Buying compost in Virginia

threeorangeboysFebruary 18, 2008

So, I have a compost tumbler, but I just can't make enough compost for the garden. I know the tumblers are a bit of a pain and not the best set up, but it's all I've got room for in my city garden.

I'm in Virginia, and I've had trouble finding a source of good, local, organic compost. I've added manure, but seems like everyone recommends adding a more complete compost. My soil is definitely not great, and I really want to amend it this year.

At Gardener's Supply, they sell bags of compost that are wonderful and rich, but they are $14 a bag and my husband pitches a fit each time I buy them!

Does anyone of any recommendations of where I should go? I'm in Northern Virginia right outside of DC.

I'd really appreciate any advice you can offer! Thanks

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the_virginian(Zone 7 NoVA)

Have you tried home depot or lowes? They usually have a great selection. Leaf pro or someother product is usually on their shelves and it doesn't cost $14.00 per bag either. How large an area are you trying to improve? For a small city garden a few bags should be enough. Have you also thought of amending the soil with shredded leaves that you can get for nothing in the neighborhood? Just a few thoughts.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2008 at 9:00PM
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Yes, I've added tons of leaf mulch. I have about 250 square feet of garden, so it isn't much. I wasn't sure about the stuff at Home Depot. I read an article that said you have to be careful that it really is compost, not just shredded bark. You think leaf pro is good stuff?

    Bookmark   February 18, 2008 at 9:10PM
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crabjoe(z7 MD)

I've never heard of Leaf Pro, but I know of Leafgro. Leaf grow is produced by Maryland Environmental Service (MES) and is great compost.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2008 at 11:41PM
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the_virginian(Zone 7 NoVA)

If you have red clay soil like I do, adding some compost helps, but over the long term mulching well and adding shredded leaves in the Fall has always made better soil in the end. Let nature incorporate all the organic matter for you.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2008 at 4:26PM
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Yes, I think I did something a little stupid when we first moved in. I just removed all the clay and replaced it with bags of top soil and manure from Home Depot, thinking the clay was really bad. I later learned that the clay is high in nutrients, and the top soil from home depot is like giving your plants rice cakes. Eek! So, I'm trying to amend my damage. I thought maybe leaf mulch as well as some compost would help.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2008 at 9:11AM
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the_virginian(Zone 7 NoVA)

How deep down did you remove the clay? Any chance that you can somehow put it back and amend it in? Almost any organic matter in bulk will be great for your beds in this case.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2008 at 2:04PM
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You know, that is a good question. My mom lives about 20 minutes from here, and I think I might go pilfer some clay from her. She's got plenty to spare! By organic matter what do you mean? Just anything?

    Bookmark   February 20, 2008 at 10:44PM
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the_virginian(Zone 7 NoVA)

Getting some of the clay back will be a good thing and amending the soil with almost any sane source of organic matter will work. If it were my area, I would add more chopped leaves, some sort of compost/leaf mold from HD or Lowes and lots of Milorganite. I'd till it all in with my Mantis tiller to about 5-8 inches deep (can be done by hand if needed,) plant and mulch with some kind of wood mulch. From then on I would add a top dressing of chopped leaves and or home made compost, fertilizer in the late Spring with Milorganite and keep mulching. Let the worms and other soil creatures do the work for you. I didn't believe it at first, but after seeing how rich my clay soil has become now I know it works! Check out my website and you can see how tall I can grow cold hardy bananas, tropicals and cold hardy palms in Virginia in one season. At this point all I do is add the chopped leaves, plant, put down Milorganite and lots of water in the drought last summer. Tell me what you think.

Here is a link that might be useful: Panama John's Tropical Zone

    Bookmark   February 21, 2008 at 12:12AM
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wow! your place is amazing. Where are you in Virginia? I've added lots of mulched leaves, so I'll keep doing that. I'll get some of the clay back, definitely. I can do the Milorganite too. I've never heard of that before. And that is organic, yes? I don't want to use chemical fertilizers in my garden is why I ask.

Love your cannas! I tried them for the first time last summer with mixed success. Do you dig them up during the winter?

    Bookmark   February 21, 2008 at 1:30PM
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the_virginian(Zone 7 NoVA)

We are in Loudoun county between Sterling and Great Falls, VA. Thanks for the compliment and we even have an informal group that helps other "trop-aholics" get started or expand on the hobby of cold hardy tropical gardening. I do not use chemicals in my garden either if I can help it and always try the natural approach first. Milorganite is organic sterilized non-industrial sewage that is totally safe to use on everything and compared chemical fertilizers is low in everything that could possibly be harmful. My wife is a micro-biologist and she not only had to test this stuff for biological hazards, but her lab did the chemical testing for toxins and heavy metals and it turns out our tap water has more harmful stuff in much greater concentrations in it than Milorganite. Her report was for an EPA and DoD bioremediation project where everything had to turn out biologically and chemically clean by the standards mandated and Milorganite was well below the maximums. So, in a nutshell this stuff is organic and very safe to use on everything, look at the MDS on their website. Also the sewer system in Milwaukee where it is made does not let any heavy industry dump into the sewers with very stiff fines from monitoring if they somehow try. The only industry that does dump organic waste into the sewer is the brewing industry which is a plus for Milorganite as a product. Try it you will love it and the results you get. Let me know if you would like to come to one of our Spring garden meetings as you would be most welcome. Good luck with the beds as it sounds like you are on the right path.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2008 at 3:12PM
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leslies(z7 No VA)

Karen Rexrode and her husband (whose name escapes me just now) sell compost by the truckload and it's on sale now. Their sign is out on Route 50 near Gilbert's Corners, but I don't know exactly where their compost pile is.

I bought an 8-yard truckload the year before last and thought it was pretty good. It's a mix of dark brown soil-like stuff with chunks of decomposing wood. It's got a heavy texture and I originally wondered if they mixed it with soil or clay, but decided they probably didn't. I used it for potting up plants for the MAG swap as well as for amending in the garden.

703 327 6413

    Bookmark   February 21, 2008 at 3:53PM
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the_virginian(Zone 7 NoVA)

Some of the cannas I dig up, but many make it through the winter with just a little mulch for cover. I think if you tried some near the house or a fence in full sun they should do just fine. BTW, they grow that large from Milorganite.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2008 at 4:46PM
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crabjoe(z7 MD)


I tried to look over your site, but it doesn't work correctly. With FireFox, the menus don't work, and with IE6, I get an "Unspecified Error at Line ..."

I'd love to see the pics... Do you by chance have the pics available through a different site?


    Bookmark   February 21, 2008 at 5:43PM
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I'm in SW VA, and recently found several sources for "artisan" compost by searching at Two places within 30 miles offered top quality composted organic farm manure, available delivered or picked up.

It sounds to me like you could use some good bottomland topsoil, which is might be easiest to find through a commercial landscaper. Sometimes the topsoil from box stores (in really big bags) is pretty good. Buy sample bags of cheap stuff and try it out, and opt for mucky over sandy.

The point is to re-establish a mineral substrate, which is necessary before all that great organic matter will morph into a solid soil structure. Clay particles (from your mother's yard or imported mucky topsoil) will gain you some drought tolerance, but more importantly they should prove hospitable to the types of soil flora and fauna that were once native to the site.

Sounds like you're doing a fine job to me. Great soil takes time, but eventually it gets so good that you'll want to work it with your bare hands...

Here is a link that might be useful: my website

    Bookmark   February 21, 2008 at 8:36PM
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Thanks so much Barbara. I've only had a garden for four years now, and the best lesson it is teaching me is patience. I'll look into the topsoil. I guess the lesson is you just have to keep working at it. I read Tracy DiSabato's chapter on soil in the Well-Tended Perennial Garden, and my eyes began to glaze over! Seems like you can get extremely complex, or you can just follow basic principles with all this.

Your website is lovely!

    Bookmark   February 22, 2008 at 10:22AM
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the_virginian(Zone 7 NoVA)

Crabjoe: Unfortunately Mozilla FireFox has this problem with lots of websites and unfortunately mine is one of them. I don't have them posted another way, the only thing I can think of is go to the link on my website for Boca Joe's website and he has some Smugmug of my yard and his. Do a google search for him and you can find his site if that doesn't work. Let me know how it turns out.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2008 at 12:28PM
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crabjoe(z7 MD)


I think I found it!

Panama John

Let me know if that's it. And if so, I've got some questions for you. Where do I get a hat like yours and is that a Cumquat tree fruiting? If it is a Cumquat tree, how do you keep it alive over the winter and does it fruit most years?


    Bookmark   February 22, 2008 at 4:05PM
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the_virginian(Zone 7 NoVA)

CrabJoe: You got it and the large "Yeti" in the jungle is me. The pith helmets can be found on the web with no problem, do a search and there are several sources. I wish that was a Kumquat tree, rather it is Picornus Trifoliate or "sour orange" that is very hardy here, but the fruit it produces annually is as sour as a really ripe lemon, but can be made into lemon aide with lots of sweetener or sugar. It and the really tall Windmill Palm, (Trachycarpus Fortunei)are not in my yard, but belongs to someone in my neighborhood who is in the Virginia Palm Society that let us plant a mate for it and take home some sour oranges. Let me know if you would be interested in joining VPS, it's free and we have garden tours, plant swaps, group buys of hardy tropicals and annuals, quarterly meetings for brunch or dinner and seminars. We have a seminar coming up on March 8, 2008 at 10am at Merrifield Garden Center that Boca Joe and I will be giving to a decent sized group you are more than welcome to attend if interested. I have learned so much from these guys and gals and it is amazing what you can do here even with old man winter. Send me an e-mail and I will be more than happy to answer any questions you may have. All the best and look forward to hearing from you soon.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2008 at 6:26PM
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You can Also buy a Good Composter through website with 1 year guarantee, no hassle

Here is a link that might be useful: Mantis Twin Composter

    Bookmark   June 27, 2008 at 11:18AM
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    Bookmark   June 27, 2008 at 2:55PM
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