How to Compost a Dead Plant

By: Debbie Neese
August 2, 2022
How to Compost a Dead Plant
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For many avid gardeners, composting is like making gold! Many green thumbs refer to compost as 'black gold' and compost tea as 'liquid gold.' There are so many rich nutrients in it, and it's all made from recycled organic materials that would otherwise get wasted in landfills! So we should use it to our plant's benefit and stir up some love for them!

FAQ: What should I do with a dead plant?

Sometimes plant waste happens. Branches get trimmed, leaves drop, or plants die. We've been asked several times, "What should I do with my dead plant?" Luckily there is a great green way to handle this waste: composting! Of course, composting only works as long as the soil isn't contaminated with pests or disease. If it is contaminated, toss it in the garbage, and don't let it get anywhere near your garden beds, compost pile, or other plant babies! Eeek!

To compost your plant, remove it from the soil mix, wash off the roots and leaves, and toss it in a compost pile. If you have a small bin, you may want to cut it up depending on how large of a plant it was. The smaller the pieces, the shorter time it takes to decompose in the mix.

Composting Options

If you're living in an apartment and don't have a lot of space to keep a full-size farm bin of compost, you can go small with a store-bought composter of any size that fits your budget and space. These smaller composters come with a closed lid and ventilation holes. For many of these models, you shake or stir it to aerate or use a hand trowel or shovel each week to help break up the debris.

If you choose not to DIY it, local municipalities have residential composting centers to drop off for composting. Some areas even have private companies picking up your compost scraps and leaving rich nutrient compost in exchange for spreading in your garden beds.

Additionally, you can sign up with a worldwide program called ShareWaste that connects people with compost and compost bins. The composters take available scraps for composting if you don't have the available time or space. People helping people take care of the planet - we love it!

Organic Matter for Composting

If you're into making "black gold" and don't mind watching organic matter rot, you may be growing a green thumb! Congratulations, you are one of the many who love to recycle! Did you know that over 20% of our garbage is food scraps are compostable!?

Fresh Green and Brown Matter Ingredients

To make good compost, add one part green matter and 3-4 parts brown matter. Fresh green matter are things rich in nitrogen or protein and will help heat the compost pile because it helps microorganisms grow and multiply. If your pile isn't heating up to temperatures between 90°-140°, it won't be hot enough to kill any harmful pathogens, weed seeds, or bugs. Adding more greens to the mix will facilitate temperature increases. Greens include grass clippings, plant trimmings, egg shells, fruits and vegetables, tea leaves, coffee grounds, rice, and legumes.

The brown matter is the carbon and carbohydrate materials and acts as the food source for the soil-dwelling organisms that eat and break down the compost pile. This bulky brown matter gives aeration to the total mix. If your pile is smelly, then it's an indication more aeration is needed, so add more brown matter to the mix and turn your pile more often. Brown matter includes dead, chopped-up leaves, straw, twigs, chipped branches or bark, hay, sawdust, paper products (no waxy coverings), and dryer lint.

Compost Accelerator & Water

To accelerate the composting process, you can purchase compost accelerator mixes to sprinkle over your starter batch to break the debris down faster. These mixes reduce odor with essential oils and can be for indoor or outdoor use.

Adding water is another essential part of helping break down these components into rich, viable compost for gardening. Keep your compost damp but not soggy. Grab a handful and squeeze to test - It shouldn't be dripping wet. It should be the moisture level of a wrung-out sponge to decompose rapidly. If you have a digital plant thermometer, you can stick the probes down in, and if it's registering around 50%, then you're at the proper moisture level. If it's too dry, add more green matter or water. If it's too wet, add more brown organic matter to aerate so it can dry out. Keep mixing it daily until the moisture levels out.


Compost Layers

Compost is like making lasagna. Layers matter and help the acceleration of the breakdown:

  • Add course brown matter like twigs and branches, stems, and chopped-up dried leaves, to the bottom of your composter. This layer will help circulate the oxygen down to the bottom.

  • Add grass clippings, kitchen scraps, and all the green matter. And remember the ratio of four parts brown matter to 1 part green matter.

  • You can sprinkle in a layer of compost accelerator mix, which provides nitrogen and microorganisms that help break down the mixture.
  • Then start with your brown and green layers again at the correct ratio.

Within 90 to 120 days, you should be producing "black gold" with this method! When ready to use, it should look like soil. You can then work it into a new planting hole or layer it over your ground in the garden bed. Then, as it rains, "compost tea" will break down and soak into the soil to give nutrients to the rest of the ground, making it healthier; hence, your plants will thrive! Gold mining for rich soil is worth it all to an avid gardener!