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Compost Cost Guide

Compost is an excellent way to enhance any gardening or landscaping project. As an alternative to commercial fertilizers, compost is a greener method of increasing the nutrient content of soil or plant beds. Some products also contain pigmentation that can add color to garden spots as well as improve plants' growing environment. The varieties of composts available are all but limitless, although many forms have similar ingredients in their makeup.

The Averages

  • Average minimum: $25.00 per yard
  • Average maximum: $33 per yard

Materials & Uses

By definition, compost is a combination of decaying organic substances, including yard waste such as leaves, leaf meal and small twigs sometimes mixed with manure, that is primarily utilized to increase the fertility of soil. Plant-based materials are among the most common substances used to make compost; however, manure has long been used to replenish depleted soils and naturally provide plants with essential nutrients.

Regional variations in compost materials and overall composition are common, but in terms of composting methods, vermicomposting, which uses worms to help compost the organic material, is among the most popular methods in North America. In Europe, night-crawlers are used instead of worms. In Japan, the bokashi method, using microorganisms, is preferred to decrease the odor associated with food waste in composting.

Popular sources for manure used in composting are typically chickens or other poultry and cattle, which both have droppings that are rich in nutrients. Other waste can also be composted when combined with sawdust and other organic materials. This process is different from the use of biosolids, which refers to treated sewage, either Class A or B, with Class A typically considered the more desirable product. Class B should not be used with plants intended for human consumption.

While all forms of compost provide a benefit to both garden and ornamental varieties of growing plants, cost can be an important factor when considering whether to use compost and which type to purchase.


Compost is sold in a variety of quantities, including by the truck bed load, by the bag or pound, and by the yard. Purchasing compost in bulk units is often cheaper; however, many vendors, such as home improvement stores, do not provide this option to consumers. Other distributors such as local government or other agencies, by contrast, may only sell compost in this manner.

In general, compost that is largely plant-based material, such as that from yard waste sources, is more expensive than products that are derived principally from animal manure. This is not a matter of quality but user-friendliness. Manure-based products typically have a more unpleasant and noticeable odor than their yard waste counterparts, although this may be a matter of personal preference for some. Biosolids are often less odoriferous than manure. Products with pigmentation added, such as post-consumer mulch in red or green, can vary widely in terms of cost.

Costs also vary according to the region where the compost is purchased as determined by the cost of living and market trends. Pricing compost through multiple vendors may prove useful to save on overall expenses.

For large quantities, it may also be necessary to factor in additional costs such as delivery, equipment rental and purchase of safety equipment including gloves and face masks. Local delivery should not cost more than $30 for a truck load, and a spreader can generally be rented for $35 to $55 per week or on a daily basis. Priced between $15 - $25 at home improvement stores, shovels are generally better purchased outright because of their versatility for other jobs.

Advantages & Disadvantages

Advantages in terms of composting in general are numerous, with the most important benefits being that compost makes plants healthier and improves the quality of fruits, vegetables and flowers in addition to providing protection against the elements. While commercial fertilizer or other chemical additives may provide most of these benefits, compost has the advantage of being natural and more environmentally friendly and sustainable in its production and use. For soil that has been leached of its vital nutrient content, compost provides swifter and longer lasting remediation than fertilizer.

For specific types of compost, the advantages are less clearly delineated. In many ways, whether to use vermicompost, composted manure or Class A biosolids can be as much a question of tradition or personal preference as determined by the results provided by each one. Research on the topic is unclear, although recent studies favor the use of a vermicompost tea along with 10 percent worm castings to expedite plant growth.

In terms of disadvantages, compost tends to be messier than commercial fertilizers and similar products. Some forms have a strong odor that can deter people from using compost very close to residences, but in most cases, the scent dissipates quickly after use. Sensitive individuals might want to avoid using chicken or duck manure on account of the smell.

Improperly processed compost lacking necessary thermophilic decomposition may contain unhealthy elements, including disease-causing bacteria; however, this phenomenon is quite rare. Unfortunately, outbreaks of Legionnaires' disease reported in England in 2008 and 2013 were subsequently linked to bags of peat-based and sawdust-containing compost. The risk of infection can be substantially reduced by wearing gardening gloves and a face mask while handling compost and also by keeping bagged compost slightly moist to avoid bacteria getting into the air through dust. Hand-washing also helps.

Utilizing compost in the garden is an excellent way to make sure that valuable plants thrive and that garden plants are fruitful. Some types of compost are more expensive than others; however, this should not be the principal or deciding factor when selecting a product. Instead, gardeners should choose the available type with which they are the most comfortable, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of the various composts to make their decision.

Last updated on May 23, 2016

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