Fixing Compost Problems: Troubleshooting Guide for a Healthy Garden

Compost problems can arise in virtually any type of garden. The climate and type of materials used in your compost can all contribute to issues. It is important that you do not get discouraged and take the necessary steps to remedy the issue.

This guide will help identify problems with your compost and provide steps on how to solve them.

Compost Problems and their Solutions

Compost has a Strong Odor

The Problem:

Your compost bin is emitting a foul smell, like rotting garbage, and possibly attracting flies. This problem is caused by too much green material (fresh organic material decomposing) in the compost mix. It is a common complaint among novice gardeners but is fairly easy to resolve.

The Solution:

Adding more brown material, such as straw, hay, dried leaves, wood chips, or soil will slow the rate of decomposition. This will give your compost area a more pleasant earthly scent and should not smell nearly as foul. Make sure to mix the added material thoroughly into the compost bin. Having the right balance between green and brown compost materials will result in better quality and better-smelling compost.

Composting in Cold Temperatures

The Problem:

If you are attempting to produce compost during the winter in a cold area, you may find that the decomposition process is simply not happening. When temperatures are consistently below freezing, the organisms responsible for breaking down plant material do not function as rapidly, essentially putting your compost bin on hold until spring.

The Solution:

Adding horse manure, seaweed, or crab shells to your mix can generate heat within the compost pile. You can also cover the compost pile with a plastic tarp. This will trap in the heat emitted from the decomposition process and prevent the cold temperatures from slowing the composting process.

Composting in Hot Dry Conditions

The Problem:

Your compost pile is excessively dry or not producing the moist hummus-like material you desire

The Solution:

The easiest solution to this problem is to add more green material to the compost pile, such as grass clippings or seaweed. This should provide enough additional moisture to combat the high temperatures. You can also add water to the compost and remix it as necessary.

Compost is not Decomposing

The Problem:

You have a good mix of green and brown material in your compost, but it is not decomposing and turning into the expected consistency for use in your garden.

The Solution:

This issue is usually solved by creating a more moist environment to facilitate the decomposition of the material. You can add water to the pile and remix it. Alternatively, you can leave the compost uncovered and wait for the rain to add additional moisture. The pile should only be moderately moist, not completely soaked with water.

Fruit Flies or Houseflies in Compost

The Problem:

Flies feed on rotting organic material, but they should not be present in your compost. This is generally caused when you have too much green material decomposing in the compost mix and it is not properly covered with soil or manure.

The Solution:

The best solution is to not attract flies in the first place. You can do this by adding a layer of soil or manure over top of your main compost mix. This will keep the flies separate from the material they like to feed on. If flies are already present, you should add more brown material, like straw or sawdust, and mix up the compost. Then make sure to cover it with manure or compost.


Composting can be a rewarding and fulfilling way to reduce household waste and create rich soil for your garden. While it can be frustrating to encounter problems with your compost, it’s important to remember that there are always solutions.

By identifying and addressing common issues, you can create a healthy and thriving compost pile that will benefit your garden for years to come. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things, and remember to have patience as your compost evolves over time. With the tips and techniques outlined in this guide, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a composting expert in no time.

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