual about the battle.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

nutsaboutnature - yes, I had read that link, but it was good for me to read it again :)

I have been following their advise since March. Each and every morning I go out with my digging tool and pruners to cut back the culms.

The past few days I've noticed fewer culms, so perhaps I'm having an impact.

We had a really cool morning today, so I dug up a couple of rhizomes that had invaded my flower bed. Dreadful things! Rhizomes as thick as my thumb and longer than I am tall!

sallyg -

they are fighting for their lives and we are usually more casual about the battle.

How true! This is one battle I have to win, or I will either lose my vegetable garden or have to move.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Good luck Honeybee- Your persistance will pay off IF you have enough of it!

Brooksville, FL(Zone 9a)


I believe the reason (if I'm remembering correctly from what I've read) that you might be seeing fewer as this is the start of the slowed grow period now.

I wish I was closer as I would be more than happy to come do some digging. They also say that you can use a mower to keep it in check or I would think a weed wacker might work.... Too bad you don't know if that variety is one that you can eat, if so since you are digging them out anyway, why not get paid for them.... Call around find out if yours is a variety that can be eaten, if so dig and contact some local restaurants to see if they would be interested in them. Goggle to see what the going price is and make them a price to beat what you found and make some money.....


Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> Each and every morning I go out with my digging tool and pruners to cut back the culms.

I wonder: if you have a big pick, maybe it would be easier to swing the pick under the rhizome, then "lever it up" and out of the ground, using the weight and leverage of the pick instead of arm strength.

And you might get more of the rhizome that way.

I've never done this, I'm just speculating.

I wish my little, clumping, slow-growing Fargesia rufa WOULD spread faster, and get thicker and longer sooner.


Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Corey - I have a heavy duty garden fork which is working quite well at getting under the rhizomes. Then I wack off the rhizomes with a lopper!

Mostly, I'm concentrating on snapping off the culms as they come up with a tool that I used when I kept honeybees: stainless steel hive tool, with nail-pulling hole?Hive Tool - Beekeeping Supplies Protective Clothing Beekeeping Equipment?

I've noticed that the rhizomes are easiest to dig up when they are in soft ground - which is encourging me to go ahead and put in some raised beds in the area where they are growing. I hate having a large area of my homestead unavailable for vegetable production because there are lots of edibles that hubby and I would like to grow there.

Algonquin, IL(Zone 5a)

HoneybeeNC -
I agree. Those Hive Tools are one of the most useful items you can own. We keep two of them around & have for years. I can't begin to tell you all the things we use them on. My husband couldn't live without one in his tool chest.

I'll find the link for the beekeeping supplier we've ordered from. They're in Illinois, but they ship all over the country.

Algonquin, IL(Zone 5a)

Since we bought ours many years ago, they now carry several types (none exactly like ours, but very close. Mostly it's the paint that varies. . . ours is only partly painted orange).

The next three links have three different ones. . . all different prices. Their prices are better than many of the other suppliers, but the quality is very good.

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