Advice from the Help Desk of the
UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County
Generally, used appropriately, coffee grounds can be beneficial to your garden. And if you search the internet you can find lots of information on their use. As in all things “internet”, the question is “what is appropriate”.
The Master Gardener program attempts to provide the gardener with scientifically based advice on gardening. The use of coffee grounds is no exception. Recently, Washington State University's Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott (Extension Urban Horticulturist and Associate Professor, Puyallup Research and Extension Center, Washington State University) updated her earlier 2009 review of gardening use of coffee grounds with the publishing of her latest review of the scientific literature: “Use Of Coffee Grounds In Gardens And Landscapes” (http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/FS207E/FS207E.pdf). This latest review has been peer-reviewed.
While it is strongly recommended that you read for yourself the short 6-page paper, below are the edited excerpts from her findings:
Action list for using coffee grounds in compost
- Use no more than 20 percent by volume of coffee grounds in a compost pile. A diverse feedstock will ensure a healthy diversity of microorganisms.
- Don't assume coffee grounds will make an acidic compost; pH levels will change over time.
- Be sure to allow coffee grounds to cool before adding them to your compost; heat can kill your beneficial microbes.
- Avoid adding coffee grounds to vermicomposting bins; they can injure or kill earthworms in these confined areas.
- Understand that disease suppression from nonpathogenic organisms found in decomposing coffee grounds has only been demonstrated under controlled conditions on a handful of crops, including bean, melon, spinach, and tomato. Their efficacy in gardens and landscapes is unknown.
Action list for using coffee grounds directly as a mulch
- Apply a thin layer (no more than half an inch) of coffee grounds. Cover with a thicker layer (four inches) of coarse organic mulch like wood chips. This will protect the coffee grounds from compaction.
- Don't apply thick layers of coffee grounds as a standalone mulch. Because they are finely textured and easily compacted, coffee grounds can interfere with moisture and air movement in soils.
BLOG editor's addendum: Most of the comments on Dr. Chalker-Scott's latest review center around “avoid adding coffee grounds to vermicomposting bins…” with more than a few anecdotal comments that it is common practice to use coffee grounds in compost bins. I think there is some clarification needed between compost bins and vermicompost bins… Her response so far is that she is reporting what is in the scientific literature. Vermicomposters should take special notice of this finding and manage their composting accordingly. You might search for further updates and discussion on Dr. Chalker-Scott's Facebook page “The Garden Professors”
Help Desk of the UC Master Gardeners of Contra Costa County
Note: The UC Master Gardeners Program of Contra Costa's Help Desk is available year-round to answer your gardening questions. Except for a few holidays, we're open every week, Monday through Thursday for walk-ins from 9:00 am to Noon at 75 Santa Barbara Road, 2d Floor, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523. We can also be reached via telephone: (925) 646-6586, email: email@example.com, or on the web at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/Ask_Us/ MGCC Blogs can be found at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/HortCoCo/ You can also subscribe to the Blog (http://ucanr.edu/blogs/CCMGBlog/).
Client's Situation and Question: My rhubarb tends to die back in the summer much earlier than I think it should or expect. I know that the soils where it is planted are marginal and I haven't fertilized the rhubarb. I do give it regular water. What is causing the early summer die back? and how can I improve the health, vigor, and survival of my rhubarb?
UC MGCC Program's Help Desk Response: We believe that the rhubarb's early die back may be due to a combination of lack of fertility and Contra Costa County's hot summer temperatures. Rhubarb plants do best if fertilized regularly. If you want to grow organically, you can use a six-inch layer of good compost around the base of the plant. The compost will provide a continuous nutrient source that may last for several months. Rhubarb also responds well to manure, but be sure that it has been well composted since applying fresh manure will burn the plant. You can purchase composted manure at a nursery or home supply store. It can be mixed into the compost before you put it around the plant.
Another contributing cause of the summer die back could be hot summer temperatures. Die back is a common response to temperatures that are too high. Although rhubarb likes plenty of sun, providing some shade on hot summer afternoons may help.
Hope this info helps your rhubarb thrive. It's a great perennial vegetable to have in your garden—does well in desserts but can also be used in savory dishes.
UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa's Help Desk (TKL)
Editor: Although this response is written for Contra Costa County gardeners, thanks go to the UC Master Gardeners of Sonoma County for input.
Don't miss our 2016 Great Tomato Plant Sale:
Note: The UC Master Gardeners Program of Contra Costa's Help Desk is available year-round to answer your gardening questions. Except for a few holidays, we're open every week, Monday through Thursday for walk-ins from 9:00 am to Noon at 75 Santa Barbara Road, 2d Floor, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523. We can also be reached via telephone: (925) 646-6586, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or on the web at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/Ask_Us/ MGCC Blogs can be found at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/HortCoCo/ You can also subscribe to the Blog at http://ucanr.edu/blogs/CCMGBlog/.
Response from MGCC's Help Desk: After further examining the tomato specimen that you brought to Our Garden' AAMG Help Desk yesterday in our Pleasant Hill Help
OP (open-pollinated), determinate, 68 days, red, beefsteak (14-16 ounces), resistance: early blight, late blight (We had this variety at our tomato sale this year.)
Hybrid, indeterminate, 82 days, red, globe, resistance: blossom end rot, gray leaf mold, early blight, fusarium wilt
Matt's Wild Cherry Tomato
Heirloom, indeterminate, 70 days, red, cherry (1/2 inch), resistance: early blight
Mountain Fresh Plus Tomato
Hybrid, determinate, 77 days, red, globe (12 ounces), disease resistance: VFFN, blossom end rot, early blight
Hybrid, determinate, 69-70 days, red, globe, resistance: VF, blight
Old Brooks Tomato
Heirloom, indeterminate, 78 days, red, globe (6-8 ounces), resistance: blossom end rot, early blight, late blight
Tommy Toe Tomato
Heirloom, indeterminate, 70 days, red, cherry (1 inch)
Master Gardeners of Contra Costa Help Desk
Note: The Contra Costa Master Gardener Help Desk is available year-round to answer your gardening questions. Except for a few holidays, we're open every week, Monday through Thursday for walk-ins from 9:00 am to Noon at 75 Santa Barbara Road, 2d Floor, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523. We can also be reached via telephone: (925) 646-6586, email: email@example.com, or on the web at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/Ask_Us/
Help for the Home Gardener from the
Contra Costa Master Gardeners' Help Desk
The client has put a lot of veggie pulp in their compost bin. They have also added a lot of orange peels. This has attracted a large number of fruit flies. The client has covered the compost with about six inches of pine needles and leaves but this has not gotten rid of the fruit flies. The client wants to know what more can be done.
Master Gardener Response:
These flies are not harmful, but can be quite a nuisance when you get clouds of them in your face on lifting the lid of the bin! Very often, even a well-managed bin will have a few of these creatures. One way to minimize them would be to build the pile all at once, then turn frequently so the process runs hotter. The compost will generate heat which will kill or reduce the numbers of fly maggots. Here is a UC link which explains this process. http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/pdf/8037.pdf. You can also save your kitchen scraps in the freezer until you are ready to add them.
If regular turning of the bin is not something you want to do, you could start by protecting the kitchen waste container from flies, as they can lay their eggs there which are then transferred to the compost bin. One helpful tip is to line the waste container with newspaper. When you take the scraps out to the compost, wrap them up completely in the paper and bury them under the surface of the bin. Don't add a lot of pulp material at once, especially citrus, as this is more likely to attract the flies. Pine needles are fine in the compost, but I would be wary of adding large quantities, as they are quite acidic.
I would also advise checking the moisture level of your bin. If the compost is too wet, the flies are more likely to be attracted to the rotting material. If this is the case, you should add more browns such as shredded leaves, cardboard or newspaper.
I hope that this information will help you with your fruit fly problem. If you would like any further information on composting in general, or on worm bins, please do not hesitate to contact us again.
Contra Costa Master Gardeners' Help Desk
Editor's Note: The CCMG Help Desk is available year-round to answer your gardening questions. Except for a few holidays, we're open every week, Monday through Thursday from 9:00 am to Noon at 75 Santa Barbara Road, 2d Floor, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523. (map) We can also be reached via telephone: (925) 646-6586, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, and we are on the web at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/. "Ask a Master Gardener" help tables are also present at many Farmers Markets as well as at the CCMG's "Our Garden" programs (map). See the CCMG web page for details/locations./span>/span>
Help for the Gardener from the
Contra Costa Master Gardeners' Help Desk
Description of Client's Question:
A client wrote in saying that he had read some advice about using coffee grounds as a fertilizer. The advice apparently also noted that coffee grounds would be a deterrent to gophers and moles. About two years ago, the client applied about 500 pounds of coffee grounds in a small area, but stopped when his lawn and some native plants started to die. (But the client did note that the coffee grounds got rid of the gophers!).
The client said that even after he ceased using coffee grounds, the plants have not recovered and the lawn still looks dead. He thought that perhaps the soil had become too acidic and perhaps gypsum could be added to remedy the problem.
Here's the advice that Master Gardeners gave the client:
Soil acidity isn't the reason why nothing is able to grow in the areas where you applied coffee grounds, nitrogen depletion is. In fact, coffee grounds don't cause soils to become acidic. The acidity in coffee is water soluble and the acidity in the beans ends up in the coffee when the ground beans are brewed.
Oregon State University recently conducted a study on garden use of coffee grounds (http://extension.oregonstate.edu/lane/sites/default/files/documents/cffee07.pdf ). OSU found that large amounts of coffee grounds stimulate the development of soil microorganisms which in turn use the nitrogen in your soil to process the coffee grounds. The study also states that acidity of the resulting soil is not the major issue, but nitrogen depletion of the soil is a major concern.
I would try using a good organic nitrogen fertilizer and applying it to the area where growth has ceased. The organic fertilizers are slow release and will not burn your lawn or surrounding plants. It may take repeated applications over time to adjust the soil composition. If you have bare ground that is affected, you could also try covering the area with compost or leaves and let the natural composting process help to balance your soil.
Editor's Note: Each month the CCMG Help Desk's Quality Assurance Team selects responses to county residents' Help Desk questions that produced informative responses that are either unique or unusual, or provided updated information that would be informative to all gardeners, or are of general interest, especially of seasonal concerns. We are highlighting these responses in the HortCOCO blog so all interested Master Gardeners and the public may utilize the information.
The CCMG Help Desk is available year-round to answer your gardening questions. Except for a few holidays, we're open every week, Monday through Thursday from 9:00 am to Noon at 75 Santa Barbara Road, 2d Floor, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523. We can also be reached via telephone: (925) 646-6586, email: email@example.com, and we are on the web at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/