GREEN & GROWING Nourish Your Garden & Lawn with Compost & Mulch

By Linda Wiggen Kraft

Healthy Planet Green & Growing Editor

 As we dream of soon-to-bloom gardens, don’t forget that now is a time to nourish the garden with compost and mulch.  Although every home needs to compost, more than can be created at home is usually needed for garden beds, shrubs and trees.  Often there is confusion about compost and mulch.  Here is a primer on what materials to use and where to get them.



Compost is created from the natural decomposition process of plant parts like leaves, stems, branches, glass clippings and other plant materials.  These ingredients are put in a pile where bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms break down the materials creating a nutrient filled substance that can be used in, or on top of, the soil.  As plant materials break down, heat is produced killing weed seeds and pathogens.  The color becomes a natural dark brown.  Composting facilities that collect large quantities of leaves and plant materials will shred and screen the materials, add materials for ph balance and nutrients, and turn the piles with large machinery.  This breaks down materials quicker and ensures quality.


Compost can be made of single items like tree leaves that are collected in the fall. Often called “leaf mold”, it is an excellent compost.   Compost can be a combination of  collected garden trimmings, twigs, branch clippings,  grass clippings and sometimes manure. Some composts may also contain waste wood and gypsum from drywall.


Compost brings nutrients to the soil and feeds the organisms in the soil from microscopic sizes to worms and insects.  These organisms in turn help feed the plants. Compost also keeps moisture in the soil, improves its texture, keeps it cool in summer and warm in winter, and helps stop weed growth. Compost’s most frequent use is as a mulch.


New flower garden beds need a rich loose textured soil with lots of organic matter in it. Aged compost is the best material to add to heavy clay soils, which is what most local topsoil is. Compost can be dug or rototilled in. It is best to do soil prep in the fall or winter at least several months before planting.   Already mixed compost and soil is available from local suppliers and plants can be planted at any time, with no waiting.


Lawns can be enriched with a thin ½ layer of compost added in the spring and fall.  An online video that demonstrates this is found at www.safelawns.org under “How-To Videos – Top Dressing with Compost” section.



Mulch is a two to three inch layer of compost, wood chips, bark shavings, or other materials that are put on top of garden beds and around trees and shrubs.  Mulches keep the soil moist, cooler in summer, warmer in winter, and keep weeds from growing.  Compost can be used as a mulch, and is the only one recommended to use on flower and vegetable beds.  Because it is decomposed already, it can give soil nutrients that will help plants flourish.  Mulches made of wood and bark are not good for flower and vegetable beds because they actually take nitrogen and other nutrients away from the soil and plants as wood and bark breakdown. Eventually these mulches will feed the soil, but not until they are broken down.  Wood and bark are good mulches for larger trees and shrubs.


Don’t buy mulches made of materials that don’t break down, like stones and gravel. They do not feed the soil and help plants grow.  Mulch made of ground up rubber tires is highly controversial with most research highlighting its toxic qualities.  Cypress mulch is made from clear cutting endangered old growth cypress forests in southern swamps.  Cypress mulch is generally sold in big box stores.


All garden beds, trees and shrubs should be mulched.  Compost should be used for flower and vegetable beds.   Lawns should have a thin ½ inch layer of compost spread spring and fall. Compost or wood mulch can be used as mulch for trees and shrubs. Make sure not to put mulch up against the trunk of a tree.  This can kill the tree. Instead create a “doughnut” with mulch at least six inches away from the tree trunk.


An organic fertilizer can be spread under the mulch. Organic fertilizers are slow release in that nutrients are made available to the plants over time with the help of microorganisms and warmer weather.


Winter is a great time to spread mulch on gardens and around shrubs and trees.  Gardens are cleaned up and easy to work in.  Make sure to minimize walking on the garden soil to avoid compacting it and avoid mulching perennials that don’t like to be covered.



Compost & Mulch Sources

Compost and mulch are available from local commercial producers and some of the cities in the metro region. Check your city’s website or call the main office to see if it available and where. Commercial producers offer more products and may deliver to your home or business.  Here are some of those suppliers.


St. Louis Compost, Valley Park is the largest producer of garden compost and mulch made from green landscape materials in Missouri. They have locations in Valley Park, MO (636 861-3344) and Belleville, IL (618 233-2007).  They produce four kinds of compost, eleven kinds of mulch, four kinds of soil and soil mixes, and eleven bagged products for sale at garden centers.  Garden Mix is a 50/50 blend of topsoil and compost that is great for instant flower and vegetable garden beds.   They deliver to homes and businesses or materials can be picked up.  Also available at select garden centers. www.stlcompost.com


ORMI, Organic Resource Management, Inc., Florissant, MO (314 355-0052) uses green landscape materials for compost, leaf mulch, five types of wood mulch and soil mixes. They deliver to homes and businesses or materials can be picked up. www.ormiorganics.com


Hansen’s Tree Service O’Fallon, MO (636 379-1830) creates compost and mulch from green garden materials and also incorporates gypsum from drywall for calcium into the composts.  They deliver to homes and businesses, materials can be picked up, and products are available at select garden centers. www.hansenstree.com


Missouri Mulch, New Florence, MO (573 252-2520) creates mulch from 100% white oak used to make wine barrels.  They also use cedar.  This wood comes from local forests to make wine barrels for the world’s largest wine barrel manufacturer, which is located in Missouri. The left over wood is used for six kinds of mulch and chips sold in bulk and three kinds sold in bags.  A potting mix is also available.  Missouri mulch also has a fund raising program now in three different areas of the region with Boy Scout troops pre-selling mulch in bags and then delivering it to homes.  This could become the Boy Scout version of cookie sales.  Mulch is available at select garden centers.  www.missourimulch.com

Organic Composts

Bradfield Organics, Bentwood, MO is a Missouri based nationally sold organic fertilizer and garden amendments producer.  The 40 lb. bag of Luscious Lawn & Garden is OMRI listed and can be used as compost.  Check website for local garden center locations: www.bradfieldorganics.com

BioFlora, Goodyear, AZ, produces high quality organic soil compost and amendments for garden and lawn.  Their OMRI listed Organic Compost has fish, seaweed, manures and plant parts.  Available at Greene’s Country Store, Lake St. Louis, (636) 561-6637,


Organic & Carbon Footprint

Compost and mulches made from organic matter are “organic” by chemical definition. In most cases they are not “organic” by the standards for growing food.  Locally made compost and mulches are produced from garden, lawns, landscape plants, forest trees and sometimes palette wood and gypsum.  Organically grown and non-organically grown plants are part of the mixture.  Leaf compost is mainly from raked leaves that are put into the street. There are bagged composts that are listed by OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) that qualify as organic and can be used in organic food production. BioFlora and Bradfield Organics are two OMRI listed companies.   Some products are not OMRI listed but would still qualify as acceptable for organic food growing.

Find our what is in the compost and mulch you use.  Ask the seller what is in the product so you are comfortable using it in your landscape. Read the labels on bags, and ask for an ingredients list from the sellers of bulk compost and mulch to know what you are using in your gardens.   For the foods you grow you may want to buy organic compost.  Also consider where these products are made.  Are they local, or do they travel many miles to get here?  Be an informed consumer and gardener for your life and the life of the garden.