Home composting is a great way to reduce organic waste and add nutrition back into your garden. However, composting isn’t just as simple as chucking everything in a corner of your garden and waiting for it to break down; there are some rules that need to be followed in order to get the most out of it.
One common question that professional gardeners are often asked is “can you compost weeds”? The short answer is “yes”, but if you are going to compost weeds, it is essential that you are composting correctly. And, yes, there really is a right and a wrong way to compost.
A properly maintained compost pile is more than a rubbish dump at the end of the garden. The composting process, when done correctly, should result in enough heat being produced to kill weeds and seeds, as well as other potentially harmful diseases. If your compost heap doesn’t reach sufficient temperature, there is a possibility that perennial weeds and seeds will regrow either in the heap itself, or in your beds when you use the compost. Here’s what you need to know.
Are all weeds the same?
Just like plants, there are many types of weeds. These are: perennial, biennial and annual. As with plants, perennials tend to last a long time, biennial a couple of years, and annuals tend to have a life cycle of about a year. To eliminate the risk of weeds returning in your compost pile, you need to make sure that the weeds – and their seeds - are completely dead.
Hot composting is the ideal solution, but if you are unable to get your compost balance just right (few amateur gardeners do, without professional help), you could try drying or cooking your weeds, or soaking them in water.
To dry or cook your weeds, you can literally leave them to completely dry out in the sunshine and let the sun cook them. Water compost involves leaving your weeds in water for at least three weeks, after which time the nutrients from the weeds will be in the water. You can dilute this “weed tea” and use it as a liquid fertiliser, placing the residual plant matter on your compost heap.
It is especially important that you completely kill both the weed and seeds of perennial weeds. These have the ability to regrow the roots, so could soon take over your compost heap; and life is definitely too short to weed your compost! Perennial weeds include dandelions, brambles, butter cups and dock leaves. While not always desirable, these plants do have a role to play, so if you are able to, it may pay to keep an area natural. You can always add other flowers to create a meadow area in your garden and attract wildlife.