Compost is used to help plants grow. It is made up of a variety of organic substances, such as plant and animal matter (i.e., lawn trimmings or manure), to provide plants with the nutrients it needs. However, because most compost materials are things found outdoors, some people wonder if it can be used for plants in containers or even indoor house plants.
Can compost be used for containers and indoor house plants? The short answer is yes; compost can be used for containers and indoor plants. Compost is a nutrient-rich component that can perform wonders for your plants, regardless if it is indoors or outdoors.
Compost can be paired well with house plants and containers as long as they are given the proper amount of sunlight and moisture. Compost is made to improve plant life; it does not matter whether it is inside or outside, in soil or in a pot.
Adding Compost to Indoor Plants
Even the best potting soil can become depleted of nutrients as plants grow. That is why it is important to use compost with indoor plants to help them retain moisture and nutrients. However, gardeners need to be careful when adding compost to indoor plants: too little compost will not provide enough nutrients for the plant, while too much compost could end up hurting it.
The right amount of compost needed for houseplants will depend on the size of the pot and the plant. Although, generally, it is best to add at least one inch of compost with the plant’s potting soil. Avoid disturbing the soil by trying to blend the compost closer to the roots of the plant; just mixing in the compost with the top few layers of soil works. (Source: NYC Compost Project)
As plants grow, add more fresh compost to the pot at least twice a year for optimal results.
Starting a Compost Pile Indoors
Compost piles are not limited to being kept outdoors only (although outdoor compost is most common due to the smell and pests these heaps often attract). In fact, many gardeners who do not have the space to keep an outdoor compost pile often opt to start a compost heap inside using a special bin.
A common type of compost pile found indoors is worm composters, also known as a vermicomposter. Vermicomposting uses worms and soil microbes to convert organic wastes and decayed organic matter. The main benefit of vermicomposting is that it helps the soil retain water more effectively than traditional compost.
However, for gardeners who are not at ease with having worms inside the home, aerobic composting can be just as beneficial. Aerobic composting uses the microbes found in garden soil to convert wastes into compost.
Building a Compost Pile
Regardless of which compost method is used, the following items will be required to start building the compost pile:
- Compost Bin – A large plastic storage container with a lid or plastic garbage can be used to hold the compost pile. Some hardware or gardening stores sell bins specifically meant for compost purposes, as well. When it comes to choosing the size of the compost bin, make sure to choose a bin that will comfortably fit in the space intended to store it, while being large enough to house a regular volume of food scraps for composting. In general, an 18-gallon container is a good size for households with two to four members, while five and ten-gallon containers are ideal for smaller households or those with minimal food wastes.
- Compost Material – An ideal mix of compost ingredients will contain three parts brown matter (dried leaves or grass, shredded newspaper, or other carbon-rich materials) and one part green matter (vegetables and food scraps, grass clippings, coffee grounds, tea bags, or other nitrogen-rich materials).
Tips for Building an Indoor Compost Pile
- One of the key components a compost pile needs is oxygen. When creating the compost, make sure that air holes are present and located evenly throughout the bottom and lid of the compost bin in addition to the sides. Place the bin on top of a plastic or rubber tray wider than the bin to help catch any liquid that drains through the bottom. Excess water will need to be drained from the tray every so often.
- When using a worm composter, avoid using dew worms or invasive worm species such as the Alabama or Georgia Jumper. The best worms to use are red worms, which can be purchased at a local garden center. Alternatively, earthworms can also be used, although they do not decompose matter as quickly as red worms.
Overcoming Indoor Compost Concerns
Gardeners may have several concerns if they wish to start composting inside the home or use compost on indoor or potted plants, the most common concerns being how to avoid unwanted compost smells and how to manage bugs and pests. However, when an indoor compost pile is properly managed, gardeners can easily avoid both of these issues. Even when added to house plants, compost will not generate a smell or attract critters if maintained the correct way.
Eliminating Compost Smells
Multiple reasons exist as to why a compost heap will develop an unwanted odor:
- Not enough oxygen or too much moisture
- Too many greens
- Unsuitable compost materials
Not Enough Oxygen/Too Much Moisture
Composting harnesses helpful bacteria and molds to decompose plant materials. However, just like humans, these microorganisms require oxygen to flourish. If the compost pile is too dense or wet for oxygen to get through, other types of bacteria will colonize and begin the process of anaerobic decomposition. This results in a rotten-egg and methane odor.
To combat this, add additional brown ingredients such as sawdust, peat moss, or straw to absorb moisture. Also, always remember to aerate, or turn the pile, routinely with a compost fork to make sure oxygen flow is getting through the pile.
Too Many Greens
If the compost pile has too many green ingredients, then it will eventually emit a strong ammonia smell.
Add a number of brown ingredients to the compost pile and turn it with a trowel to counter the smell. Generally, it is best to keep a 1:3 ratio of green to brown material to avoid odors.
Unsuitable Compost Materials
Foods containing a lot of fats and oils, as well as animal-based products, can generate an unwanted odor in compost piles.
For this reason, avoid adding oils, meat scraps, eggs, dairy products, or leftover processed foods to compost. Stick to only fruits and vegetable wastes, if possible.
Managing Bugs & Pests in Compost
Although kitchen scraps offer plenty of nitrogen-rich nutrients for composting, the decomposing food wastes can lead to both unpleasant smells and attract animal or insect pests.
To reduce the chances of creating an unpleasant odor throughout the rest of the home and avoid attracting pests, bury the scraps at least 10 inches deep in the compost pile. Then, cover up the scraps with carbon-rich brown ingredients.
Compost is a mixture of different plant and animal wastes that can be added to fertilizer to give plants that extra boost that they may need to grow big and plentiful. Compost can be utilized with almost any plant, no matter its location.
Indoor or potted plants, specifically, can greatly benefit from the use of compost. Many gardeners may hesitate using compost indoors due to the odors and pests it often attracts; however when maintained properly, these two issues can be completely avoided.
In conclusion, compost provides an abundance of benefits to indoor, potted plants; the application of at least one inch of compost, twice a year to the soil, allows gardeners to raise beautiful, healthy houseplants.
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