University of Maryland Extension

November & December - Soil, Fertilizer & Compost Tips

hand holding soil

(More tips from HGIC)


  • Bare soil is prone to erosion and should be covered with mulch, groundcovers or turf.
  • Avoid the temptation to turn over or dig into wet soil. This can cause long-term damage to the structure of your soil. Poor, compacted soils can be improved through the generous addition of organic matter.
  • Fall is an ideal time to add organic matter to your garden. Spade or till in a layer of leaf compost or well-rotted manure and then cover with a layer of shredded or mulched leaves.


  • Keep leftover bags of fertilizer wrapped up securely in heavy plastic bags or solid containers. Rodents will often chew holes in fertilizer bags stored in sheds and garages.


  • Mix spent plants, kitchen scraps, fallen leaves, old mulch and grass clippings into your compost pile. Shred your materials with a lawnmower, string trimmer or machete to speed-up the breakdown process. Keep twigs, branches and other woody materials out of the pile.

  • As temperatures cool to below 50 degrees F, the composting process will slow down considerably. Turning the pile every 2 weeks will hasten the breakdown process.

  • Barrel and tumbler type composters work well in small spaces but need to be closely monitored to insure a proper mix of green and brown materials and adequate moisture levels. A disadvantage of barrels is that they are too small to heat up quickly. Compost piles should be at least one cubic yard in volume to heat up properly.

  • Here are some ideas for dealing with fallen tree leaves:
    • Shred them with a mulching lawnmower and leave them in place (as long as they don’t completely cover your grass.)
    • Shred them and add them to your compost pile.
    • Cover your garden soil with shredded leaves.
    • Use them to mulch perennials, trees, and shrubs.
    • Run them over with a mulching mower, bag them up and use them as a mulch next year.
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