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New Mexico State University

Issue: December 5

There are several reasons why people do not compost

Q. I have noticed garbage bags filled with leaves in front of many houses recently. Why do people not use these leaves to make compost or mulch for their gardens? Their leaves are a valuable resource?

No Name Please

A. There are many reasons that people do not compost their leaves and other lawn waste (and kitchen vegetable waste). Some do not compost because they are busy and consider it too much trouble. These are good people to ask for their leaves so that you can compost them and improve your garden. Some are afraid it will stink. These people are good candidates for encouraging and teaching to compost.

Many people have no idea how much compost improves their gardens. The recycling of nutrients back into the landscape is important, the water-holding and soil improving capabilities of compost improve water use in the garden and make the soil easier to work each year. They also do not know the economic costs of sending these large quantities of compostable materials to the municipal landfill. Recycling of lawn and kitchen wastes reduces the waste stream input into the local landfill, reducing transportation costs and the need to more quickly find new land (often farther from town) for new landfills as the old landfills are filled with wastes. These are factors that cause continuing increases in garbage rates. There is no reason to use up the landfill with material that does not need to be put there.

It is interesting that some of these same people who do not compost will pay money to purchase fertilizer and soil amendments (commercially produced compost and manure), haul these materials, and work them into their gardens. Gardeners who do not add organic amendments (compost) to their garden spend more money on commercial fertilizer and irrigation than those who add compost to their garden.

Composting is not extremely difficult. When done properly it does not create foul odors over a large area (yes, there will be an odor near the compost, but only within a few feet). Information about composting is available from a number of sources including your local Cooperative Extension Service office or online at the NMSU College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences web site. Look for publications H-110, H-122, H-164, and others

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension publications World Wide Web site at

Send your gardening questions to:

Yard and Garden, Attn: Dr. Curtis Smith
NMSU Agricultural Science Center
1036 Miller Rd. SW
Los Lunas, NM 87031

Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. NMSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating.