The Risks of Composting: Can it Burn Your Lawn?




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You may have spent quite a bit of time adding and tending to your compost and now you are ready to actually use it. But, before you do that, you are wondering can compost burn your lawn?You have probably heard some stories that it can. 

The truth is that well-prepared compost should not burn your lawn. Although, it could burn your lawn as there are a few factors you need to be aware of before you sprinkle compost across the lawn. Below we cover, can compost burn your lawn? (What you need to know).

Well-Prepared Compost Shouldn’t Burn

Really well-prepared compost that has been completely decomposed should not burn your lawn. The compost should really look and act a lot like dirt. It will be a rich brown color and crumble like dirt when you pick it up.

It can take weeks, months to even a year to decompose, depending on the conditions, what has been added to the compost and how it is managed.

You might be eager to start using the compost you have been working on to enhance the health of your garden. Yet, using it too early is when there can be issues.

Obviously, you don’t want chunks of food scraps and shreds of paper scattered over your lawn. However, it is more than that. Using compost before it has properly decomposed could be a factor in why it appears to burn, or damage, your lawn.

When not fully composted, it is more likely to be acidic. Once fully decomposed it is often around the neutral pH level and this is less problematic.Moreover, if it is still in the process of composting then it can still be hot.

This is very likely to burn patches of your lawn if applied. The hot compost is left to sit on the lawn and the heat burns it. If it damages the grass enough, it might not survive.

Why Use Compost On The Lawn?

Compost is excellent for improving soil structure and moisture. It adds beneficial microbes to the soil too. It can overall help get nutrients, water, and air to the plants to be used for healthy growth.On the lawn, compost can even reduce compaction which means your lawn will have better water usage as a result.

It adds nutrients, healthy bacteria, and microorganisms that help your lawn by improving soil condition and defending against disease and pests.It also contains nitrogen which is good for your lawn.

It is important to keep in mind that when using compost on your lawn, there is a limit before it becomes unhelpful. 

Too much compost will cover the lawn and could damage or kill it. You don’t want to smother the lawn with compost as it won’t be able to receive adequate light, water, and air to survive. 

The best advice would be to apply no more than a quarter of an inch in-depth, up to a third at most. Use common sense as you apply as you will see how the grass will look too covered if you do more than this. In this case, less is probably more.

Hot Compost

A hot compost will break down faster from the heat and reduce the chance of being an inhabitable location for bugs. Hot compost is a managed process of composting that involves some monitoring and tasks from you. However, the payoff is that it is faster than cold composting that is left alone.

When you have a hot compost you need to keep an eye on the temperature and turn regularly to keep a regular, desirable heat. Too hot and you kill the good stuff, as well as the bad. Plus, it can become a fire hazard in certain conditions.

If you have a hot compost system and it hasn’t finished composting, it can burn your lawn. If the process is still happening, it will remain hot. This is why it is very important to ensure that it is completely ready before application to save your lawn.

Store-bought compost options might be an option if your compost isn’t ready yet, or you are not interested in making your own compost.

If your compost is still warm to touch then do not apply it to the lawn. You may want to set some aside and allow it to cool. If in doubt, try a small patch of the lawn first.

How to Tell if Compost is Ready?

Your compost will have changed quite a lot from the processing stage to when it is ready to use. Here are some signs that it is ready to use:

  1. It should not have a strong or unpleasant odor. 
  2. It will be a consistent dark brown color.
  3. It will look and feel like rich dirt. 
  4. Ready compost should be loose and easily sift through your fingers when you pick it up.
  5. It will no longer have distinct chunks of matter like when it was in the process of breaking down. 

Summary of Advice so Compost Doesn’t Burn Lawn

So, the good news is that compost that is ready can be quite beneficial to your lawn and other areas of your garden. It will not burn the lawn if some caution is used.

Keep in mind if you are top dressing the lawn with compost, you will need to make sure that it is a thin layer so you don’t smother the lawn. Otherwise, it can do more harm than good!

A summary below should help you to apply compost and not burn your lawn:

  1. Never apply compost when it is warm to the touch.
  2. Ensure the compost is actually ready (see tips above on how to know it’s ready).
  3. Try a patch of the lawn first, if in doubt, so you don’t accidentally burn the whole area.
  4. Apply only a thin layer of compost to the lawn so you don’t harm it.
  5. The compost might be too acid if it is still in the process of breaking down, which can kill some plants.

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