How Do I Pile Compost?

By layering compost correctly, you can have finished compost in a few months.

By layering compost correctly, you can have finished compost in a few months.

Many gardeners simply pile the refuse from their garden in one spot on their property. Twelve to 18 months later, they are finally able to dig a small amount of compost from the bottom of the pile. To get more compost and get it faster, build your compost pile by piling up its ingredients in layers. Along with a small amount of additional periodic maintenance, building your compost pile this way will help it decompose more rapidly.

Locate a spot out of direct sunlight. It should be easily accessible, and keeping in mind it is essentially a pile of dirt, it should also be off to one side of the yard.

Lay medium-length branches of brush from shrub trimmings on the ground where the pile will be. This will help water drain away as well as aerate the bottom of the pile.

Put down a layer of brown organic materials on top of the shrub trimmings. Make the layer at least 2 inches deep, up to 4 to 6 inches deep, depending on how much organic material you have to compost.

Wet the layer of brown organic matter using a hose-end sprayer. Thoroughly dampen the organic materials applied in Step 3 before proceeding.

Add a second layer of raw materials on top of the first layer, this time using green-colored organic matter. Kitchen scraps are also considered green-colored organic matter for purposes of building a compost pile. If possible, make the second layer of an equal depth to the first layer.

Shovel on a layer of soil about 2 inches deep, directly on top of the second layer of organic matter. As much as possible, try to keep the layer of soil a consistent depth, but completely cover the organic matter beneath.

Repeat Steps 3 through 6 until you run out of organic materials or until the pile is about 3 to 4 feet high, ending with a layer of soil.

Cover the top of the pile with a tarp or thick plastic to keep the moisture in the pile at a consistent level.

Add additional organic matter day by day, as it accumulates, by scattering it on the top of the pile and then re-covering the pile with the tarp. You can also bury scraps in small holes dug out of the top of the pile.

Turn the compost pile with a pitchfork every four to six weeks. This will bury any new organic matter recently added, and also aerate the pile to help hasten decomposition. Being careful not to move the brush at the bottom of the pile too much, try to move the materials at the outer edge of the pile to the center of the pile and vice versa.

Moisten the top of the pile thoroughly each time you turn it, immediately after you finish turning it. If the weather is exceptionally dry in your area and the pile seems to dry out between turns, wet it down with a hose as necessary to keep it moist, which will assist in helping the organic materials decompose. Do not soak the pile; it should have the consistency of a wrung-out sponge.

Items you will need

  • Trimmings from shrubbery or brush
  • Green-colored garden waste, including lawn clippings, weeds or spent crops
  • Fruit and vegetable kitchen scraps, including coffee and tea grounds and egg shells
  • Brown-colored garden waste, including fallen autumn leaves, dried plant materials, cardboard or newspaper without colored ink, dryer lint, human hair or pet fur, cotton or wool fabric, or fireplace ashes
  • Shovel
  • Soil
  • Hose-end sprayer
  • Tarp or plastic sheet
  • Pitchfork


  • The smaller the raw, organic materials are when adding them to the compost pile, the faster they will break down. Shred larger items before adding them to the pile, especially cardboard, newspaper and dried leaves.


  • Do not use the following materials in composting: meat or fish scraps or bones, grease or oil, human or pet waste, or cardboard or newspaper printed with colored ink. Also, avoid weeds with seeds or plant matter that has been treated with pesticides.

Video of the Day

Brought to you by Sapling
Brought to you by Sapling

About the Author

Sharon Sweeny has a college degree in general studies and worked as an administrative and legal assistant for 20 years before becoming a professional writer in 2008. She specializes in writing about home improvement, self-sufficient lifestyles and gardening.

Photo Credits

  • Jeff Randall/Lifesize/Getty Images