Composting year round


Contrary to popular belief, composting is a gardening activity you can (and should) do year round. Here’s a brief summary of composting for every season:

Spring – This is a great time for composting. Coming out of the cold winter months, if you already have a compost bin or pile collecting material, your compost pile will start to cook naturally on its own as the spring temperatures rise. Some compost bins can create useable compost in as few as 21 days, which means if you’re starting a new compost pile, you might be able to use your new compost when you start your spring planting.

Summer – Gardening in the summer is mostly about maintaining what you’ve already started. As temperatures rise and the rains become less frequent, compost is a great additive to the soil to maintain plant life.

Summer is also a great time for composting for the exact reasons given. The hot summer sun can give your pile an extra boost in cooking. Just remember to keep your pile or bin a little moist during the dry times, or your compost pile will start to slow down.

Another bonus to summer is the copious amount of grass clippings you can collect. If you catch your grass clippings, use them in your compost bin. If you leave you grass clippings in the lawn, then you are doing a great thing, too, but never let them go to a landfill.

Fall – Fall just might be the best time to compost, or at least the best time to start composting if you haven’t already. As the leaves start to collect in your precious lawn, don’t bag up your leaves and haul them to the dumpster! Collect your fall leaves to use them in your compost pile.

You can also compost your dead (or dying) flowers and other plants from the summer. Make sure they aren’t diseased, though, and are just on their way out naturally.

With fall leaves, you don’t have to use them just in the fall. Save your leaves for a carbon-rich boost you may need later on in the coming year. Don’t let them go to the landfill, where it can take much longer for them to eventually break down.

Winter – As it gets colder outside, you may notice your compost pile start to slow down its process of breaking down the material.

In some areas of the United States, like the North and the North East, your compost pile may come to a complete stop in the composting process. This happens if the temperatures outside drop below freezing for multiple days (weeks or months) in a row. The microorganisms cannot continue to create compost until the temperatures rise.

In other parts of the US like the South and the South West, the composting process may slow down or stop for a few days (if there is a big snow storm), but it will keep chugging along as long as the temperatures remain above freezing.

In either scenario, you should keep adding to your compost bin or compost pile like you do in the other seasons. Once spring rolls around and the temperatures rise, the microorganisms will automatically start the composting process again. Ah, the circle of life.

If your bin or pile starts to get full during this time, you may consider starting a new bin or pile. If you don’t think having two compost bins is for you, you might have to throw your food scraps in the trash for a month or two until you can fit more into your solitary bin.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Charlotte October 18, 2009 at 11:05 pm

I live where it snows and I will be leaving for the winter. Should I cover my compost pile with a tarp for the winter?


You could go either way, really.

A tarp that gets covered by snow might work as a layer of insulation for the compost pile.

But I’d probably just leave it open, so that when the snow melts at the end of the season, it keeps the pile moist at the same time.


Mike Read November 25, 2009 at 1:40 am

I have a 10x10ft. garden with top-soil, leaf-mold; I like to bury fresh veggie scraps and dead plant materials, prunings, etc. in it over the fall/winter after summer crops are done. Would a shredder help to grind the plant material into smaller chucks?


Absolutely! A shredder or a chipper shredder are great for grinding stuff down into smaller chunks. Smaller chunks decompose and compost a lot faster than big stuff. This is a popular leaf shredder.

If you don’t have a chipper shredder, you can sometimes pile a bunch of stuff up and run over it with your lawnmower a few times to grind it up. Be very careful if you use that method though, please.


Mary August 8, 2010 at 4:49 pm

I plan to start composting this September with a tumbler. Can I still add to it during the cold winter months? It can get very cold in northern Wisconsin.


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