Free or Almost Free Composting Materials

Are you looking for a substance that will: add fertility to your soil, improve it’s tilt, conserve precious water, and buffer the roots of your plants against our searing summer temperatures? Then compost is the ticket!

Here is a list of places where you can usually get free or almost-free mulch and composting materials.

  • Seaweed: the beach, especially right after a storm. Rinse in clear water before using in the garden to remove excess salt. 
  • Leaves: Your own trees, friends, neighbors, family. Kids can rake leaves in the neighborhood for “good deeds” or for pay, and then bring the leaves home for composting. Elderly people may especially benefit from having fall leaves raked for them. Have a sign in your yard saying “Leave your bagged leaves here!”. Compost the leaves right in the bags over the winter and dump out free fertilizer in the spring!
  • Wood Chips: Call local tree trimming services, and ask them what they charge to drop off a truck load of chipped pruning – sometimes if they are working in your area, you can get the whole truckload for a small fee, or for iced tea! If your local companies just pay to leave these trimmings in the landfill, you are saving them time and money. Just be sure you want LOTS of wood chips – the last time I did this, I ended up with enough to make 120 wheelbarrow-loads! Wood chips are great around permanent raised beds, and in flower beds or herb gardens.
  • Spoiled Hay: Stables and dairies will sometimes allow you to buy spoiled hay for a little bit of nothing, or will allow you to cart it off for them. They can’t feed it to their stock because spoiled hay has a fungus in it that creates a deadly toxin. Hay sellers may also have spoiled hay that they can no longer sell, and may be willing to let it go for cheap. Check the Classifieds in your local paper under Livestock, Feeds, and call a few dealers.
  • Animal Bedding: Stables take the soiled straw from the stalls and store it in piles out back, where it may sit for weeks, actually beginning the composting process for you. If you have access to a pickup truck or a trailer, a polite request will usually get you permission to haul as much of it away as you want. Horse manure is a great fertilizer, which when mixed with the straw makes a great compost. It is also one of the less “smelly” manures you can use in a garden.
  • Sawdust: Sawmills, pallet factories, wood-working shops all accumulate mountains of sawdust! While it can’t really be used as is for mulch near growing plants (it will tie up a lot of nitrogen in your soil while it decomposes and can’t be piled on thickly because it will heat up) it can be used very effectively as a “brown” in your compost pile. Just be sure the place you get it from doesn’t cut up treated wood.