Can You Compost Citrus? Can You Use Orange or Lemon Peels When Composting?

Looking to up your composting game by adding citrus, but aren't sure if it's the safe or effective thing to do? In this article, we examine if you should be using citrus in your composting pile. We examine if it's safe to use Oranges, Lemons, Limes and other types of citrus in your garden. as well as the benefits they may offer.

Citrus Composting

Composting is one of the best things you can do both for your garden and the environment. It helps reduce food waste by turning it into nutritious compost that all your plants can enjoy. While the general idea behind composting is “anything that once lived” can go into a compost pile, there are still some questions floating around.

Truth be told, there are correct ways of managing your compost; it’s not “anything goes”, and should not be treated as such. Thankfully, it’s not too difficult to determine what’s good for your pile. But there remains the age-old question:

“Can you compost citrus for your garden?”

This question is surrounded by quite a bit of controversy; it’s been a topic of some debate for gardening enthusiasts for years. There have been multiple arguments for either side, making it confusing for everybody who wants the best for their compost pile. However, the truth is that, while the consensus has escaped most, there is an answer.

Can I Compost Citrus, Including Oranges or Lemons?

That answer is: yes! You should use citrus in your compost piles.

Of course, this does not mean that you should simply throw in as much citrus as you want into a composting mixture. Gardening is an art, and technique must go into that art if you want your garden to flourish. Let’s start by squeezing out the myths from the facts.

The Myths

Pile of Composting Vegetables and Fruit
There are a few myths about using citrus in your compost.

People are taught to avoid putting citrus in their compost piles for a number of reasons. Many people say citrus peels don’t decompose, so it’s useless to include them. Some people also say the acidic environment that citrus can create in a compost pile kills off worms and microorganisms, and should thus be avoided entirely.

There’s also the thought that citrus peels contain pesticides, and as such, the compost cannot be used in garden soil. Similarly, people stay away from composting citrus because certain chemicals in citrus peels are used to make pesticides.

These are valid concerns to have, so it is understandable that people would opt not to use citrus in their garden’s compost. However, it should be said that these claims are either false or can be worked around.

The Facts

Bin of Decomposing Produce
It is almost always perfectly fine to compost citrus, as long as it is properly prepared.

The truth is that citrus – peels, fruits, and leaves – are actually beneficial to many composting mixtures. It’s not that there is no basis for the myths; some of them are technically correct but are wrong in application. It’s quite common to see these myths perpetuated, as there technically are better more easily compostable fruits and vegetables you can use. Let’s look at some citrus composting facts.

Fact 1: It’s About Timing

Firstly, it’s not that citrus peels don’t decompose, it’s that they take a longer time than average to break down. This is because of their adipose cells being resistant to decomposition. These are the same cells that contain the oils that give a citrus fruit its characteristic scent.

The solution here is to dry the peels out first, as they break down more readily in the heat. You can opt to dry them in an oven. another option is to leave them out on a rack to dry out in the sun. After they have dried, you can cut them up into smaller pieces to speed up the process of decomposition.

Fact 2: Create A Balanced Compost

Secondly, there is truth to worms and microorganisms disliking the acidity created by the addition of citrus in a compost mix. The workaround is creating a balance between all the scraps in your compost pile. Maintaining a good, balanced compost pile is key to neutralizing acidity, thus allowing you to use the compost with your soil.

With regard to worms, it should be said that citrus shouldn’t be used in wormeries, because too much acidity will cause the worms to die. With that said, compost heaps aren’t reliant on worms. If they do not like the conditions of a compost, worms can simply leave the pile as long as it is sitting on bare earth.

Fact 3: Organic is Best, Non-Organic Will Do

Thirdly, it’s quite funny that people are willing to dismiss citrus due to pesticides being used on them. Pesticides are used on all kinds of produce, not just citrus, and yet people willingly use them in their piles!

The truth behind this matter is that, while non-organic citrus fruit may have had pesticides used on them, microorganisms in the compost do a good job of breaking up these substances. This turns them into inert elements and thus makes the compost safe to use.

Fact 4: Pesticides Can Evaporate

Lastly, it’s true that there are certain chemicals found in citrus used in organic pesticides. However, when placed in a compost pile, the oils that contribute to creating pesticides evaporate very quickly as the citrus decomposes, thus making them a non-issue. They will not drive away any of the helpful insects you may want to keep in your garden, so try not to worry about that too much.

Ultimately, while there is some argument against citrus, it is easily worked around. There is no real reason to avoid using citrus when composting. In fact, there are a few reasons why you should! Let’s look at those further.

Using Citrus When Composting

Bin of Compost
Citrus provides many nutrients to composting soil that plants will love.

Citrus is a great addition to most composting piles for a few different reasons. For one, it’s a great kind of green compost. Green compost is compostable items that contain either nitrogen or protein, both of which are necessary for a healthy compost heap. And different types of plants do better with different nutrients. You aren’t going to feed the same compost ingredients to a sugarcane patch as you would to edible shrubs or groundcover.

Citrus is able to give off lots of sumptuous nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. These are all sure to benefit your compost in many ways. Green compost helps heat up the pile because of the deterioration brought about by microorganisms. This helps the fermentation process greatly.

Natural Pest Avoidance

Secondly, the scent from the citrus is one that many pests and scavengers will not like. It acts as a natural deterrent to keep unwanted animals away from your compost. This is a great way to make sure that your composting mixture attracts no rats, voles, gophers, raccoons, or any other scavenger.

It’s also great to note that using citrus in compost poses no harm to the friendly insects you do want in your garden. This is simply because the oils will evaporate long before you actually get around to using compost in your garden soil.

Eco-Friendly

Lastly, using citrus when composting is great for the environment. Any use that you have for your scraps beyond throwing them in the garbage bin does excellently for Mother Earth because that is less waste that goes into the landfills.

This is always a good thing given that we need to take extra care of the environment in these turbulent times. Composting what you can also help control erosion because the compost holds moisture. This is great for your plants, too!

While putting too much citrus in a compost pile can mean making it overly acidic, there are actually many plants that enjoy acidic soil. Deciduous trees like dogwood, willow, and magnolias prefer acidic soil. There are many gorgeous flowering plants that love acidic soil, such as camellias, rhododendrons, azaleas, hydrangeas, daffodils, nasturtiums!

If you keep these plants in your garden, they may benefit from using a special compost with a good amount of citrus in it, so you can be less careful about the amount of citrus you use for their specific compost.

Some Guidelines for Using Citrus in Compost

Dried Lime Peels
It is ideal to cut the citrus into small pieces and dry them out before adding them to the compost pile.

It is always a good idea to understand how best to use specific scraps before you include them in your compost pile. It’s not just a matter of tossing things in haphazardly and calling it a day. For citrus, there is a bit of preparation involved. It’s not much, so you should be able to do it with little effort– the benefits make it worth it!

Citrus peels are the most often used part of the fruit that goes into compost piles. As we’ve previously discussed, be sure to cut up your citrus peels into smaller pieces. This is important before putting them into your compost. This creates more surface area for microorganisms to decompose the citrus peels. It takes longer if you just throw them in whole. This takes care of the slow decomposition time.

Timing

This is fine to do in hotter months, where the cut-up citrus peels will be able to heat up nicely. In the colder months, it may be a good idea to dry out your citrus peels first to speed up the decomposition process, which makes it easier to compost.

In the event you have to use whole fruit while composting, it’s a good idea to break open the fruit and split up the pieces first. Doing this creates more surface area for bacteria to break down the fruit more easily. Citrus leaves can be thrown in as you would with any other kind of leaves. Take advantage of being able to use the whole plant, as this does the most good for your composting mixture.

Balancing

With regard to the acidity that citrus can bring to your compost, remember it’s all about balance. Placing a lot of citrus in your composting pile may be detrimental to the overall quality of the mixture, as previously discussed, though it still has the benefit of aiding plants that enjoy acidic soil.

When putting in citrus, be sure to balance it out with a lot of brown compost. Examples include dried leaves, straw, and hay. This will help restore the pH balance of the compost pile. It also has the added benefit of absorbing any extra moisture and water that may come from the citrus. Ensure that there are at least two times more brown compost than there is green compost. This is the most ideal composting balance.

Composting Citrus Step-By-Step

If you have questions about how to use citrus in when composting, then don’t worry because we have the solution! For further guidance, we have included this short guide on how to use citrus in both hot and cold composting piles. This way you can better understand the applications of using citrus and remove the guesswork that goes into it.

Hot Compost

Green and Brown Compost
Use a balanced mix of green and brown compost for best results.

Hot compost is the composting process where almost no heat is lost, which speeds up the process considerably. As long as you are tending to your compost pile regularly, you could have the final product in as little as four weeks. It’s important that there is a good balance of both greens and browns for this process to go as smoothly as possible.

Step One

When setting up your compost pile to include citrus, it’s important that you place the citrus in the middle of the pile. Place it between several layers of green and brown compost. Once this is done, you must introduce oxygen into the compost pile by stirring the compost. You can do this more easily with an aeration tool that has a long handle.

Step Two

Continuing the stirring process. Make sure to move the parts of the compost that are in the middle (the hottest part) around so that the colder parts can move to the middle and also heat up. A few weeks in, your citrus should have started decomposing very nicely. At this point, the compost becomes very hot from it being broken down by microorganisms. The compost can reach temperatures of 110 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step Three

The last step is to make sure that your compost is getting the oxygen and moisture it needs. This can be done by frequent stirring; this distributes the different parts of the compost to where they need to be. Remember that you should have a good ratio of brown compost to green compost; 60:40 is a good amount to aim for. If you haven’t been moving your compost to aerate it regularly, it could take a few months before it is ready for use.

Cold Compost

Orange Peel and Other Produce Decomposing
Cold compost can take longer but it is less hands-off.

If you do not have the time for a hot composting pile, you can still do it via the cold compost method. While this takes longer, it requires a lot less effort since you or simply leaving the pile to decompose naturally. Remember that the ratio of browns to greens is still important even if you are not paying attention to your pile too often.

Step One

Start by placing the citrus in the middle of the pile, as you would with a hot compost. Take care that your citrus peels are cut up into small pieces; it may be a good idea to dry them out first for better decomposition. This makes sure the pieces break down properly and do not lead to things like compost balls, which are not ideal.

Step Two

Ensure that any seeds, including those from your citrus, as well as from things like weeds, are not included. There won’t be enough heat to kill off the seeds to prevent the germination process. You need to make sure that there is a good ratio of nitrogen to carbohydrates. You can further speed up the process by including dried grass clippings, and even things like toilet paper and cardboard. It’s important that your pile remains damp for the compost to come together nicely.

Step Three

The last step is simply waiting. As long as your citrus is in the middle of the pile, it should be decomposing rather efficiently for a cold compost pile. Bear in mind that this process takes much longer than a hot compost pile would; expect it to take a few months up to a year for your compost to be ready for use.

Frequently Asked Questions

What if I use worms in my compost?

f you vermicompost, using citrus in your compost pile may not be ideal if you plan to put in a lot of it. Remember that balance is the key; always include things to retain the pH balance of your compost pile to keep your worms safe.

It’s best to use citrus more liberally in traditional composting piles, as these do not rely on worms to create the final product. As we have previously mentioned, keeping your compost pile on top of bare earth is a good idea. This allows an avenue for escape in case the worms do not like the conditions created by the inclusion of citrus in your pile.

Can I include citrus seeds in my compost?

Citrus seeds may be okay to use in hot compost piles, because the heat will eventually kill off the seeds, preventing the germination process. If you do not plan to turn your compost regularly, and instead opt for a cold compost procedure, it’s best to leave the seeds out of the picture, as you do not want any plants suddenly growing in your compost.

Thankfully this isn’t too much of a problem, as most commercially produced citrus is seedless. Prevention is better than cure, so it’s best to select fruit that is already seedless. This goes for any and all fruit that you use in your compost pile.

Can I use moldy citrus in my compost pile?

There may be some apprehension in using moldy citrus in your compost pile. However, these concerns can be easily mitigated by using a hot compost pile. This makes it easy for the heat to kill off the mold. Most bacteria found in mold will prefer a colder environment; good compost piles get much warmer than this.

It’s also worth noting that most commercial citrus is sold with a mild antimicrobial wax. This helps to prevent mold growth while the fruit waits to be sold. While this isn’t a problem for people who eat the fruit, it’s certainly strong enough to kill off any unwanted bacteria in your compost pile, so you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.

Final Thoughts

Composting citrus isn’t something you need to shy away from. It’s all about maintaining a good balance, and the pros far outweigh the cons. Using your citrus in a smart way can help make any compost pile flourish, and thus be great to use in any garden. Remember that you can have a separate pile for plants that enjoy acidic soil, where you can be more liberal about citrus used in your compost.

Despite there being some controversy, it’s safe if done correctly. Just remember that it’s best to cut up your citrus peels first before you use them, and you should be good to go!

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