How to Compost Wood Shavings

Many gardening experts utilise carbon-rich wood shavings and sawdust to produce nutrient-filled compost for their vegetable and flower gardens. According to Barbara Pleasant, co-author of "The Complete Compost Gardening Guide," the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of wood shavings can be as high as 500-to-1, much higher than your ideal composting ratio of 25-to-1. Take special care to provide plenty of nitrogen-rich organic waste to offset the high carbon content of wood shavings, or else you'll run the risk of drastically slowing down the microbial activity in your compost heap.

Prepare your carbon-rich materials. Gather your wood shavings at your composting location, along with an equal amount of a loosely textured carbon-rich organic waste, such as straw or dead leaves. Mix the two materials together thoroughly with a manure fork or garden rake to create a single heap of carbon-rich waste.

Collect a heap of nitrogen-rich organic waste. Ensure this heap is equal in volume to the pile of carbon-rich waste. Prime nitrogen sources include cow or horse manure, fresh yard clippings and vegetable peels.

Layer the carbon and nitrogen mixtures. Sprinkle a 2-inch-thick layer of the wood shavings mixture across the bare ground, creating a 3-foot-by-3-foot area of carbon waste directly on the soil. Spread an equally sized layer of your nitrogen-dense organic waste over the wood shavings mixture layer.

Add water and plain topsoil to the layered waste. Mist water from a garden hose, gently spraying enough moisture on the waste to make it about as moist as a wrung-out sponge. Sprinkle 8 to 10 handfuls of plain topsoil over the nitrogen-based waste to provide additional composting microbes to speed up the composting activity.

Build and water down the remainder of the compost heap. Spread another layer of the wood shavings mixture over the heap, adding on top of it a second layer of the nitrogen materials. Water these layers, and sprinkle more topsoil across the heap. Repeat this layering and watering process until the waste heap is at least 3 feet tall.

Mix the layers of waste together once weekly. This will help to aerate the heap. Use a manure fork or garden rake to shift the wood shavings and other waste from the centre of the heap; replace that waste with the undercomposed material from the edges of the compost structure. Pick up a handful of the wood shavings mixture waste each time you turn the heap, squeezing it to check the moisture levels; according to the University of Illinois Extension, you should be able to wring out no more than 1 or 2 drops of liquid from the compressed waste.


Know your wood shavings source and avoid using treated wood, especially if your compost will eventually go on a vegetable garden. According to Pleasant, cabinetmakers provide wood shavings that are prime candidates for the compost pile because they use untreated wood. Be prepared for your wood shavings compost heap to take up to 2 or 3 years to produce finished compost.


Avoid wood shavings from walnut trees. According to Pleasant, this wood possesses a substance, juglone, that keeps plants from growing correctly.

Things You'll Need

  • Loosely textured carbon-rich organic waste
  • Manure fork or garden rake
  • Nitrogen-rich organic waste
  • Garden hose
  • Plain topsoil
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About the Author

Regan Hennessy has been writing professionally for 11 years. A copywriter and certified teacher, Hennessy specializes in the areas of parenting, health, education, agriculture and personal finance. She has produced content for various websites and graduated from Lycoming College with a Bachelor of Arts in English.