Memorable landscapes don't just appear out of thin air. While many people consider the trees, shrubs, and the flowers in the flowerbeds to be the anchors of a magnificent landscape, the reality is less glamorous and far dirtier. Anchoring these elements to the landscape is an easily overlooked foundation of thick and healthy compost. Without the compost, the flowers won't blossom and bloom, and the trees won't grow as tall as they can. When home improvement is on the agenda, overlooking the compost is a mistake that you don't want to make.

Compost 101
Healthy compost suitable for home improvement projects contains a balanced combination of ingredients that are rich in nitrogen and carbon. Sometimes called the "browns and greens," your brown ingredients are rich in nitrogen. These components include dried leaves, straw, cardboard, paper, and dried grass. On the green, carbon-rich side, you can use fresh grass clippings, vegetable scraps, egg shells, and leaves. It also includes manure. 

Creating Your Compost Pile
It is best to use a closed bin for your compost pile. This gives you a little bit more control over the process. Many gardeners recommend placing the bin in a sunny area as the warmth from the sunlight helps expedite the composting process.

Once the bin is positioned, fill the bottom 6-8 inches of the bin with brown material. This helps absorb moisture and facilitates aeration within the pile. From there, you will want to layer your greens and browns. Each layer should be between 4 to 6 inches thick. A good rule of thumb is to build your pile at a 4 to 1 ratio of browns to greens.

Once your pile is built, cover the top with a cap of green material that is 3-4 inches thick. This helps seal the pile and helps control the amount of moisture that can leach into the pile. When you want to add to the pile, set aside the green, carbon-rich cap, place the new material in the bin, and place the cap back on. 

Managing Your Compost
For the most part, composting is a waiting game that takes between 6 months to a year to complete. However, there are some minor things you need to do along the way. Many people find that turning the compost pile every two weeks helps speed the process up by dispersing the heat evenly within the pile. You may also want to add redworms, coffee grounds, and microbes as the pile matures.

A Word About Watering
Compost should be no wetter than a sponge that has been wrung-out. It should not be soggy and boggy. It is advisable to check the moisture within the pile in the spring, summer, and fall. If the pile is dry, add just enough water to moisten it. During the winter, you will want to add water sparingly and only on those days when it won't immediately freeze.

Applying Your "Black Gold" to the Landscape
When the compost is ready, there are four ways you can use it for home improvement around the landscape. You can spread it as a mulch 2-3 inches thick in flowerbeds. You can bury it 4 inches deep as a soil amendment beneath planted flowers. You can steep a shovel full in a 5-gallon bucket and create a tea that you can spray on the grass or around flowers and shrubs. Finally, you can spread about an inch on your grass, rake it, and let it settle into the soil. Each of these methods will help you create a healthy and vibrant landscape around your home.