When you think of compost you may picture some ready to purchase bagged product that is used as a soil amendment for new plantings. You may not realize that yard waste and vegetable scraps from your kitchen can easily be composted for use in your yard and garden. Composting is environmentally friendly by reducing the amount of solid waste that must be disposed of and reliance on costly chemical fertilizers. If applied incorrectly chemical fertilizers, especially quick release forms can leach down through Florida’s sandy soils past the root zone and into the aquifer. Another environmental benefit of composting is it can reduce that amount of vegetable waste carried in wastewater from kitchen garbage disposals. Garbage disposal water is classified as blackwater, the same as wastewater from toilets and urinals due to the high organic matter content.
Compost can be added back to the landscape and over time can improve the health and structure of soils. Florida soils typically contain less than 1.5% organic matter. By increasing the level of organic matter in the soil you also increase the soil’s ability to hold onto water and nutrients. Compost is basically just partially broken down organic matter that has been decomposed by microorganisms that can still have recognizable pieces of twigs and leaves. Organic matter is critical for many beneficial biological processes. Earthworms and microorganisms including fungi, bacteria, beneficial nematodes, and algae gradually break down organic matter into soluble nutrients that plants can use.
You may be reluctant to start composting because it seems like work, but there are steps any homeowner can take to save on fertilizers, protect the environment, and reduce waste. One way is to leave your grass clippings right in place on your lawn. The warm temperatures, high humidity, and frequent mowing schedule in Florida allows clippings to readily break down into valuable organic matter and nutrients. It is also important, due to environmental concerns, that all grass clipping are swept or blown back onto turf to avoid the material from being carried with stormwater into drains which can contribute to pollution of the water bodies they feed into.
Composting is economical, requires little time, and is environmentally friendly. The more Flagler County residents that take steps to reduce pollution the larger the cumulative effect can be. It is easy to turn common yard waste and kitchen scraps into black gold that plants crave. For more information please visit http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep323 “Compost Tips for the Home Gardener.”
What to Plant:
Vegetables: Plant bulbing onions, salad crops such as arugula, lettuce, and spinach, as well as numerous other cool-season crops. For additional information please visit http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_vegetable_gardening “Vegetable Gardening in Florida.”
Herbs: Some to try from plants or seed include dill, fennel, oregano, and sage. For more on herbs visit http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_herbs “Herbs.”
What to Do:
Lawns: Control winter weeds in lawns before they appear. Preemergent herbicides must be applied at the right time to be effective. Apply when nighttime temps are 55°F–60°F for 4–5 days. Avoid “weed and feed” products. For more information visit http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_lawn_weeds “Lawn Weeds.”
Irrigation: Check irrigation timer settings and visually check sprinkler heads during run cycle to see that there is no damage and heads are evenly applying water. Be sure your automatic rain shutoff switch is working. During this month Flagler County has received significant rainfall. Irrigation of landscapes should be suspended until the soils dry out. Watering now will waste valuable water as well as contribute to plant disease and stress. For more information visit http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ae451 “Basic Repairs and Maintenance for Home Irrigation.” and http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ae221 “Residential Irrigation System Rainfall Shutoff Devices, or Rain Sensors.”
Sol Looker is the Residential Horticulture Extension Agent and Master Gardener Coordinator at the UF/IFAS Flagler County Extension Service