Is Compost and Yard Waste the Same Thing?

When getting started with composting, it can be a lot to take in. The materials that you hear described as composting materials can often come from your yard. So, let’s talk about the possible differences between your yard waste and compost. 

Compost and yard waste are not the same things, though they have many similarities. Compost consists of decomposed materials. Sometimes, those materials come from yard waste, but not every material in compost comes from your yard. 

Let’s break down this difference even more to help clear up the major differences between yard waste and compost. 

Is All Compost Yard Waste?

Not all compost is yard waste. In fact, you can have compost without any yard waste, depending on the resources you have available. So, yard waste is a common ingredient in a compost pile, but they are certainly not the same thing. 

Compost consists of two different types of materials: green and brown. Green materials provide nitrogen, while brown materials provide carbon. This balance of nitrogen and carbon is vital in making the perfect compost pile. Green and brown materials can be found all over the place, but they are also commonly found in yard waste. 

Yard Waste You Can Use for Compost Materials

There is plenty of yard waste that you can add to your compost pile. The things we throw out every day like branches, leaves, and grass clippings can all be highly beneficial for your compost heap. Let’s break down how these materials can benefit your compost pile. 

First, branches provide a great source of carbon. They also help add some texture to your compost heap. In fact, many people layer branches at the bottom of their heap to allow air to get in and water to drain. The main thing you need to know about composting branches is that they take a long time to decompose. So, use them with caution. 

Leaves are another great material to add to your compost. They are a good source of carbon, similar to branches. This is because we collect them as they fall from trees. Once leaves fall, they begin to dry out and no longer remain fresh. So, they will be another great addition to your compost pile. 

Finally, grass clippings are one of the more diverse yard waste materials you can add to your compost. This is because they can act as green or brown materials, depending on when you use them. Freshly cut grass clippings have not had time to dry out and are still a great nitrogen source. As the grass ages and turns brown, they become a source of carbon instead.

Compost Materials That Don’t Come From Your Yard

There are plenty of compost materials that aren’t yard waste. In fact, most of the things you use every day can benefit your compost pile. Things like food scraps, fruits, vegetables, coffee, eggshells, sawdust, paper, and even tea bags are all great options for compost materials that you can easily find around your home. 

As you learn more about composting, you will also learn which of your household items can and can’t go into your pile. With so many compost material options available, it is clear that yard waste and compost are completely different things that can sometimes work together. 

What Is the Difference Between Yard Waste and Compost?

If you use yard waste in your compost pile, you may wonder what the main difference is between the two. While you can use your yard waste in a compost pile, the waste itself is not yet compost until the decomposition process is complete. For example, an untouched pile of leaves is not a compost pile. 

The process of composting takes the right balance of materials, water, oxygen, heat, and time. So, a pile of discarded yard waste will not become compost without your help. Yard waste does not have the same benefits as compost. If you add yard waste to your garden or lawn, it will absorb nutrients from the soil rather than release nutrients. 

This is the same outcome that you get when you spread your compost pile before it is ready to use. This can cause the compost to absorb nutrients from the soil, causing those plants to suffer rather than adding nutrients to help them grow. So, compost consists of materials, sometimes yard waste, that have decomposed and now add nutrients to other plants. 

How To Compost Yard Waste

Now that we discussed the difference between yard waste and compost let’s talk about how to compost your yard waste to help make your garden healthier. Just because we refer to it as yard waste doesn’t mean we can’t find a use for it. Consider composting your yard waste if you want to be able to reuse it. 

The first step to having a successful compost pile is to ensure you have the right materials. We already listed the yard waste that you can use in your compost pile, but let’s break down how much to use. Some people have their own preferred combination of materials, but most agree that 50/50 is a great place to start. 

So, we recommend gathering 50% brown materials and 50% green materials to start your first compost pile. As you get more experienced with composting, you will come up with your own ratio that you are comfortable with. As the pile begins the composting process, you will notice if there are other materials that it needs. 

Next, form your pile in a place that gets a good amount of sunlight every day. This will provide the heat that your compost pile needs to decompose and kill off any weeds that may have found their way into the pile. 

If you use yard clippings for your compost pile, then you need to ensure you turn the pile regularly. This is because yard materials tend to be heavier and thicker. While this is great for creating a large compost heap, it can slow down the decomposition process if the heat doesn’t reach every part of the pile. 

Along with regularly turning the pile, some yard waste can take a long time to decompose. This is especially true for branches and other materials that are large or chunky. To prevent this from delaying the decomposition of your pile, you can trim branches before adding them to the pile. This will ensure that they decompose faster and ensure your pile is ready sooner. 

Finding the Right Balance

While 50/50 is a great starting point, that is not going to work for every compost pile. You should pay attention to the compost pile while the process is ongoing to determine if it needs anything from you. Remember that carbon keeps the pile healthy while nitrogen speeds up the composting process. If you want to read more about nitrogen’s impact on your pile, check out my other articlewhere I go into more detail: Does Nitrogen Speed Up Composting? Science Explained

There will be signs along the way if your compost pile needs something to help the process. For example, you may notice certain symptoms indicating a certain material is lacking. One thing that is easy to do when working with yard waste is to add too many brown materials to the pile. This can slow down the composting process quite a bit. 

In fact, having too much brown material and not enough green is quite common in the composting world. So, don’t expect to get it perfect every time. If you notice your compost heap is too dry and not decomposing as quickly as you anticipated, you may have too much brown material in your pile. You can easily offset this by adding more green material. 

Alternatively, your pile may not have enough brown material. In this case, you may notice a sour smell and see too much water in a pile. Some smell is normal, but anything foul should be concerning. You don’t want a smelly swamp pile in the middle of your yard. So, add some more brown material to help absorb the excess water and dry out the pile. 

Ultimately, the composting process is about finding the right balance of brown and green materials. Then, you should make adjustments as you go. Remember, needing to add materials over time doesn’t mean you messed up. Sometimes, certain compost microorganisms just require more nitrogen or carbon to decompose successfully. 

Final Thoughts

While yard waste can be a great asset to any compost pile, they are not the same thing. You can compost completely without yard waste, and simply leaving your yard waste unattended will not allow it to compost. So, use the yard waste you have available to ensure that your compost pile is strong and those resources don’t go to waste.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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