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Best Materials for Winter Composting

Best Materials for Winter Composting

Composting in winter may involve venturing into cold, snowy conditions, but the benefits may be worth it. Not only does making compost in winter help provide proper moisture levels for your spring garden, but it also creates nutrient-rich soil that can be used to promote healthy plant growth, and may reduce the need for chemical fertilizers.

On top of those benefits, the microorganisms found in compost help aerate soil, breaking down materials that can cause plant disease. It’s important to note, though, that because of colder temperatures, winter composting can take a bit longer than summer composting and may require more attention to detail to help ensure a functioning decomposition process.

The two essential components of composting during winter are the materials you use and the ratio in which you add them. These factors help the compost maintain a hot core, which is key to keeping the composting process going year-round.

As a general rule of thumb, winter composts should be composed of two-thirds high-carbon materials (often referred to as brown materials) and one-third high-nitrogen materials (often referred to as green materials) for an optimal carbon-to-nitrogen ratio compost.
High-carbon (brown) sources include:

  • Shredded leaves and pine needles 
  • Twigs and straw
  • Woodchips and ashes
  • Corncobs
  • Newspaper

High-nitrogen (green) sources include:

  • Lawn or plant clippings
  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Coffee grounds
  • Tea bags
  • Eggshells


How to Compost in Winter

To get started, choose an easy composting container, like a lidded compost bin, a tumbler, or even a lidded garbage can with holes drilled in the bottom. Alternatively, you can use a traditional compost pile, but be sure to insulate the pile with a thick layer of organic material such as straw, leaves or pine needles. You’ll want to locate the compost bin or compost pile in a convenient place that’s easy to access during the winter. 

Choose a sunny, southern-facing location to help keep the pile warmer. And you’ll want to choose a bin with a lid if you’re concerned about wildlife getting into the compost. You can also insulate with a layer of leaves either outside or inside the compost bin. 

If you struggle to find materials for your compost, then consider external sources such as local coffee shops for coffee grounds and grocery stores for fruit and vegetable scraps. You can also save leaves and grass clippings in the fall, then add them to your winter compost throughout the season. Reducing the size of the materials before adding them to the pile by cutting, chopping or shredding them can speed up composting.

It’s best to compost these materials in layers to trap heat in the center during the winter. To do so, start with a carbon layer, then add a light layer of soil. Next, add a layer of nitrogen materials and again top with soil. The layer of soil helps accelerate the decomposition process and also masks odors. Unless it will immediately freeze, you can also sprinkle each layer with a little water to add moisture without making materials soggy. Continue this process throughout the winter. Unlike summer composting, there’s no need to turn the pile during the winter because this can slow the composting process by causing heat loss.

When it comes to leaves, you can use both a leaf blower vacuum, such as the TB27VH, as well as a chipper shredder or chipper shredder vacuum to help save time in handling and breaking down these materials.

While there are plenty of materials you can add to your winter compost, to help avoid pests and odors you should refrain from using items like weeds, meat, dairy, bones and fish scraps.

As long as the compost pile doesn’t freeze solid, the decomposition process will likely continue year-round and should accelerate when the temperatures warm.