How long does it take for a compost pile to decompose? Garden Tips 2024

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Most experienced gardeners know the importance of a compost bin. Not only does it provide nutrients back into your garden, but it is inexpensive and prevents waste. Find out how long you have to wait to have compost ready for your garden.

How long does it take for a compost pile to decompose: Compost needs a mixture of green matter, like vegetable scraps, and brown matter, like dead leaves. It also needs air and water. Compost under the perfect circumstances will decompose in as little as four weeks but most of the time it can take up to six months to be ready to go in your garden.

Factors that affect compost pile decomposition


The smaller the size of an organic object, the faster it will decompose. If you have a bin for vegetable scraps in your kitchen that you want to add to your garden, take the time to cut them into smaller pieces first.

Similarly, if you are adding brown matter, such as leaves, try to cut them up or mulch them first to speed up the process.


Compost needs to breathe. If it is too compacted, the material will stay in its original form and won’t break down.

Many compost bins are sold with an aeration tool. This is a long spike that you can use to break up parts of the compost that are lower in the bin.

You will want to aerate your compost at least once a week. This will help speed up the whole process.

If you find your compost is too compacted, take a shovel and dig out the material from the bottom. Then, add it back in, breaking up chunks as you go along.


Your compost needs a mixture of brown and green material to function at its best. Brown material includes leaves and dead plants. Green material includes vegetable and fruit peels.

The problem that often arises is that people add more green material in the summer and more brown material in the fall, which creates an off-balance compost.

You can help this situation out by keeping your fallen leaves in a separate container and then adding them throughout the year. You can also use shredded newspapers as brown material to offset an abundance of green material.


Your compost should be kept moist but not soggy. Furthermore, it shouldn’t dry out.

Some people will take the tops off their compost bins to allow rainfall to happen, but this can alter the temperature inside the bin.

The best step is to water your compost every week. At the same time, you turn your compost, and water the bin to keep it at the right consistency.


Unfortunately, even the best compost bin will slow down its decomposition rate during the winter. The bin simply can’t compete against the cold temperatures.

In order to get to the important thermophilic phase, in which bacteria break down the compost, the bin needs to reach between 122 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Obviously, this is too high to be at all times, but it can be achieved at the height of the afternoon in the middle of the compost bin.

If you can, place your compost in a sunny spot. The heat will radiate into the black material, which will trap the warmth and in turn, warm the compost.


Place your compost in an area where water won’t pool under it. For example, if it is at the bottom of a hill, it might collect water runoff from the area.

Too much water can create a soggy environment, which will impact the rate of decomposition. A flat area is the best place for a compost bin.

Plant matter

While you can place any dead plants in your compost, this will slow down the rate of decomposition. Plants that have thick stems take a lot longer to break down.

To help the process, cut up any plants into smaller pieces. You can also try to break them apart to spread out the brown matter, for a more even ratio inside the bin.

Worm composting

Also known as vermicomposting, this is where you add worms to your bin. The worms can technically be any kind, but it is better to use red wigglers.

The worms will speed up the composting process as they will work through and digest the organic matter. They will also naturally aerate the compost bin, which will also speed up the decomposition phase.

How long does it take compost to decompose?

It can take as little as four weeks to complete the decomposition process of compost or as much as 12 weeks. It all depends on how you set up your bin and what you add to it.

If you only use mulched leaves and cut-up vegetable scraps, plus add worms, the process won’t take much time. However, if you forget about your compost and add larger items, it can take a whole year to decompose.

Do I need two compost bins?

Compost bins work because the smaller particles naturally drop to the bottom. There is a hatch at the bottom you can then shovel the ready compost out of while still adding new items to the top opening.

However, this means you won’t have as much compost ready at one time. If you have enough space and enough items to fill your bin, you might want to consider two compost bins.

With two bins, you can cycle through and have bulk batches of compost. Then, you can fill one bin up, let it process, and start working on filling up the second bin.

How do you speed up the decomposition of a compost pile?

To get compost ready faster, make sure you alternate layers of green and brown items. Keep the compost in small pieces.

Water your compost once a week and aerate it once or twice a week. You can even add worms to make the work go even faster.


Compost can decompose in as little as four weeks, but this is only if you keep the items very small and are diligent about watering and turning the pile. However, even if you forget about your compost, it will work to decompose on its own.

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