Return to our home page How to reach us & more info Our history & heritage tours tips supplies services Helpful Web sites Would you like to work at Blackburn Nursery? Quickly find anything on this Web site

Topeka's Landscape & Lawn Sprinkler Professionals
Blackburn Nursery  Established 1936
Full Service Nursery
Garden Center - Gifts & Decor
Landscape Design & Installation
Lawn Sprinkler Systems
Landscape Lighting
Professional Maintenance

You can buy plants many places, but one stop is all it will take to convince you why you should join our "family" of satisfied clients. Come see for yourself and compare the quality of our merchandise. We have the friendly professional staff to help with all your lawn and garden needs. 

Serving Topeka & Northeast Kansas Since 1936
If you haven't visited us in person, this is your invitation to do so. Our State-of-the-Art Garden Center & Nursery in Topeka on 33+ acres is your one stop shopping headquarters.



Tree Sale
All Trees 25-60% Off
Hundreds of Beautiful Trees to Choose From
(Includes regular priced trees - While Supply Lasts - Cash & Carry Only))

Cleveland Select
or Redspire Flowering Pear

2" Caliper
$129.99 (
Reg, $299.99)

All Shrubs, Perennials, Evergreens, Ornamental Grasses and Roses
(Includes regular priced plants - While Supply Lasts - Cash & Carry Only))

50-80% Off

Sun Valley Maple
2" Caliper (12-14')
$139.99 or 2/$240.00
(
Reg. $329.99)

Open Monday - Saturday 9:00 - 5:30
Still a Great Time To Plant

This is a great time to update your landscape plans, and our professional design staff can turn your lawn and landscape into a showplace.

Why Waste Time Shopping Hardware, Lumber Store and Other Parking Lots,
We have The Highest Quality, Affordable Plants,

Time To Apply Fertilizer - Call for Details & Specials

Christmas Holiday Open House - November 17th & 18th

   

Choose from thousands of the highest quality trees, shrubs, flowers, ornamental grasses and evergreens. Shop inside on those rainy days in our over 12000 sq. ft. of Greenhouse space.
You'll find thousands of annuals, perennials and shrubs waiting for you.
Come see for yourself and compare the quality of our merchandise.

We have the friendly professional staff to help with all your lawn and garden needs

You can buy plants many places, but one stop is all it will take to convince you why you should join our "family" of satisfied clients.

Ask About our 5 YEAR GUARANTEE on Trees & Shrubs
and our 3 YEAR GUARANTEE on Perennials.

Anyone can claim quality and satisfied customers, but we want you to stop by and see for yourself why our family of clients say

"Buy The Best ! You can Afford it At Blackburn's."
"If you can't find what you want, you're not looking".

Come out & see the new arrivals of decorations and gifts
We have holiday,everyday and seasonal gifts for everyone on your list. All your KU, KSU, Collegiate, Armed Forces and more.We also have a terrific Selection of Stained Glass sun catchers, Candle burners, and Beanpod soy candles.
Check out the new wind chimes, statuary, fountains, patio furniture and collegiate wind vanes & clocks You'll also enjoy shopping our outdoor collection of benches, Bistro sets and more.

Making and Using Compost

Next Tip

Previous Tip

Tips Index


R. R. Rothenberger Department of Horticulture

What is compost?

Compost is a dark, friable, partially decomposed form of organic matter similar in nature to the organic matter in the soil.

Why make compost?

Disposing of leaves, grass clippings and other garden refuse is often a problem for gardeners, particularly in urban areas. These byproducts of the garden and landscape can be turned into useful compost with no more effort than it takes to bag and haul away these materials.

In many cases the compost will serve the same function as peat moss and, thereby, reduce gardening cost. Returning these organic materials to the land perpetuates natural biological cycles and is an ecologically sensible means of using organic wastes. The value of compost Good compost consists of a small amount of soil along with decomposed, or partially decomposed, plant and animal residues. As a soil amendment compost improves both physical condition and fertility. It is especially useful for improving soils low in organic matter.

The organic matter in the compost improves heavy clay soils by binding soil particles together, making them easier to work. Such aggregation of the soil particles helps improve aeration, root penetration, water infiltration and reduces crusting of the soil surface. In sandy soils additional organic matter also helps with nutrient and water retention.

Although compost contains nutrients, its greatest benefit is in improving soil characteristics. Therefore, it should be considered as a valuable soil amendment and not as a fertilizer because, in most cases, additional fertilization will be necessary to achieve maximum growth and production.

Compost is also valuable mulching material for use around garden and landscape plants. It may be used as a topdressing for lawns and, when it contains a small amount of soil, as a growing medium for house plants, or for starting seedlings.

How compost forms

Composting speeds natural decomposition under controlled conditions. Raw organic material is converted to compost by the action of microorganisms (fungi and bacteria). During initial stages of composting, microorganisms increase rapidly. As the materials decompose, some kinds of microorganisms predominate, but as they complete a certain function, they decline while others build up and continue the decomposition.

As microorganisms decompose the organic materials temperatures within the pile approach 140 to 160 degrees at the center. This kills some of the weed seeds and disease organisms in these high temperature areas. However, in cooler sections of the heap such sterilization does not occur.

Organisms that are largely responsible for the breakdown of the organic materials require large quantities of nitrogen. Therefore, adding nitrogen fertilizer, or materials supplying large amounts of nitrogen, is necessary for rapid and thorough decomposition. During the break-down period this nitrogen is tied up and not available for plant use. It is released, however, when the decomposition is complete and the compost is returned to the garden.

What materials may be composted?

Many types of organic materials can be used for composting--sod, grass clippings, leaves, hay, straw, weeds, manure, chopped corncobs, corn stalks, sawdust, shredded newspaper, wood ashes, hedge clippings and many kinds of plant refuse from the garden.

It is best not to use diseased plants from the flower or vegetable garden for composting if the compost is later to be returned to the garden. Even though some of the diseases are killed by the heating of compost formation, unless the compost is frequently and thoroughly turned and allowed to remain unused for several years, there is a chance of returning some of these disease organisms to the garden. If diseases have not been a problem, this precaution may not be necessary.

Also, it is best to avoid composting weeds heavily laden with seeds. Even though some seeds are killed during composting, if the quantity of seeds is extremely high, many might be returned to the garden when the compost is used and then might create an unnecessary weed problem.

Most garbage may also be used in the compost heap, with the exception of grease, fat, meat scraps and bones. These may attract dogs or other animals and may develop an odor during decomposition. Fats are slow to break down and greatly increase the length of time required before the compost can be used.

Making a compost heap

Locate the heap in a convenient but inconspicuous location. If the compost is to be used mainly in the garden, choose a nearby location. Since the compost pile needs to be kept moist, a convenient source of water is helpful. Compost should never get soggy wet or the process will stop. Therefore, don't locate it where drainage is poor and water may stand, even for short periods.

A shaded area is also desirable for best composting. However, don't locate compost heaps close to trees. Tree roots are easily attracted to the loose, moist, organic material developing at the bottom of the pile. During the summer, roots of some trees may rapidly spread throughout the lower areas of the heap and make the compost difficult to dig and use. Size of the pile The size of pile needed may vary greatly with the amount of material available. A pile should not be less than 3 feet wide and 3 feet high. Anything smaller is too small to decompose properly. An average gardener might want a pile about 5 feet wide by 5 feet long by 5 feet deep. Where more compost is available, the heap should still be about 5 feet wide, for easy working, and any convenient length.

The average gardener may find that if adequate compost is available, two or three small piles provide greater flexibility than a single large one. In this way a pile may be built and allowed to start undisturbed, while a second pile serves as a place to put organic materials as they accumulate. Three piles are even better, with one finishing, one in the process of decomposition and one to which fresh materials are being added. In this way, there is almost a continuous supply of compost.

The urban gardener may not have enough material to build several piles or may not have room for them. In such situations, a single, tall pile may be satisfactory. Although not ideal, fresh materials may be added to the top and decomposed material dug out from the bottom. This does not allow for turning, which aids complete decomposition and heating. Nevertheless, with limited space and material it serves a definite and useful purpose.

Containing the pile

Although it is possible to stack the compost in a loose pile, decomposition is best and space is used more efficiently if it is made in some type of bin or enclosure. Many materials may be used. The sides should be loose enough to provide some air movement through them. One side should open for easy turning and removal of the compost. The heap may be round, square, rectangular or other convenient shape. Types of enclosures Woven wire fencing (hog wire, chicken wire, chainlink), wood slat fencing (snow-fence), cement blocks, bricks or scrap lumber can be used to enclose a compost heap. Fencing materials need corner supports, although a small, round heap made of slatted fencing needs little or no support. If woven wire fencing is too loose to contain fine materials, line the enclosure with plastic (containing some aeration holes) to keep the pile neat and speed decomposition.

Bricks or concrete blocks may be piled without mortar, but space should be left between some of them to allow adequate air movement through the sides. Scrap boards are suitable for sides since there is normally enough space between them for air movement. Lumber is gradually ruined by exposure to the damp compost, and occasionally boards have to be replaced as they decay. Constructing the pile Compost pile construction is usually described in terms of layers. In actual practice such layers are less well defined. Layering is not totally essential but provides the quickest and most complete decomposition.

The pile may normally be started directly on the ground. However, to provide aeration to the bottom of the pile and improve drainage, dig a trench across the base of the area and cover with stiff wire mesh (hardware cloth) before the layers are begun.

Begin the pile by spreading a 6- to 8-inch layer of organic matter over the area. If there are different materials available, use the coarsest on the bottom. Shredded or chopped materials decompose fastest, so if a shredder is available, coarse organic matter should be run through it. Materials that tend to mat, such as grass clippings, should be placed in layers only 2 to 3 inches thick. Moisten, but do not soak the layer of organic material.

Over the layer of plant material, sprinkle a complete garden fertilizer such as a 12-12-12. About 1 cup per (for each) 25 square feet of top surface area should be adequate. An equal amount of ground limestone may also be added to the compost unless the finished compost is later to be used for acid-loving plants.

If fresh animal or poultry manure is available, a 1- to 2- inch layer may be substituted for the commercial fertilizer. Cross section of layering in compost bin

Next, add a layer of soil or sod 1 to 2 inches thick. The soil contains microorganisms that help to start the decomposition process. If there is not an adequate source of topsoil, a layer of finished compost may be used as a substitute for the soil.

When soil or old compost and fertilizer are used for layering, special compost activators or starters are not needed.

Continue to alternate the layers of organic materials, fertilizer or manure and soil until a maximum height of about 5 feet is achieved. Firm each layer as it is added, but do not compact it so much that air can't move freely through it. Water each layer as it is added. Care of the pile The compost pile must be kept moist (but not soggy) for proper heating and decomposition. Inadequate moisture reduces microbial activity. Excess moisture may cause undesirable decomposition and offensive odors. During dry weather it may be necessary to add supplemental water with weekly soaking. Covering with plastic can reduce moisture loss and aid decomposition during extremely dry periods. A plastic covering also protects the pile from becoming too wet during periods of heavy rainfall.

To hasten decomposition turn or mix the pile periodically. This will facilitate aeration of the pile and reverse any undesirable reactions. During warm weather the pile should be turned about monthly. In cool weather decomposition is slower, and frequent turning is not necessary. During the winter little decomposition occurs except in very large piles. The pile should be turned immediately if at any time a strong ammonia or other offensive odor is detected.

Turning may be done by slicing through the pile and inverting each slice. Where space is available, it may be done by shifting the entire pile into another bin, later to be moved back. The main objective of turning is to shift materials from outer parts of the pile closer to the center where they are better able to heat and decompose.

About a month after starting the pile, it should be hot in the center. This indicates that the pile is decomposing properly. Failure to heat might be caused by too much water, improper aeration, too little nitrogen or too small a pile.

As materials decompose, the pile should shrink to about half of its original height. The length of time required will vary with size of pile and time of year. If the heap fails to decompose, it may be necessary to restack with some new materials.

Using compost

When compost is ready for use, it should be dark and crumbly, with much of the original identity of the materials lost. Finished compost should have an earthy smell. If compost becomes old, it still makes a good soil amendment, but nitrogen may be lost through volatilization or leaching. For this reason compost should be used as soon as possible after it is finished.

Normally, compost will be ready for use in four to nine months, depending on the types of organic materials used and the climatic conditions during the composting period.

For many purposes the finished compost is easier to use if first screened through a 1-inch wire mesh screen to eliminate coarse or incompletely decomposed materials. Twigs decompose very slowly and should not be added, although a few sometimes become a part of other debris. These may either be added to another compost heap or discarded.

Compost is suitable to use for potting houseplants or starting many seeds. However, since thorough sterilization is important, especially for starting seeds, the compost should be pasteurized (sterilized) before use. Length of time for sterilization varies with volume. Place the moist compost or soil mix in an oven preheated to about 200 degrees F, and heat until the center of the mass reaches a temperature of about 160 degrees F and maintains that temperature for 30 minutes. A probing-type thermometer (meat or candy) may be helpful for determining whether the center has been properly heated. Excess heating is not necessary and can be harmful. Make sure you remove the soil as soon as it has been sterilized, and allow it to cool completely before use.

Notice: The information contained on this web page is derived from industry sources which are considered reliable. Information is subject to change and withdrawal without notice; therefore, it is the responsibility of the consumer to verify reliability on an individual basis based on specific consumer needs. We assume no responsibility, and extend no guarantees for information provided. Trademarked names are used in an editorial context with no intent of trademark infringement.

Copyright ©1995 - 1999 Barrington Multi Media., all rights reserved.


20-70% OFF
Selected Plants
Perennial Sale
Buy 3 Get 1 Free

Buy 10 Daylillies or Hostas
get 5 Free

Hundreds of unadvertised specials
Call for Details



4100 SW 40th St. Topeka, Kansas, 66610   |    (785) 272-2707
Questions? Contact Brett Blackburn (785) 272-2707 in Topeka, Kansas or Email Blackburn Nursery
For Topeka Landscape projects, Call us (272-2707)

© Copyright 2013 Blackburn Nursery Inc.