Using Compost in Fall

There are a lot of great uses for compost in the fall! We have been chugging along with our residential composting program, returning compost to customers and donating to non-profits, but we are taking some time today to give you some recommendations on how to use that fresh compost in your yard or garden this off season.


There are a couple really helpful cover crops that we can use in our gardens here in the city and suburbs. All you have to do is spread the seeds, and apply a small layer of your compost on top, and you’re all set. These cover crops are used in no-till farming, and the help:

  • Retain soil in barren garden beds during the off season
  • Prevent early spring weeds from germinating
  • Create organic material to feed microbes or your compost, pulling in a little CO2 along the way.
  • Keep your garden spaces looking active


My favorite cover crop to use in the garden is WINTER RYE(annual). The truly amazing thing about winter rye is that the seeds will germinate in below 50°F temperatures. This means that while your garden is getting cleaned up and your summer plants are dying off, you can spread some rye seed. The grass will grow slowly throughout the winter, holding your compost and topsoil in place. WINTER WHEAT is also a great option, although the germination for these seeds should be done as soon as possible- 60°F-75°F is the ideal temperature. Winter wheat will grow in colder temperatures once it is established.

Winter rye(annual) is a cereal grain, which means it dies off naturally after you mow it or terminate it manually. No herbicides or special techniques are needed. You don’t want to get perennial rye grass seed, otherwise you will be pulling clumps of lawn grass from your garden next spring. When spring comes around, the winter rye grass will continue to grow, and help prevent unwanted weeds from sprouting if their seeds were dormant in your garden from the previous year. This is a HUGE help for me, because I can’t always get out to gardening first thing every year.

Next spring you will have the option to either mow down the grass, or let some of it grow for a nice looking decorative grass. You can even harvest the rye seeds if you want to! Once you cut the grass, you plant your seeds or plants directly into the soil where the roots were! You will add organic material to your soil, and feel like a real urban farmer. I like to plant rye grass all around my garden, and in the spring I let the grass around the edges grow until the summer. It keeps weeds out and looks really cool. Once the rye goes to seed in the summer, I cut the grass and I have material for mulching.

Cover crops like Winter Rye or Winter Wheat can be really helpful, and once you figure out how to utilize them in your garden, it can be really rewarding. You can start to look into using oats and peas during the season, or even crimson clover, and you’ll begin to save yourself a lot of time weeding and spreading straw.

For more information on winter cover crops, check out the links below. CRIMSON CLOVER is another great cover crop in fall, although it may winter kill, it does not require herbicides to terminate in the spring, and it will help fix nitrogen into your soil.


I always talk about garlic this time of year, and I’m pretty sure I’m repeating this post from a couple years ago, but HEY, garlic is SO easy to plant. I know it’s getting cold, and it doesn’t seem like much fun gardening in October, but planting garlic cloves in some healthy compost will get you delicious, fresh, and free garlic, next spring. Each clove you plant will grow an entire bulb!


This is all you do! Find a spot in your garden, grab a bucket of compost, maybe a trowel to clear away old plants, and you’re all set. Don’t forget to mark the area where you planted! Despite what people will tell you, you CAN use garlic from the grocery store, but just make sure it is organic, and has some color to it. I recommend checking out the farmers markets, and finding a variety you really like. Some garlic is spicy, some is nutty, you can look for different varieties. Just don’t plant that white stuff that comes in bulk bags. You’ll get garlic next year, but it won’t have a great flavor, and a lot of the bulbs won’t even grow that big.


I look for garlic that has a little color to it. Some reds or purples-even just a few streaks of color on the outside.


Last but not least, use your compost as top dressing around your perennials. Just because you may have trimmed back the foliage, it doesn’t mean the roots aren’t still active. When perennial plants die back, they are actually draining a lot of the nutrients from the foliage down into the roots to get ready to hibernate. Adding some compost on top of your perennials will help the root zone, and even insulate the plant from harsh winters.


We will try to update more soon!

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