Compost: the Secret Sauce

Compost is not just recycled clippings, it’ more. It has become the go to panacea for landscapes. It is an organic amendment you add to provide nutrients to plants. In fact, compost provides a wide range of unexpected solutions for designers. Have percolation issues? Add compost. Need to increase water holding capacity of soils? Add compost. Have issues with erosion? Add compost. Need to convert turf medians into a lovely ecologically healthy zone like we did at Harbor Bay? Add compost!

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APDW recently had the pleasure of hosting Kelly Schoonmaker of StopWaste and Ron Alexander of R. Alexander Associates to learn more about the benefits of compost and best practices for maximizing benefits. Compost has evolved into a highly technical subject, where the landscape architect needs to interpret soil lab test data and know the supplier to fully understand the needs of every site-specific application. The tradeoff for this level of technical expertise is compost’s multiple benefits.

By specifying compost, designers are able to:

  • Provide nutrients to plants
  • Reduce compaction in soils
  • Improve moisture holding capacity
  • Provide a stable carbon source for soil microbes
  • Build up the soil’s “immune system” for natural disease suppression
  • Stabilize soil pH
  • Prevent erosion by using compost techniques
  • Bind and degrade urban runoff contaminants

The results: Healthy Soil = Healthy Plants









The use of compost will help your project attain LEED, SITES, and Bay-Friendly certifications. An important starting point is to have your soils tested to determine your baseline organic content. If you are in California, the Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance (MWELO) requires adding 4 cubic yards of compost per 1,000 square feet (unless your soils already have 6% organic matter). To learn more please visit StopWaste and R. Alexander Associates.