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compost temperature to kill weed seeds

“The composting process also naturally kills weed seeds. Properly managed, a compost pile should easily reach 140°F, which breaks down all organic matter, including weed seeds.”

Do you want to take that risk?

Why Our Backyard Compost Pile Doesn’t Kill Weed Seeds

Those pumpkins grew as volunteers from a compost pile a few years ago. Granted, it wasn’t a regularly turned compost pile, meaning they probably missed the hottest part of the heap, but how many of you turn your compost regularly? And I’m going to bet that you still had little tomatoes or weeds pop up in it. Come on, admit it!

I view this as a feature, not a bug. Sometimes I just let compost piles turn into garden beds since there are so many volunteer edibles coming up.

And—oh YES—LOTS of seeds came up in it! Enough to start my new fruit tree nursery.

Dry heat is less effective than moist heat at killing weed seeds. Ensure that moisture content of the pile or windrow is maintained at 40–60%.

Contamination with soil or uncomposted residues, especially after the active phase of composting has finished, can lead to the reintroduction of weed seeds or plant pathogens. Avoid adding fresh material after the active phase.

Finished compost can become recontaminated with weed seeds if weeds are allowed to grow and go to seed on or adjacent to the pile or windrow. Similarly, compost can become contaminated with vegetative reproductive structures from some weeds—Canada thistle and rhizomateous grasses, for example—if they are allowed to grow on or adjacent to the pile. Keep vegetation adjacent to stored compost mowed short, and tarp piles or windrows to prevent contamination by wind-blown weed seeds. When moving or spreading finished compost, avoid picking up soil or other contaminants from under or around the pile or windrow.

What can go wrong?

55–70 °C) within 1–3 days. To maintain biological activity and to bring the active phase to completion, temperatures should be monitored and compost moisture and aeration should be maintained. After the most readily decomposable organic matter in the compost is consumed, biological activity will decrease in intensity, and temperatures and oxygen consumption will decline. The compost then enters the curing phase, during which decomposition proceeds more slowly and organic matter is converted to stable humic substances—the finished or mature compost.

Other factors are thought to contribute to weed seed mortality during composting. Larney and Blackshaw (2003) observed considerable variability in the relationship between temperature exposure in windrows and seed viability for a number of weeds, and concluded that additional factors, such as germination into lethal conditions or pathogen infestation, were contributing to weed seed mortality. Others have implicated plant-toxic compounds that accumulate to sufficiently high concentrations during composting (phenols, ammonium, and acetic acid, for example) in weed seed mortality and suppression of germination (Eghball and Lesoing, 2000; Shiralipour and Mcconnell, 1991).

This is an eOrganic article and was reviewed for compliance with National Organic Program regulations by members of the eOrganic community. Always check with your organic certification agency before adopting new practices or using new materials. For more information, refer to eOrganic’s articles on organic certification.

Published June 12, 2019

The compost bins commonly sold generally can’t hold enough material to ensure high temperatures. If you’re using one, you’ll have to resort to other methods if you want to kill weed seeds in your compost.

Bury compost to prevent weed seeds from germinating. Source: thelegitimatenews.com

It’s important to understand is that weed seeds* can only germinate when exposed to light. If you are concerned that your compost might contain viable weed seeds, simply bury it when you use it, covering it with soil or, if you apply it to the surface, cover the compost with mulch. Problem solved!

*Note that such temperatures will also kill any weed roots and rhizomes placed in the compost. Two birds with one stone!

A compost pile that gives off water vapor is working hard to kill weed seeds. Source: Anatomy of Living, http://www.youtube.com

Heat-resistant weed seeds requiring treatment at 45° F (63 ° C) include:

You can also kill the seeds at the end of a composting cycle by solarization. To do this, spread the compost on a very sunny surface and cover it with a sheet of transparent plastic, holding the plastic in place with rocks or bricks. That will quickly create a greenhouse effect and very high temperatures. Even if there is some germination at first, the heat underneath the plastic will be such that it will soon kill both the seedlings and any remaining seeds, leaving you with weed-free compost you can use as you want.

When the Pile Is Not Heating Up Enough