The Greens and Browns of Your Compost

Knowing how various browns and greens behave in your compost can make all the difference in your garden.

  • Using chemically contaminated plants or rotten fruit peels will infect your compost.
    Photo by Pixabay/Ben_Kerckx
  • “Compost City” by Rebecca Louie teaches readers how to best make and use their own compost in small living spaces.
    Photo courtesy of Roost Books

Compost City (Roost Books, 2015) by Rebecca Louie is a comprehensive and complete guide to creating and using your own compost in a small living space. Louie helps you find ways to work around a tiny space, a busy schedule, and hectic lifestyle to achieve your composting goals. In this excerpt, she discusses the green and browns materials that are good and bad for composting.

Get to know how different browns and greens behave in your system and curate compost ingredients to optimize moisture levels, troubleshoot problems, and af­fect the rate of decomposition.

Knowing the quirks of individual items is particularly helpful if your com­post system has limited space or is in proximity of wary or sensitive neighbors.

Easy Items That Break Down Quickly


• Grass clippings
• Salad greens
• Banana + peels
• Coffee grounds and filters
• Tea bags, with staples removed
• Apple cores
• Strawberry tops
• Peeled fruit (except citrus) and vegetable skins (carrot, apple, potato, etc.)


• Dry autumn leaves
• Non-waxy paper, including newspaper
• Non-waxy cardboard boxes
• Cardboard egg cartons and beverage trays
• Paper towel, toilet paper, and wrapping paper rolls
• Sawdust from untreated wood
• Coffee chaff
• Non-oily bread, pasta, and grain
• Dried flowers

Very Wet Greens:

• Watermelon + rinds
• Cantaloupe + rinds
• Honeydew + rinds
• Celery
• Tomatoes
• Cucumbers
• Plums

Items That Are Slow to Decompose


• Big pits (peach, plum, avocado, etc.)
• Avocado skin
• Carrots (whole or chunked)
• Corncobs


• Sticks, twigs, and logs
• Pine needles and cones
• Wooden chopsticks and stirrers

Greens with Natural Odor

• Garlic
• Onion
• Cabbage

Tricky Greens That Require Special Handling

• Manure
• Citrus rinds (a no-no in vermicomposting)
• Meat
• Bones
• Dairy
• Cooked food
• Oily food
• Weeds

Never Evers

• Diseased plants and flowers
• Poisonous plants such as poison ivy
• Materials exposed to toxic chemicals
• Cat manure and litter

More from: Compost City

The Organisms in Your Compost

From Compost City by Rebecca Louie © 2017 by Rebecca Louie. Reprinted in arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO.

3/21/2018 8:49:25 AM

You mentioned throwing in apple cores, but I never do. I would be afraid of an apple tree coming up where I didn't want one.

3/20/2018 10:59:25 AM

Great article, but I cant find out for sure whether grass hay is green or brown.

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