Poorly screened compost … a Gardening Oops

A topdressing with compost is a great way to begin the process of refurbishing an aging and abused lawn. A little bit, just a quarter inch, spread and raked into a grassy area provides nutrients and introduces beneficial soil organisms. My husband took on this job for a high traffic area of our lawn. Unfortunately, the task involved a bit more work than anticipated, making it the topic of my Gardening Oops – GOOPs – post for May 2012.

I believe that all gardeners make mistakes. If you are out there playing with plants you are bound to forget something, mis-plant something, or have a gardener’s brain freeze that results in a GOOPs. I also believe too many people refrain from trying an idea or a new task because they are afraid of making a mistake. But if we, as gardeners, admit and share mistakes we might make new gardeners … or even each other … more comfortable with investigating the activity of growing plants.

My GOOPs this month is about purchased compost.

I make compost … as much as I possibly can. I use it in vegetable and ornamental beds and mix it into planting medium for container plants. But I have yet to make enough compost to meet all our needs, nor have I met another gardener able to do so. This forces compost users to seek other, preferably local, sources of quality compost for tasks like topdressing a lawn.

Our lawn has taken a beating over the last few years and is screaming for our attention. Lawn is not the top priority in our landscape – we tend toward the easiest form of lawn care, but we do want what’s there to be healthy. So my husband found a local compost source, paid his money, and brought a pick-up truck load of compost home.


Compost for topdressing lawn should be screened to a quarter-inch or less. Do you see the larger chunks of material in this blend? These are not clumps of soil. Take a closer look.


This is the size of the partially composted material we had to hand screen, one wheelbarrow at a time, from the truckload.


This is the method I use to screen all the compost I make for my gardens, but I do small batches at a time. This job required hand screening a truck load of compost all at once, and getting it spread before ensuing rain.

The lesson here? Either make sure the compost you are purchasing has been processed through 1/4 inch screen or be prepared to do the job yourself.

Do you have a GOOPs to share? Don’t be shy. Tell your tale in a comment below or share your GOOPs on your own blog and leave a teaser below.

I’ve declared the first of each month GOOPs day at joene’s garden. Here’s a peek at past GOOPs. I hope you’ll join the GOOPs party. If you’ve not had a gardening faux pas you’ve not gardened hard enough.

For more information on organic lawn care peruse the information provided by the Northeast Organic Farming Association’s organic land care website. You may find Introduction to OLC particularly useful. You can even download a free copy of NOFA’s Introduction to Organic Lawns and Yards.

Garden thoughtfully … may my GOOPs prevent your GOOPs.

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8 comments for “Poorly screened compost … a Gardening Oops

  1. May 1, 2012 at 8:29 am

    What a job. Not what you expected to have to do when you bought compost. My sympathies!

    My mistake is a very bad one and it is on my blog today. I really goofed.

    (Great article in Connecticut Gardener this month. I was delighted to see your photo and the good info on recycling pots.)

    • May 1, 2012 at 9:11 am

      Laurrie, the topdressing task took more time than we expected and gave us some sore muscles. We are glad at least part of the lawn is done.

      Glad you enjoyed the article in Connecticut Gardener. Spread the word about this great local resource for local gardeners.

  2. May 1, 2012 at 8:34 am

    Wow…that was a job and a half! My homemade compost comes out pretty clean except for the occasional nutshell or avocado pit. We put bagged compost on the lawn, and many times I have to get my hands into the wheelbarrow and crush those large clumps. I suppose some of it hardens and clumps in the bag.

    • May 1, 2012 at 9:13 am

      My homemade compost is cleaner than what we purchased, Sage Butterfly. We may have to move to bagged compost unless we find a better local compost source.

  3. May 1, 2012 at 9:23 am

    We get stuff (notice I didn’t say compost) like that from our municipal landfill–free for the shoveling into one’s pickup truck. It is composted yard waste. I will use it as a soil amendment in flower beds, and I screen small amounts for inclusion in potting soil. The price is right and I do know what I’m getting. We won’t even use it in our vegetable garden as we don’t know how much of the yard waste was sprayed. But it’s not fun when you do pay for it and it’s not what you expected. You should make GOOPs into a meme. Pick a day and encourage other bloggers to post their mistakes on the same day.

    • May 1, 2012 at 9:32 am

      Kathy, I don’t have a municipal compost source and even if it did I would probably not use it. Too many people still use chemicals and chemical residues definitely remain in composted material. My own compost or purchased organic compost is all I will use for edibles and containers.

      Thanks for your suggestion. You are obviously not aware that GOOPs has been a blog meme on the first of each month for more than two years. Now that you know about it I hope you will participate. Your experience will be a great addition to our GOOPs group.

  4. May 3, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    Ah, composting–it’s definitely a GOOPS issue for sure. I love, love, love turning my kitchen waste and junk mail into black gold, but it does take time and the fine art of learning through mistakes. Mine include dumping dog poop in, shredding envelopes with their “windows” and putting in cardboard with the wrapping tape still on it. The last was actually done by a man I’ve been legally joined to for 30 years, and whom I love deeply. However, his action did cause a “What were you thinking encounter.”

    Thanks for the very nice post!

    • May 3, 2012 at 8:22 pm

      Very funny, Benita. I’m always finding the oval sticky labels affixed to fruit. Somehow I never get all of these off before the compost stage. Those damn stickers last for years. Hope you weren’t too rough on the hubby … we all do things like this.

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