How to balance browns and greens for a healthy compost bin

October 13, 2015

Healthy gardens are supported with regular applications of compost, and both brown and green types of waste are necessary to create compost. By using the right balance in the compost bin, you should be able to avoid problems. Here's how to get started. 

How to balance browns and greens for a healthy compost bin


Nitrogen based materials suitable for a compost pile tend to be fresh items that have not yet started decomposing.

  • Living plants, grass clippings and kitchen waste fall into this category. In short, things that are still green, or have green growth, qualify as "greens."
  • These nitrogen based items should always be composted rather than left to rot in the garden.
  • The decomposition of green products on top of the soil ties up available nitrogen in the soil as they rot, which may not leave enough accessible nitrogen for nearby plants.
  • This is why greens should always be added to the compost bin rather than left in place.
  • Rotting matter can also attract pests, which can cause problems in a garden space.


Carbon-based products for compost are pretty easy to identify. Brown items such as fallen leaves, dried vines pulled from the garden, and straw are considered brown products for compost.

  • It can be a challenge to come up with enough brown material to compost during the spring and summer, when grass clippings and kitchen waste are most available.
  • The best free solution to an endless supply of browns is to bag up leaves in the fall and store them in a protected area.
  • Keep a bag of leaves next to the compost bin and add some every time greens are added to the composted bin, adding a layer of browns on top of each green layer.

Signs and solutions for an imbalance

The proper ratio of materials to add to compost is one part green to two parts brown. So, for every layer of greens added, top them with two layers of brown.

  • Occasionally, imbalances will occur and tend to cause two main problems: slimy compost or dry compost.
  • Slimy compost is easy to identify: it usually smells, is obviously too wet and it attracts pests. Slimy compost is caused by not adding enough browns. Add a generous layer of brown material to the top of the pile.
  • Compost piles that are too dry do not decompose, or decompose too slowly. For slow piles, simply add more greens.

Gardening is a very economical process when you can create your own compost by using the right balance of browns and greens in the compost bin.

By using free, rotten materials to feed your plants, there is very little investment but a tremendous amount of return in the form of free food.

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