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weeds growing in compost heap

A gardener who experiences such an explosion of volunteer weeds may well swear off composting altogether, or at least stop adding weed material to the compost pile. To be clear, there is no reason to stop composting weeds. With a slight adjustment to the composting process, you can ensure that weeds and their seeds will be killed completely and won't be resurrected where you least want them.

In an ideal compost heap, the temperatures generated by the breakdown of plant material can get quite warm, and if temperatures exceed 145 degrees Fahrenheit, pretty much all seeds and roots will be killed. However, if the temperatures do not get warm enough—or if a portion of the compost heap does not experience sufficiently high temperatures—seeds or perennial roots can survive the composting process. When these seeds or bits of root later reach your garden inside the compost, they can—and usually do—quickly germinate or take root again.

How Weeds Survive

How do you know if your compost is getting hot enough to kill all weeds? A variety of compost thermometers are available that can gauge the temperature of your pile. Experienced gardeners may simply thrust a hand into the pile. If it feels uncomfortably warm to the touch, it likely is warm enough to kill all seeds and roots in the pile.

For hot composting to fully kill all weed seeds and roots, follow these tips:

Hot Composting

The classic method of composting—the method purists would call the “right” way—is known as hot composting. This simply means that you turn the pile regularly and allowing it to really heat up to 145 degrees Fahrenheit or more. A properly maintained hot compost pile will kill weed seeds, as well as many other pathogens, so you can compost weeds without having to worry about them popping up in your garden beds.

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Weeds growing in compost heap

Why is this? Unfortunately, most backyard compost piles simply don’t heat up enough to kill the seeds of any plant. And because of that, seeds can easily be carried and sprout to wherever you use your fresh compost.

Well, as with nearly all debatable questions, the real answer lies somewhere in the middle. And with today’s article, we hope to provide a few solid answers to the question.

Even though weeds are a great addition to a compost pile, there are a few risks. But luckily, eliminating the risks can be fairly easy with a few simple steps. (See: 5 Things You Should Never Put In Your Compost Pile)

Some consider the dandelion to be a weed, others a delicious addition to a salad!

When And How To Use Weeds To A Compost Pile

So who is right – and who is wrong?

Add this dandelion weed seed head to your compost pile, and you will likely be spreading the seed wherever you use your compost.

There is certainly a lot of debate on the pros and cons of putting weeds in a compost pile.

Putting Weeds In A Compost Pile

As with any plant materials going into a pile (i.e flowers, vegetables etc.), always be sure to not include the seed heads of weeds into the mix.

Not only does it feed important pollinators like bees, it also fixes nitrogen levels in the soil so other plants grow better. In fact, it works so well in providing nutrients it grows in many gardens as a fall or spring cover crop!

Weeds growing in compost heap

Turn the compost pile every one to two weeks with a pitchfork, preferably after watering it or checking the moisture levels. Frequent turning speeds the composting process and ensures all the materials in the pile heat evenly enough to destroy the weeds.

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Compost provides a free method to recycle garden waste into a nutrient-rich soil amendment and conditioner. Few things improve a garden bed as well as compost, but weeds in the finished product can overwhelm the benefits. Weeds get into a compost pile when seeds or root sections survive the composting process or when seeds blow into a pile. Prevent the weeds from ruining your compost by ensuring the seeds and roots are destroyed during the composting process.

Water the pile as necessary to keep it moist but not soggy. A moist pile heats more evenly that an overly wet or dry pile. Squeeze a handful of compost to test moisture. Only two or three drops of water should squeeze out between your fingers.

Pull garden weeds to add to the compost pile before the plants flower and produce seeds. Limiting the amount of seeds in the pile lowers the chances of a weed surviving the composting process.

Use an equal amount of brown — carbon-rich — material, such as dead leaves, and green — nitrogen-rich — material, such as grass clippings and freshly pulled weeds. Mix the materials together thoroughly. A proper ratio of green and brown material causes the pile to heat up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature that destroys weed seeds and roots.

Apply the compost to garden beds only after all the materials in the pile have fully broken down. Surviving weed roots may resume growth in a garden bed if they haven’t decomposed sufficiently. Use the compost when there is no identifiable plant matter remaining in the pile and the resulting compost is a rich brown or black color that resembles quality garden soil.

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