Improve Soil and Conserve Water with Compost

Composting is an easy way to convert kitchen and yard waste into nutrition for your plants.
November 24, 2015

Grow healthier plants and reduce your water use with compost. Composting is the controlled natural decomposition of organic material such as leaves, grass, fruit and vegetable remains. In addition to these items you can also compost tea bags, coffee filters and grounds, egg shells, straw, paper, and cardboard. Microorganisms break down the materials into nutrient rich soil called compost or humus.

Composting improves the fertility of your soil by transforming kitchen and yard “waste” into a nutrient-rich food for your garden that will help improve soil structure and provide important nutrients to drought-stressed plants. Research shows that the amount of organic matter in a soil directly influences the availability of water to plants over time. Adding compost to your garden and landscape can increase your soil’s water holding capacity by up to 7 times. Using compost also allows you to water more efficiently by reducing runoff and evaporation.

In addition to providing vital nutrients and having a sponge-like ability to hold moisture, compost can prevent weeds when used as a mulch, provide erosion control, minimize your carbon footprint by keeping food and yard waste out of the landfill and save money typically spent on fertilizers and pesticides.

Here are a few ways to incorporate compost into your garden and landscape to conserve water and boost plant health:

Mulch - Compost or other organic material spread around plants, trees, and shrubs helps suppress weed growth, regulate soil temperatures and hold moisture near plants' roots. Spread your compost mulch around the base of a plant, always keep it away from the stem or trunk to avoid moisture-related disease and pest problems.

Soil amendment - Work compost into the soil around your plants (side-dressing) to revitalize old soil and give vital nutrients to drought-stressed plants. Doing this in combination with mulching will give you the best water-saving results!

Compost tea and leachate - Consider using compost tea or vermicompost leachate as a soil drench around plants that may be stressed by heat, dry conditions, pests, disease, or heavy yields. Many composters report improvements in plant health by applying compost tea throughout the season.

Composting is easy and low cost to do yourself.  It can be done in small spaces and is odor free. Solana Center for Environmental Innovation offers free composting workshops throughout San Diego County and sells composting accessories. For a list of free workshops in your area and information about composting visit Solana Center's website.

Don’t want to do it yourself? There are a number of commercial composts on the market, including EcoScraps Organic Moisture Retaining Compost. EcoScraps is a sustainable product made from composted food scraps.

Remember...when in drought, use compost! 

Special thanks to Jamie Higgins, Solana Center for Environmental Education, for contributing this article.