The West

Composting at home
Gardening tips

Compost acts like a sponge in the soil and helps improve soil life, says gardening expert Phil Dudman.The author of Down to Earth Garden Design says you can even build up a garden using layers of leaves, chicken manure, mulch, vegie scraps and cuttings from shrubs.

Here are a few of Dudman's tips to help get you started:

Compost is really a soil conditioner, which most gardeners will incorporate into the soil when planting to help to loosen up the soil and help to inject some micro-organisms into the soil and improve the soil life.That's really what compost is about.

It can actually help to hold moisture in the soil too because compost itself acts like a sponge in the soil.If you've got a really dry sandy soil, compost will help to hold that moisture in so it doesn't drain through so quickly.

If you want quick results you really have to dig it through with a garden fork to incorporate it in with your existing soil particles.If you've got a heavy soil, the compost actually will help to lighten it up, help (the soil) to drain better and so the water can penetrate and find its way down to the roots.

It works on any soil, even if you've got a fantastic soil - you can't get enough compost.

You can create garden beds without actually having to dig the soil.So if your soil is really rubbish and you think 'look, the one thing that's stopping me from getting a start on my garden is I'm scared of breaking my back and working too hard and getting blisters ... I want a quick garden bed', well you can get out there on your hard-as-a-rock soil, throw down newspaper over the grass to suffocate it and then do layers of compost, leaves, a little bit of chicken manure, mulch, some vegie scraps, some cuttings from your shrubs and things like that.

Just build it up in layers a bit like a lasagne and then you end up with a big layer of mulch and you can just make little pockets into that, throw in some compost, plant into the compost and slowly all that will break down and just be this amazing soil on top of your existing soil.

I've started a lot of gardens like that and had fantastic returns with vegetable gardens.

It's great for kids to get stuff going, and great things for older people that don't want to be digging the soil, you don't have to ... you're just basically mimicking what's happening in nature.

Anything woody is going to have more appeal to termites so you need to be careful there, particularly if you're having (the garden) close to the house.

What some gardeners will do as far as having garden beds close to the house is to choose an alternative mulch that is not organic but say petals.

And you can find some mulches that are cypress that claim to be termite resistant. That's something you'd need to check with your landscape supplier when you're choosing a mulch.

The West Australian

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