Managing Compost

Aug 20, 2018

Advice for the Home Gardener from the Help Desk of the
UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County

Client's Request: I am about average in composting: mix a balance of brown and green; no weeds, seeds, meat, dairy products; moist like a squeezed-out sponge; and rotate/turn over. The internal heat will promote digestion – and result in some “steam.”

With my small garden, the beds fill to overflowing. Thus, I do not always apply all my compost. My question: Can compost “go bad?” if it dries out? If it is not used for months? Thank you!

MGCC Help Desk Response: Thank you for contacting the UC Master Gardener Program Help Desk with your compost question. You asked if compost would go bad if it dries out. The answer is not really, but it can change. If it completely dries, it may become a little difficult to wet the compost. You might want to moisten it before putting it into your garden. 

When compost completely dries, many of the microorganisms (bacterial and fungi) will die, but some will form "survival capsules" or spores that will keep them alive until better conditions come along. Also, good soil is teeming with microorganisms that will "repopulate" the compost, and will continue to break down compost added to the soil. 

So, compost that has dried is fine to use in your garden. It just needs some management. And congratulations on being a successful composter!

Please let us know if you have more questions.

Help Desk of the UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County (SEH)

Note: The  UC Master Gardeners Program of Contra Costa's Help Desk is available almost year-round to answer your gardening questions.  Except for a few holidays (e.g., last 2 weeks December), we're open every week, Monday through Thursday for walk-ins from 9:00 am to Noon at 2380 Bisso Lane, Concord, CA 94520. We can also be reached via telephone:  (925) 608-6683, email:, or on the web at MGCC Blogs can be found at You can also subscribe to the Blog  (//

By Steve I Morse
Author - Contra Costa County Master Gardener