Spring Garden Project: How to Make Compost

Laura Sullivan

Article Posted By: Laura Sullivan

of The Home Depot

Compost bin with kitchen scraps

The secret to a healthy garden is right in your trash. Composting your organic waste keeps it out of your local landfill, and it creates a nutrient-rich humus that boosts the fertility of your soil naturally. Composting is easy, too. If you’ve never had a compost bin before, you might be surprised at how much gratification you’ll get from seeing vegetable scraps and lawn clippings turn into wonderful, fertile and sweet smelling humus. And wait ’til you see how it helps make your vegetable garden and flowers thrive.

So, let’s get started creating compost.

Products needed to create a compost bin

Here’s what you’ll need:

Compost bin


Manure or compost maker

Lawn debris, plant clippings and kitchen scraps

A paint bucket and lid (optional)

Pruning shears or scissors

Gather Your Materials

For a healthy compost bin, think “green” and “brown.”  You’ll want to layer the “green” materials, such as lawn clippings, kitchen scraps and plant clippings, with “brown” materials, such as manure, alfalfa meal and hay.  The ratio of brown to green should be at least 2-to-1. This combination will encourage bacteria to begin consuming the organic matter, which causes the material in the compost bin to heat up. That means you’re cooking up some mighty fine compost.

Almost any organic material can be added, including food scraps, eggshells, tea leaves and coffee grounds. Never add chemically treated wood, diseased plants, human or pet waste, meat, bones or fatty foods. And, though you’ll invariably pick up a few weeds in your grass clippings, avoid putting too many weeds in your compost bin. Otherwise you’ll be sprouting new weeds when eventually spread the compost in your flower beds or vegetable garden.

Kitchen scraps for compost

Cut the Materials into Smaller Pieces

The smaller the chunks you toss in, the faster they will break down, so it’s helpful to cut up the larger pieces with pruning sheers or scissors.

Rosemary trimmings being cut for compost


Layer the “brown” and the “green” materials using at least a 2-to-1 ratio. You can adjust the ratios of brown and green later as needed. (If the pile doesn’t heat up, add more green material. If it gets an ammonia-like smell, throw in some more brown items.)

A layer of "green" materials in a compost bin

Give the Compost a Boost

You’ll want to add manure or a compost starter in with the layers. Compost starters often include manure as well as other organic materials, such as blood meal, that speed the composting process. Sprinkle it on with the green layer or according to the package directions.

Composter maker being added to the bin


Add water regularly during the compost-building process and let it trickle into the pile to help get rid of air pockets. The compost pile shouldn’t be soaking. Aim for keeping the contents of the compost bin about the wetness of a sponge.

Add water to the compost bin

Keep Gathering Scraps

One of the stumbling points of keeping a bin going is simply remembering to keep all of those banana peels and vegetable ends. One inexpensive solution is to buy a gallon paint bucket with a plastic lid. Leave it on your kitchen counter top as a visual reminder. Of course, there are any number of other attractive lidded containers you can use. The main point is to keep using it to feed the growing pile of composting material that’s cooking in your compost bin.

An empty paint bucket for collecting compost scraps

Turn It

Speed the process by turning the pile with a pitchfork once a week and adding fresh manure or compost starter. Mixing it allows oxygen into the center of the pile, encouraging the growth of bacteria and fungi, which break down organic material. A rotary composter will aid in this process and generally create compost faster.

Regularly turned organic matter will become finished compost in about four months—sooner if you used a starter. Compost is ready when it is dark and crumbly with an earthy smell. Sift to separate material that hasn’t finished composting. Those pieces will continue to decompose in your garden.

Turn the compost pile with a pitchfork

Spread It

Once it’s ready, work the compost into soil to give it an organic boost before planting. Spread it on the soil’s surface, on flowerbeds or around the base of landscape plants. Compost may also be used as a top dressing for lawns or as an ingredient in potting mixes.

By now you will completely hooked on composting, and your garden will show it.

Spreading compost in a container garden

Check out our other garden projects and be sure to sign up for The Home Depot’s Garden Club, where you can get special offers, discounts and expert advice. Also, join the conversation about herb container gardening on our forums.