Looking for a cost-efficient way to a beautiful lawn with healthier grass? Composting may be the answer. 

    You may associate compost with gardens and flower beds, but there are several benefits to adding the beautiful rot to your grass, too. 

    6 Benefits of Topdressing With Compost

    1. It strengthens the root system during the dormant winter months.
    2. It improves the soil.
    3. It reduces surface crusting and compaction and fights thatch.
    4. Composting positively impacts the environment.
    5. Compost serves as an inexpensive mulch.
    6. It makes lawn care easier.

    What Is Compost?

    Compost is organic material, made up of decomposing living matter. Food scraps and yard waste (grass clippings, raked leaves, and remnants of garden plants) make up most compost. Compost also happens on its own in nature with fallen leaves, twigs, and branches. By adding fruit and vegetable scraps, you put back into the soil the ingredients it needs to thrive. 

    Food products that don’t compost well include tea bags (the tea residue works well but only if you remove the bag) and highly acidic citrus fruits and tomatoes (they may kill the good bacteria that break down the compost). Peelings from other fruits and vegetables are also excellent for the compost bin (remove the small paper stickers on them).

    What you don’t want in your compost? Weeds. The weed seeds will spread and regrow in your yard.

    Benefits to the Root System

    Lawns are dormant in winter, but it’s still a good time for maintenance. Composting supports the root system during dormancy. The organic matter helps the soil retain water, making it more available to the grass roots. Nutrients that would otherwise wash away, (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium), make their way down to the roots. The healthier your lawn’s roots are, the deeper they grow and spread under your yard. This holds the soil together and helps it resist wind and water. 

    Improves Soil

    With healthier roots created by composting comes healthier soil. The primary nutrients are joined by micronutrients like zinc, iron, copper, and manganese. The fertilizer you buy doesn’t always have these components. But compost breaks down slowly, so it acts as a slow-release fertilizer. The more diverse the ingredients in the compost, the more different types of nutrients sink into the soil. The decomposed compost (also called humus), will also neutralize both acidic and alkaline soils, creating pH levels that enable your grass to absorb the nutrients.

    Aerating your lawn helps break up compacted soil. But compost creates clusters of particles, called aggregates, for a stronger soil structure. These bundles have air channels and tiny holes that keep in water, nutrients, and air. There are basically three types of soil, and organic matter affects each one in different ways.

    Soil Types

    1. Clay

    This dense, heavy soil can be tough to work with. But when maintained, it’s one of the best soils for lawns and gardens. Adding organic matter like pine bark and finely ground leaves creates better soil structure. It also gets rid of drainage problems and compacted soil. Start with 3 to 6 inches of compost on your topsoil and work it down into the ground about ten inches over time. As the matter decomposes, it improves the quality of clay soil.

    2. Sand

    Sandy soil is dry with large, coarse particles and a lot of air pockets, so it doesn’t need aeration. It’s also not ideal for growing things because all that space lets water drain before it can provide moisture to plant roots. Fertilizer is ineffective because it washes away before doing any good. Horticulture Agent Charlotte Glen of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension says, “Because they naturally lack nutrients and cannot store nutrients provided by fertilizers, plants growing in sandy sites often show nutrient deficiency symptoms like stunting, yellow leaves, and sparse flowering or poor fruit production.” 

    The good news is that sand is lightweight and porous and easy to work with. This type of soil needs 3 to 4 inches of compost as topsoil. Till it deep into the ground. Then, in the future, let grass clippings fall onto the yard when mowing. The clippings add to the compost.

    3. Loam

    This is the best type of soil for growing plants and grass. It’s a mix of equal parts clay, sand, and silt (sediment deposited by running water). While loamy soil already provides excellent growing conditions, you can improve any soil with compost. Do this once a year to lower its pH to a level that works well with grass.

    Fights Compaction, Erosion, and Thatch

    This hilly soil shows both erosion and compaction. Credit: Volker Prasuhn, CC by SA 3.0

    Healthy turf is about 50% air, held in pockets and spaces in the soil. When that soil is compacted, moisture and nutrients don’t filter down to the plant’s roots as well as they should. Compost creates more accommodating surroundings by loosening the soil, creating natural energy.

    So how do you know if your soil is compacted?

    • Water doesn’t drain properly.
    • The surface is hard, and it’s difficult to dig.
    • Plants don’t grow well, and leaves are discolored.

    Working organic matter into the ground is the best way to fight compaction. For extreme cases, you may need to use up to 50% compost. This will also help decompose thatch buildup in the fall. Too much thatch causes the root system under your lawn to choke itself.

    Helps the Environment

    Perhaps the best perk from composting is how it benefits the environment. By putting your vegetable and fruit scraps, eggshells, and other kitchen scraps in a compost pile, you’re keeping it out of landfills. You also eliminate the need for fertilizing. Make sure the organic matter stays damp, and it will keep insects away, negating the need for insecticide. And the air pockets created in the soil will hold more water, meaning you won’t need to water as often.

    Composting is a win-win in many ways, but poor quality soil with too much clay or sand needs a little more work. After spreading more than an inch of compost over the yard, spray the grass blades with liquid nitrogen to speed up decomposition. Healthy lawns take some work but in the long run, are worth it!

    Main image credit: normanack, CC 2.0