How to Make Compost In-Ground: A Beginner’s Guide

Composting is a sustainable and eco-friendly way to reduce waste and enrich your garden’s soil. While many people opt for traditional compost bins or piles, another approach is gaining popularity—making compost in-ground. This method allows you to create nutrient-rich compost directly in your garden beds. This comprehensive guide will walk you through making compost in-ground, from selecting the right spot to managing your compost pile. Let’s dig in!

Why Make Compost In-Ground?

Before we delve into the “how,” let’s explore the benefits of making compost in-ground:

  1. Natural Integration: In-ground composting seamlessly integrates compost into your garden, avoiding the need to transport finished compost from a bin to your beds.
  2. Improved Soil Health: Over time, in-ground compost enriches your garden’s soil with essential nutrients, organic matter, and beneficial microorganisms, promoting healthier plant growth.
  3. Reduced Waste: It’s an efficient way to recycle kitchen scraps, yard waste, and other organic materials while reducing your household’s environmental footprint.
  4. Less Work: Unlike traditional compost bins, in-ground composting requires minimal maintenance and turning, making it a low-effort option.

Selecting the Right Location

Choosing the right location for your in-ground compost pile is crucial for its success. Here are some factors to consider:

  1. Sunlight: Select a spot that receives partial to full sunlight. This encourages decomposition and microbial activity.
  2. Accessibility: Ensure the location is easily accessible for adding materials and turning the compost pile.
  3. Drainage: Good drainage is essential to prevent waterlogged compost. Avoid areas prone to flooding or poor drainage.
  4. Proximity to Garden Beds: Ideally, place your in-ground compost pile near the garden beds you intend to improve, as this reduces the effort required to transport compost.

How to Make In-Ground Compost

Now that you’ve chosen the right location, let’s get started with making in-ground compost:

Step 1: Dig a Trench

Dig a trench in your selected location, approximately 1 to 2 feet deep and as wide as you like. The size of the trench can vary based on your composting needs and available space.

Step 2: Add Brown and Green Materials

In-ground composting, like traditional composting, relies on a mix of brown and green materials:

  • Brown Materials: These include dried leaves, straw, shredded newspaper, and cardboard. Lay a layer of brown materials at the bottom of the trench, about 4 to 6 inches deep.
  • Green Materials: These are your kitchen scraps (fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, eggshells), grass clippings, and other fresh plant material. Add a layer of green materials on top of the brown layer, approximately 4 to 6 inches deep.

Step 3: Cover and Water

After adding your green materials, cover them with a layer of soil or garden compost. This helps contain odors, deter pests, and provide a healthy environment for composting. Lightly water the materials to moisten them but avoid saturating.

Step 4: Repeat Layers

Continue adding alternating layers of brown and green materials, covering each green layer with soil or compost. Aim to maintain a balance between brown and green materials to ensure proper decomposition.

Step 5: Maintain the Pile

To keep the composting process active, occasionally turn the pile using a garden fork or shovel. This aerates the compost and helps distribute moisture and microorganisms. Turn the pile every few weeks or when you notice that decomposition has slowed down.

Step 6: Harvest Your Compost

In-ground composting is a continuous process, and you can harvest compost as needed. Simply dig into the trench where compost has fully decomposed and is rich, dark, and crumbly.

FAQs About In-Ground Composting

1. Can I compost all kitchen scraps in-ground?

You can compost a wide range of kitchen scraps, including fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, and eggshells. Avoid adding meat, dairy, and fatty foods, as they can attract pests.

2. How long does it take for in-ground compost to be ready for use?

In-ground composting is an ongoing process, and the time it takes for compost to be ready depends on various factors, including the materials used and the local climate. Generally, you can expect to harvest usable compost in 6 to 12 months.

3. Do I need to cover the compost pile with a lid or tarp?

Covering the compost pile with soil or garden compost is typically sufficient to deter pests and contain odors. However, if you’re in an area with frequent heavy rain, you may consider using a tarp to prevent waterlogging.

4. Can I plant directly into the compost trench?

Yes, once compost has fully decomposed and enriched the soil, you can plant directly into the trench. It’s an excellent way to utilize the nutrient-rich soil created by in-ground composting.

5. Can I add weeds or diseased plant material to in-ground compost?

While in-ground composting can handle some weed seeds and diseases, it’s best to avoid adding particularly aggressive or diseased plants to your compost to minimize potential issues.

6. How deep should the trench be for in-ground composting?

A depth of 1 to 2 feet is generally sufficient. However, you can adjust the depth based on your available space and the volume of compostable materials you generate.


In-ground composting is an eco-friendly and convenient way to enrich your garden’s soil while reducing waste. By selecting the right location, layering brown and green materials, and occasionally turning the pile, you can create nutrient-rich compost right in your garden beds. Over time, this compost will promote healthier plant growth and contribute to a thriving garden ecosystem. Happy composting!

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