Last Updated on June 15, 2023 by Grow with Bovees
The ideal location for a compost bin should be a prime consideration in your home-composting scheme.
Ideally, compost bins/piles/heaps should be situated in a place that’s both convenient and easily accessible to you as an active composter, and unobtrusive to others.
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 backyard will be a deciding factor in finding the best location for a compost bin, and a larger area doesn’t always mean greater convenience.
In fact, the decision over where to place a compost bin is usually easier to make in smaller homes, where gardening capacity might be limited by the size of the area available; there are fewer site possibilities to deliberate over, plus most options are likely to be less far away and therefore offer convenient access from inside the home.
How Big Should a Compost Heap Be?
Much of your decision will be based upon whether you are aiming for a simple compost bin, or a whole proper ‘managed compost’ set-up, and also how much organic matter you have available.
If at the outset, you’re not sure how serious you are going to get about this whole thing, then you probably want to start composting by choosing a site in the garden for a compost bin or a single compost pile that could easily be added to in the event you decide to upgrade your operation. Starting with simple worm bins is also an option.
Be warned! If you are composting correctly, and you start to see the benefits and satisfaction of making and using your own compost it is very likely you’ll become an avid composter!
The most logical choice is to site the compost bin directly next to or near an existing related zone e.g. the kitchen or the greenhouse for convenient regular access.
Most yards are very likely to already have a couple of different utility areas to put trash cans, plastic recycling bins, tools, garden carts, and old flower pots, etc.
Regardless of the size and complexity of your composting system, the ideal option would be to make it part of a gardening-related utility zone that is also easy to get to from inside the home, and preferably close to a garden hose or maybe you have a portable garden hose reel.
How Much Garden Space Should You Allow For Compost Bins?
If you want to start with just a small tumbling composter bin outside the back door while you learn more about the whole composting process then there’s not a lot of space required, however, if you are planning your garden for a full-on new composting operation then you need to keep in mind that you will need to allow for extra allocated territory — about twice the size — to carry out the tasks necessary for upkeep.
How Much Room Should I Allow For A Single Compost Bin?
The size of a single compost pile or one compost bin is usually related to the size of your yard or in the case of a compost tumbler; the size of the vessel available.
Because it’s essentially a depository for the organic matter from your garden, its natural size is generally in scale with your property. Quite simply, the smaller the yard, generally the fewer dead plants, leaves, twigs, clippings, and weeds are generated.
When you first start a simple heap of compost, 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 at the start, it will be easier to estimate the amount of space you’ll need for your composting area. 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 space you estimate for your pile or bin.
This allows for a place to store a wheelbarrow or garden cart, plus room to wield a long-handled composting fork because you will be needing to turn the pile and that requires a bit of elbow room.
Single piles have some particular location problems because they are essentially stationary. They may need the addition of a compost starter to accelerate the composting process.
Unlike managed piles, which are more easily moved because of the size of each pile, single piles can occupy the same site for years so it is important to identify the best place for it from the start.
Locating A Managed 3 Part Compost Bin System
If your goal is to produce significant amounts of compost rather than to simply recycle gardening waste and household waste or kitchen waste such as food scraps or coffee grounds, you’ll need more room for your composting operation.
To create compost that will cook efficiently, you should have a supply of both green (nitrogen) and brown (carbon) materials sufficient to build several different piles or compost bins that are between 3′ X 3′ X 3′ and 5′ X 5′ X 5′.
Since each waste product is in abundance at different times of the year, space must also be allotted to store them separately until needed.
Typically, autumn leaves are stored either loose or in bags to use in spring when fresh weeds, pruning tips, and grass clippings are available.
Plus, if you expect to import raw organic materials from outside sources, allocate enough capacity to accommodate windfalls of straw, manure, wood chips, grass clippings, and so on.
Because managed bins are turned one or more times, extra capacity needs to be planned for this process.
For this, you need to factor in at least 6′ to 8′ of extra space around one or two sides of the bins for you to work in as you turn, replenish or harvest.
Allow a zone at the composting site for storing composting equipment and keeping it dry as well. In addition to your composting fork or compost turning tool, garden cart, various water pails, and containers, you may eventually want to acquire a shredder or chipper. These are available in a range of sizes, and all require a significant spot for safe operation.
Not only will you need to consider allocating a location in your compost area for storage of the machine, but you’ll also want a sizable zone to use for the actual shredding and chopping done in preparation for building your heap of compost.
At this stage, it is best to be able to accommodate 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 handled with some caution and working in tight quarters is not recommended.
If you don’t need all of your finished compost right away, it’s also important to be able to keep it stored properly somewhere for future use, whether in trash cans, a separate bin, or even just as a pile.
As finished good compost doesn’t smell bad (IMHO it actually smells quite nice!) you may choose to keep your finished compost stored near your planting areas for easy use, but if you plan for it to remain in the actual composting vicinity, allow an appropriate spot for it.
Wherever you choose, just be sure to make sure it is covered to stop the sun drying it out and to keep the rain off so that it doesn’t leach out all the precious water-soluble nutrients you have labored to get.
Should a Compost Bin Be in Sun or Shade?
Whether the location is in sun or shade doesn’t significantly affect the decomposition process. The heat of any stack is always more a product made by the contents themselves than by their exposure to heat from sunlight.
Intense sunlight will certainly dry the outer layers, 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 should be taken to create shade to prevent dehydration caused by water evaporation.
Elsewhere, most homeowners prefer to save the sunny areas of their gardens for their best prime planting sites.
If possible, a certain amount of shade is definitely a real advantage in the composting area because it’s a lot easier on the person working there in the summer heat!
Does A Compost Bin Need Wind?
You will be stirring up enough dust and debris when you turn it over, so any additional wind is generally unwelcome.
Exposure to strong wind is certainly not an advantage to the composting process.
Whatever measure of aeration is gained by the good air circulation of a windy site, this is offset by the tendency for the heap to dry out if it doesn’t have a decent water source.
If strong winds are unavoidable then we’d recommend having some temporary plastic sheeting at hand in case the outer layers start drying out a bit in which case you would also do well to spray some water on it before covering it up with the plastic.
Can I Place My Compost Pile On A Paved Surface?
In most scenarios, it is best to put compost piles and bins on soil ground—not on a paved or hard surface. This way, the excess liquid can drain into the soil below.
There is then also the added benefit of the earthworms, beneficial insects and microbes, that are living in the soil, migrating up into the accumulated mass and thereby contributing to its decomposition process.
Does a Compost Bin Need to Be on a Level Footing?
Compost sites should also ideally be on as level a place as possible. In cases where level ground is at a premium, then consider locating the actual site there, but store raw materials like new organic material elsewhere close-by, on the more uneven or sloping ground.
In particularly wet climates, it is, however, advisable to slightly bank the area to slope downhill to prevent puddling and stagnant water.
Should The Compost Pile Be Under A Tree?
If the overhanging tree is deciduous, you will have the best of both worlds. It will protect the compost bin from too much sun in summer, and when the leaves fall in autumn, it will allow sunshine through to help the compost-in-progress to sustain its temperature for a bit longer into winter.
While nearby trees can be a blessing, their proximity can also be problematic when considering where to place a compost bin.
Underground roots can begin to grow towards the surface of the soil when rich humus is developing in the bottom of the compost bin or pile.
These hungry root systems 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 at infiltrating compost piles. Ailanthus, alder, black locust, eucalyptus, redwood, and willow are among the worst offenders and unwanted visitors.
If your preferred site is located close to any of the above then it is 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 although, a vented base to let in some air would be the best option — a commercial wooden pallet, wire mesh, cinder blocks, or a purpose-made bin.
You can also discourage the migration of roots into your compost by moving it sporadically. The same should also be done with the location of your storage material; as you harvest one and start another, you should try to vary where you put it each time.
How Far Should a Compost Bin Be From the House?
Although, as previously mentioned, it is handy to have the chosen spot close to the kitchen door or kitchen window and its constant supply of scraps, ideally, a new heap of compost shouldn’t be positioned closer than 10 feet (3.05 m) 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 house, building, wall, or fence as it limits beneficial air circulation which ideally should be around all sides of the pile.
Plus, if the wall of the house 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 accumulated will mar the surface of the wood.
Smell-wise, compost with lots of carbon materials and relatively few nitrogen materials rarely smell. However, from time to time, the carbon/nitrogen ratio can get a little skewed, especially in a simple compost stack that grows from a rarely mixed supply of raw organic materials and has a slow composting process.
For example, if a load of freshly pulled weeds or kitchen scraps is just dumped on top of a standing pile and left to their own devices, they will decay anaerobically.
Decomposing kitchen waste will develop an unpleasant odor until you put in some carbon materials. Be aware that you may find grubs in your compost pile. They are not necessarily bad though, see our page to find out.
Basically, if you manage your bin/pile/heap correctly then it won’t cause odor issues if it is close to the house, so good access will be the main consideration.
It is worth considering keeping your compost indoors, creating a mini compost bin on the draining board or kitchen worktop so that you have a place where you can conveniently put decomposing matter, to save a trek to the compost pile in the rain or snow and the risk of the scraps going to waste lazily opting to throw them in the trash.
To minimize smells, try Bokashi composting, where you use a special bokashi compost starter. This helps to control odors and breaks down waste quicker.
Visual Considerations of a Compost Heap
Regardless of the size of your allotted compost location it’s not a bad idea to screen it from the view of your home for both aesthetic and safety reasons.
While it would be overdoing things a bit to formally fence the zone, you might like to plan how you could deter children from playing in it and pets who want to steal the kitchen scraps.
Plants with prickly leaves or stems, such as barberry, holly, and pyracantha, are a particularly effective way of discouraging both of the above but just be sure you don’t end up with prickles encroaching on your working space!
Create a Screen
A bit of gardening creativity in the use of landscape plants and decorative features, such as screens, can make all the difference and camouflage your pile from view, even if it’s relatively close to the back door or the patio.
The screen can be something simple, like a fence made of landscape timbers, or some large landscape rocks.
Another option to consider is extending an existing landscape feature, such as a stone wall, rock garden, lattice screen, or decorative fence.
If there is enough sun, get perennial vines such as; clematis, honeysuckle, ivy, and Virginia creeper and train them onto a fence or wall around the perimeter to help add ornamental interest.
A more elaborate alternative is to espalier a row of apple, fig, or pear trees on a fence and use them as a screen. Planted very closely, their foliage creates a solid green wall during the growing season.
Using plants—alone or in combination with a wall or fence—acts very well as an effective way to camouflage.
A dense row of evergreens, such as; arborvitae, azaleas or rhododendrons, holly, or yew, will keep your compost location nicely hidden while providing a backdrop for ornamental plants on the other side.
Plant Vines or Other Plants
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.
Moon flower, morning glory, nasturtium, and sweet peas can transform an eyesore into a hill of colorful flowers, to say nothing of the aroma benefits!
If completely screening the possible eyesore is not feasible, strategically placed rhododendrons and other flowering shrubs, that can handle the conditions of the location, could also help make it more attractive.
Resist the temptation to plonk pots or tubs of colorful annuals in front of the exposed heap because they may well simply draw attention to the pile.
The compost zone of your garden is a utility zone and, as such, harbors the indelicacies that such a process requires so anything that you can do to help disguise the fact that it’s there is desirable.
However, it must also be fit for purpose so the main concern is that the allocated place be an adequate size and conveniently located rather than whether you can see it or not…
Can Neighbors Complain About a Compost Bin?
It is realistic to acknowledge that your neighbors may not be as keen to see your compost heap as you are.
To be sure whether you could actually face legal issues over your enthusiasm for making compost, you should probably consult the relevant department in your local government/council/municipality.
If you are concerned from the start that there could be a potential problem, then maybe try approaching your neighbor to see if they are interested in a bit of communal, environmentally-friendly composting.
Locating the compost heap on the boundary of adjacent properties makes it convenient for both parties in dealing with grass cuttings and fallen leaves and also frees up more backyard living area for each household.
Even if they turn out not to be interested, at least you’ve tried to show a bit of ‘sharing is caring’ and they may be more reluctant to raise a problem with it in the future.
We hope that our tips have helped you with the question “where to put a compost bin?”, resulting in you finding the best location for it.