Should I cover my compost pile? (2023)

Perhaps. It depends on a few things like the weather, the type of composter you have, and your gardening goals. Read on to find out when you should keep a lid on your compost.

Should I cover my compost pile? (1)

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To cover or not to cover, that is the question when it comes to composting. If you search online, you'll find strong opinions both for and against using a cover. But whether or not you should cover your compost really depends on your goals, your region, and what kind of compost system you're using.

If you are using a manufactured compost bin and it comes with a lid, use that. The system probably needs the cover in place to work best. But if you're piling materials inside a pallet frame or a cylinder of metal fencing or chicken wire, you need to decide if your compost pile needs a cover. Here's what you need to know about covering your compost.

the short answer

In most cases, a compost pile does not need to be covered. Unfinished compost breaks down into an excellent soil additive if the pile is left uncovered at all times. Only three things are needed for effective composting: air, water, and a mixture of brown and green material. If one of these things is missing, composting can slow down, stop, or at worst, turn your compost materials into a slimy, smelly mess. A mulch can limit air and water flow, interfering with the composting process.

You should definitely cover the finished compost. Otherwise, if exposed to the elements, the compost will break down further, losing nutrients as they seep into the surrounding soil.

A longer answer

There are several reasons why you might want to cover your compost pile – everything from geography to speed fits the list. Here are some reasons to consider covering a compost pile.

  • Lots of rain.If you live in a rainy region or perhaps are having a wet year, covering your compost pile can keep it from getting soggy. When this happens, there is not enough air inside the pile and the bacteria that spoil the pile die. This is when a compost pile becomes putrid and slimy.
  • You need compost fast.When you need compost quickly, a covered pile is the way to go. A cover keeps the heat in the pile, helping the good bacteria to work more efficiently. Covering effectively speeds up the process, shaving weeks (and even months) off the time needed to produce finished compost.
  • kill pestsA covered pile tends to get hot, producing the temperatures needed to kill weed seeds or disease.
  • Extend the season.In cold regions, a compost pile eventually freezes over, stopping the composting process. By covering a compost pile, you can keep it warm and active through the winter, which means you can get a harvest of "black gold" all winter long, even in places like Vermont or Wyoming.
(Video) Why Should You Cover a Compost Pile?

The right kind of compost cover

If you choose to cover your compost pile, it is important to use the correct type of cover. A tight tarp leaning against the top of the pile can restrict airflow and rain, leading to a musty, smelly mess. If you want to use a cape, consider these tips.

  • Lift it.The best mulch is hard and raised above the pile to create an air pocket. Plywood is a good choice, or build a simple frame from wood scraps and staple a high-quality landscaping fabric to allow air and moisture to pass through. Your lid should rest on the frame that contains the composting materials, not directly on top of the materials.
  • fold it downIf you live in a humid region, consider placing your compost pile under the eaves of a shed, garage, or even your house. The overhang would help exclude some of the rain and you wouldn't have to provide additional coverage.
  • keep darkIf your compost pile is in a sunny location, paint your cover a dark color to help it absorb the sun's heat radiation. This is especially useful in colder regions.
  • Think of isolation.For a winter mulch, consider a material that will insulate your compost pile. Wrap the compost with straw bales and place a wooden lid. Or cover the top of the pile with an air- and water-permeable mat.
  • Let it RainOccasionally remove the mulch during rain or a snowstorm to allow the compost to absorb well.

Conclusion on payment of coverage

Many gardeners have been composting for decades and have never covered a pile. They make good compost that is a wonderful addition to planting beds and seed starter mix. If you're building your first compost pile, it's okay to leave the pile uncovered. It can take months to get a finished product, but you'll learn and refine your process as you go. Gardening is a lifelong journey filled with learning, including the composting methods that work best for you.


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Is it best to cover a compost heap? ›

Cover the heap to protect against rain and add more brown waste, such as chopped woody material, shredded woodchip, straw or paper. Dry and fibrous with little rotting: Usually caused by too little moisture and too much brown material.

Does covering compost speed up composting? ›

The Short Answer. In most cases, a compost pile does not need a cover. Unfinished compost breaks down into a terrific soil additive if the pile is uncovered the whole time. Only three things are necessary for effective composting: air, water and a blend of brown and green material.

When should I cover my compost heap? ›

To hot compost you need to be sure that your compost pile is moist; located in full Sun if possible, turned periodically, and covered in the winter so that is doesn't get too cold and wet.

What are 3 things you shouldn't compost? ›

DON'T add meat scraps, bones, grease, whole eggs, or dairy products to the compost pile because they decompose slowly, cause odors, and can attract rodents. DON'T add pet feces or spent cat liter to the compost pile. DON'T add diseased plant material or weeds that have gone to seed.

Can I leave compost on top of soil? ›

You can sprinkle compost on top or mix it into your flower and vegetable beds, gently rake compost into tree beds, blend it with potting soil to revitalize indoor plants, or spread it on top of the soil on your lawn as a soil amendment.

What breaks down fastest in compost? ›

Some materials compost more easily than others. Materials such as wood and leaves are high in lignin, which is difficult to compost, especially when this material is large in size. Other materials, such as grass clippings and shredded paper, compost a lot faster.

How long does it take for compost to turn into usable soil? ›

Decomposition will be complete anywhere from two weeks to two years depending on the materials used, the size of the pile, and how often it is turned. Compost is ready when it has cooled, turned a rich brown color, and has decomposed into small soil-like particles. Step 5. Use the compost.

How can I make my compost more powerful? ›

To make good compost, you need a 50:50 mix of materials that are rich in nitrogen and carbon. Nitrogen comes from lush, green material such as grass clippings. Carbon comes from brown material, such as woody stems and cardboard. For every bucket load of green material, you need to add the same volume of brown.

Can compost get rained on? ›

Wind cools and dries the pile, while excessive rain results in coldness, waterlogging, leaching of plant nutrients, and slowing of the composting process. Excess rain tends to sour compost, because anaerobic (airless) decay predominates instead of aerobic decomposition.

Should compost be exposed to air? ›

Yes! Good airflow is one of the secrets to successful composting. Without it, your compost pile could turn into a stinky mess (literally).

Should I cover my compost pile for the winter? ›

Insulate compost in order to keep it from freezing solid and halting decomposition. Compost bins can be surrounded with bags of leaves or straw bales to buffer against freezing temperatures. Another option is to ring the inside of the bin with 6-12 inches of leaves, sawdust or woodchips.

Can compost sit too long? ›

The short answer is that composted organic matter does not go bad unless you store it improperly. It does, however, continue to break down, and that's completely normal.

What happens if compost sits too long? ›

It will lose much of its value if materials are left to decompose too long. The more time compost is left to sit around, the more “colloidal” it becomes. In other words, it becomes more and more compact as the composting microbes continue to feed on the waste materials.

Should compost bins be in full sun? ›

You can put your compost pile in the sun or in the shade, but putting it in the sun will hasten the composting process. Sun helps increase the temperature, so the bacteria and fungi work faster. This also means that your pile will dry out faster, especially in warm southern climates.

Can you put banana peels in compost? ›

Adding organic waste like fruit and vegetable matter is one of the best ways to improve your compost. Bananas are not only delicious but compostable. Banana peels are a suitable compost material and provide nutrient-rich additives such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium to your garden soil.

Can I put moldy bread in compost? ›

Answer: You can add moldy food (vegetables and fruits only) to a backyard composting bin anytime. Mold cells are just one of the many different types of microorganisms that take care of decomposition and are fine in a backyard bin.

What fruits Cannot be composted? ›


Citrus fruit, tomato products and pickled food products can do harm to your compost. High acidity can actually kill the good bacteria that helps break down the material in your compost pile.

Should I cover my compost pile in the winter? ›

Insulate compost in order to keep it from freezing solid and halting decomposition. Compost bins can be surrounded with bags of leaves or straw bales to buffer against freezing temperatures. Another option is to ring the inside of the bin with 6-12 inches of leaves, sawdust or woodchips.

How do you cover a compost pile? ›

No, an unfinished compost pile does not need to be covered in most cases. The most important factors for composting are air, water and a good mix of green and brown material. Covering a compost pile could cause a lack of oxygen, trap too much moisture and cause a smelly, anaerobic mess.

Should I cover my compost heap with carpet? ›

Water it if necessary in dry weather, and cover your heap with wood or woollen carpet to keep in heat and moisture without it becoming sodden. Uncovered heaps will rot slower than covered ones.

Can you leave compost over winter? ›

You can keep your compost bin active all year round.

In the autumn, the urban composter may look at the remains of their garden and wonder if they should let their compost go dormant over the winter. This would be an easy thing to do, but you still produce kitchen scraps even when winter has come.

At what temperature does composting stop? ›

Turning the compost when temperatures exceed 140° F (60° C) can prevent both these potential problems. When the temperature drops below 70° F (21° C), the composting process is nearly complete. However, it is also possible that imbalances of oxygen or moisture are causing the pile to cool.

What happens to compost pile in winter? ›

Although the decomposition process usually slows down in cooler weather, compost piles will keep working all year long. Residents of your pile, like bacteria, molds, mites and actinomycetes can survive the cold. However, to prolong their active life over the winter, they will need warmth, food, air, and moisture.

Should I let it rain on my compost? ›

Organisms need free contact with both soil and atmosphere and suitable environments of warmth and moisture. The pile should not be directly exposed to sun, wind, rain, nor sited in a low-lying place subject to unnecessary dampness and standing water.

Why is my compost full of maggots? ›

If you have too many 'greens' in your compost and not enough 'browns,' you shouldn't be surprised to see many of these guys in your compost. Another potential cause is not mixing or turning your compost pile, leading to moist pockets of food waste that maggots will flock to.

Should compost be in shade or sun? ›

Should my compost pile be in the sun or in the shade? You can put your compost pile in the sun or in the shade, but putting it in the sun will hasten the composting process. Sun helps increase the temperature, so the bacteria and fungi work faster.


1. Covering Your Compost Pile So It Can Heat Up
2. Does compost bin need a lid?
(Ask About HEALTH)
3. Should I water my compost pile?
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4. Should I Urinate On My Compost Or Woodchip Pile?
(Plant Abundance)
5. Compost Pile Has Become Too Wet
(Discover Permaculture with Geoff Lawton)
6. My Compost Pile Has A Cold! // How to Heat Up A Cold Compost Pile
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