Spread Compost In Fall For A Beautiful Yard Next Summer


By: Mark Wolfe


Composting is a convenient way to harness the power of nature’s decomposers. Microscopic bacteria and fungi team up with invertebrates like earthworms, beetles, centipedes and sow bugs, to convert organic waste into a rich organic soil amendment. Whether homemade or store bought, this “black gold” offers a variety of short and long term improvements for your yard and garden. Ahead, we’ll look at how and when to apply compost for maximum benefit.

Use compost to condition soil when planting trees and shrubs

Fall is an excellent time to plant trees and shrubs, up until the ground freezes. Roots of woody plants continue to grow even after the top has lost its leaves and gone dormant. Dig the hole three or four times the width of the root ball, and one to three inches shallower than the root ball’s height. Mix 2 parts soil from the hole with 1 part compost to use as the planting soil.


Although compost does offer traces of plant nutrients, the greatest benefits come from the structural magic it performs in the soil. Compost improves all types of soil, from clay to sand, by changing the soil texture. It loosens clay and opens up pores for deeper root expansion and for water and air to penetrate deeper into the root zone. It buffers water and plant foot movement, allowing plants to use them more efficiently, by acting like a quick-grab, slow-release sponge.

Spread compost on the lawn for better health

After a stressful growing season, lawn grass benefits from added organic matter. After leaf season, and just before the ground freezes, spread a layer of compost a quarter-inch to a half-inch thick across the whole yard. Keep the layer thin enough so that the grass blades are not covered. Whether your lawn is a warm season grass like bermuda, zoysia or centipede grasses that turn brown in winter, or a cool season grass like tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass or perennial ryegrass, this strategy can work for you.


Intensive lawn management through the growing season, including fertilizer applications, irrigation, regular mowing, and compaction from foot traffic deplete the soil condition, even if the lawn looks good. Over time, it becomes more difficult to keep the grass in top condition. Compost adds an energy source for winter grass roots to store away while it replenishes depleted soil organic matter. Fall-applied compost gently but robustly conditions the soil and allows three months or more for the material to naturally find its way to the root zone.

Revitalize garden beds with compost

Annual flower and vegetable garden beds consume vast quantities of soil organic material, especially if they are regularly oxygenated by rototilling and cultivating. To reverse this depletion of the soil, cover each garden bed with a 1-inch layer of compost in the late fall or early winter. By spring planting time, it will have recharged the garden for a fresh start.


Climate and tillage play outsized roles in the soil’s metabolism of organic matter. Soil in cool climates with less cultivation retains a higher percentage of organic material longer, while soil in warmer climates with more cultivation sees a much faster depletion. It is important to conserve what is present and regularly replace what is used up. In cool regions, applying compost every other year may be adequate; but in warmer locations yearly additions of compost is the norm.


Spread compost right now to ensure a beautiful yard next summer. Regardless of your landscape management style, organic or conventional, this “black gold” can transform your soil for better results. Thanks to the improved soil structure, winter energy boost, and beneficial microbes present in the compost, your plants will look healthier, use less water and fertilizer, and resist diseases and insect pests better than ever.