The location of your compost pile should be a prime consideration in your composting scheme.
Ideally, it should be situated in an area that’s both convenient and unobtrusive. While these two needs are often at cross-purposes, it’s usually possible to find a satisfactory spot in most backyards. In many cases, the size of your yard will be a deciding factor and a larger yard doesn’t always mean greater convenience.
Where To Place The Compost Pile?
In fact the the decision over location is usually easier to make in smaller yards, where space is limited.
There are fewer site possibilities, and most options are likely to be easily accessible.
A bit of creativity in the use of landscape plants and decorative features can do wonders to camouflage your pile from view, even if it’s relatively close to the back door or the patio.
Ask Your Neighbor – Sharing Is Caring
Another possibility for small yards is to persuade your neighbor to share the pile. Locating it on the boundary of adjacent properties makes it convenient to both parties and leaves more backyard living space for each household.
How Much Compost Will You Want To Make?
Much of your decision depends on whether you plan to maintain a simple pile or are aiming for a proper ‘managed compost’ set-up.
If, at the outset, you’re not sure how serious you are going to get about the whole composting thing, then choose a site for a simple pile that could easily be expanded in the event you decide to upgrade your operation.
The most logical option for the location of a pile is near an existing related zone. Most yards already have one or more utility areas for trash cans, tools, garden carts, and old flower pots, etc. Regardless of the size and complexity of your compost operation, the ideal option would be to make it part of the gardening related utility area.
Can I Place My Compost Pile On A Paved Surface?
In most scenarios it is best to locate compost piles and bins on soil—not on a paved surface. This way, the pile can drain into the soil below.
There is then also the added benefit of earthworms and microbes living in the soil and migrating into the pile thereby contributing to its decomposition. Composting sites should also ideally be as level as possible. In cases where level ground is at a premium, then consider siting the actual compost pile there but store raw materials elsewhere close by, on the more uneven or sloping ground.
Allow Working Space
When designating space for your composting operation, don’t forget that you will be working in the area, so you need to allow enough space for carrying out the tasks necessary for upkeep.
You’ll need access for a cart or wheelbarrow and some elbow room for moving around the pile as you build it. While there’s no need to formally fence the area, it is a good idea to consider how you could deter children from playing in it, and a neighbourly gesture to obscure it from the sight of any passersby.
Factoring in space for plantings or screens of some sort around the perimeter of the area is, therefore, a good idea
Should a Compost Bin Be in Sun or Shade?
Locating a pile in sun or shade doesn’t significantly affect the decomposition process. The heat of any pile is always more a product made by the contents themselves than by their exposure to heat from sunlight.
Hot sun may certainly dry the outer layers of the pile, especially if it’s not enclosed in a bin of some sort, but this occurrence is only really of concern in hot, arid climates, then measures need to be taken to prevent dehydration. Elsewhere, most homeowners prefer to save the sunny areas of their gardens for prime planting sites.
If possible, a certain amount of shade is definitely a real advantage in a composting area. If the site receives shade for at least part of the day, it’s a lot easier on the person working there in the summer heat.
Should The Compost Pile Be Under A Tree?
If the tree that gives the shade is deciduous, you will have the best of both worlds. It will shade the pile in summer, and when the leaves fall in autumn, it will allow sunshine through to help the pile sustain its temperature a bit longer into winter.
While shade from nearby trees is a blessing during episodes of intense heat, the proximity of trees to the compost pile can be problematic.
Underground tree roots may begin to grow towards the surface of the soil where rich humus is developing in the bottom of the compost pile. They do this partly in search of nutrients; but also, feeder roots typically prefer to be in the top 12″ of soil and migrate toward the soil surface in search of air.
The roots of certain trees are more aggressive than others in infiltrating compost piles. Ailanthus, alder, black locust, eucalyptus, redwood, and willow are among the worst offenders.
You can prevent the migration of roots into your compost pile by moving it sporadically. The same should also be done with the location of your storage pile; as you harvest one and start another, try to vary the placement each time.
Moving your bin slightly when you turn your active pile over also discourages persistent tree roots.
How Far Should a Compost Bin Be From the House?
Ideally the compost heap shouldn’t be positioned closer than 10 feet from your house and positioning it downwind from your house and the neighbors is another wise move.
In fact, you should avoid situating your pile up against, or very close to, any building, wall, or fence as it limits beneficial air circulation which ideally should be around all sides of the pile.
Plus, if the wall is made of wood, the presence of decomposing organisms up against it will begin to promote decay of the wall, too. Even over a short period of time, the constant weight and moisture of the pile will mar the surface of the wood.
Smell-wise, a compost pile with lots of carbon materials and relatively few nitrogen materials rarely smell. However, from time to time, the C/N ratio may get a little skewed, especially in a simple pile that grows from a rarely mixed supply of raw organic materials.
For example, if a load of freshly pulled weeds is just chucked on top of a standing pile and left to their own devices, they will decay anaerobically and develop an odor until you mix in some carbon materials.
On the subject of proximity to the kitchen and its valuable source of vegetable peelings, teabags, eggshells etc. it is worth considering a mini compost bin for the draining board or kitchen worktop, to save a trek to the compost heap in the rain or snow and the risk of wasting it by lazily throwing it in the trash.
Does A Compost Bin Need Wind?
Exposure to strong wind is not necessarily an advantage to your compost pile.
Whatever measure of aeration is gained by the good air circulation of a windy site, this is offset by the tendency for the pile to dry out.
You will be stirring up enough dust and debris when you turn your pile, so any additional wind is generally unwelcome.
Specifics To Locating A Single Compost Pile
The size of a single pile is usually related to the size of your yard. Because it’s essentially a depository for the organic material from your yard, its natural size is generally in scale with your property. Quite simply, a small yard generally does not generate as many leaves, twigs, clippings, and weeds as a large one does.
When you first start a simple pile, estimating its eventual size is not always easy, because it gradually sinks as the materials at its base decompose .
If you keep this fact in mind, it will be easier to estimate the amount of space you’ll need for your composting area. However, its dimensions will be relatively constant from year to year after that.
Be sure to add 6′ to 8′ on two sides in addition to whatever area you estimate for your pile. This allows space for a wheelbarrow or garden cart, plus room to wield a long-handled composting fork.
Simple piles have some particular location problems because they are essentially stationary. Unlike managed piles, which are more easily moved because of their size, simple piles may occupy the same spot for years.
As briefly mentioned previously, invasive tree roots represent the most common problem. If trees are in close proximity to your pile, it’s a good idea to build it on a base to separate it from the soil. You can put the pile on a concrete pad, on sheets of scrap metal, or in a bin with a plastic bottom.
However, a vented base to let in some air would be the best option — a commercial wooden pallet, cinder blocks, or a purpose-made bin. In particularly wet climates it is also advisable to slightly bank the area to slope backwards to prevent puddling.
Locating A Managed 3 Bin Compost System
If your goal is to produce significant amounts of compost rather than to simply recycle yard and household waste, you’ll need more room for your composting operation.
To build a pile that will cook efficiently, you should have a supply of both green (nitrogen) and brown (carbon) materials sufficient to build one or more piles that are between 3′ X 3′ X 3′ and 5′ X 5′ X 5′.
Since each material is in abundance at different times of the year, some area must also be allotted to store these materials separately until needed. Typically, autumn leaves are stored either loose or in bags to use in spring when fresh weeds and clippings are available.
Plus, if you expect to import raw organic materials from outside sources, allocate enough space to accommodate windfalls of straw, manure, wood chips, and so on.
Because managed bins are turned one or more times, extra space needs to be planned for this process. For this you need to factor in at least 6′ to 8′ of leeway around one or two sides of the bins for you to work in as you turn, replenish or harvest.
Allow space at the composting site for equipment as well. In addition to your composting fork, garden cart, various pails, and containers, you may eventually acquire a shredder or chipper. These are available in a range of sizes, and all require a significant amount of space for safe operation.
Not only will you need to consider allocating space in your compost area for storage of the machine, but a sizable area is also necessary for the actual shredding and chopping done in preparation for building your compost pile.
Often, this means assembling two piles: one that is about to be shredded and one that accumulates after it has been shredded. Because these machines are often high-powered, they should be considered dangerous. Working in tight quarters can lead to mishaps with these machines and is not recommended.
If you don’t need all of your finished compost right away, it’s important to be able to store it properly somewhere for future use, whether in trash cans, a separate bin, or even just as a pile. As finished compost doesn’t smell bad (Imho it actually smells quite nice!) you may choose to store your finished compost near the planting areas, but if you plan for it to remain in the composting area, allow space for it. Wherever you choose, just be sure to make sure it is covered to protect it from rain which will leach out all the precious water-soluble nutrients you have labored to get.
Screening the Composting Area
Regardless of the size of your composting area, it’s a good idea to screen it from view for both aesthetic and safety reasons.
The screen can be something simple, like a fence made of landscape timbers. Another possibility is to extend an existing hardscape feature of your yard, such as a stone wall, lattice screen, or decorative fence.
Using plants—alone or in combination with a wall or fence—is also effective. A dense row of evergreens, such as; arborvitae, azalea, holly, or yew, hides a compost area nicely while providing a backdrop for ornamental plants on the other side.
Plants with prickly leaves or stems, such as barberry, holly, and pyracantha, are particularly effective at discouraging visits by adventurous children (just be sure the plants don’t encroach on your work area).
Vines are useful, too, particularly fast-growing annual vines that can be easily persuaded to crawl over an open simple pile or storage heap and obscure it from view. Moonflower, morning glory, nasturtium, and sweet pea can transform an eyesore into a hill of colorful flowers, to say nothing of the aroma benefits!
If the light is sufficient, train perennial vines such as; clematis, honeysuckle, ivy, and Virginia creeper onto a fence or wall around the area to add ornamental interest.
A more elaborate alternative is to espalier a row of apple, fig, or pear trees on a fence to form the screen. Planted very closely, their foliage creates a solid green wall during the growing season.
If completely screening the area is not feasible, strategically placed rhododendrons and other flowering shrubs that can handle the partial shade at your composting site, make it more attractive. Resist the temptation to plonk pots or tubs of colorful annuals in front of the exposed area because they will simply draw attention to the pile.
The composting area of your yard is a utility area and, as such, harbors the indelicacies that any such area requires. Anything that you can do to disguise the fact that it’s there is desirable.
However, it must also be fit for purpose so the main concern is that the site be an adequate size and conveniently located.
We hope that we’ve helped you with the question “where to locate my compost pile”, please feel free to add anything in the comments below.