Can I compost my whole yard?

I'd love to unleash a giant mutant lawnmower / chipper / shredder robot on the whole yard, make a giant pile of compost*, and start fresh with the gardens. Doing something similar by hand is a daunting task; there's some exciting possibilities in my new gardens, but it will take some heavy demolition work to get to a useable state.

Some pictures:

Some animal (raccoon or possum most likely) is eating my peaches :(

Here's a back yard panorama view from the living room which spans about 180 degrees. Click to see the whole thing.  There's a view hidden behind the east-facing hillside of overgrown oleander*, fig, and Brazilian pepper (behind the white structure that houses the spa pump). Who knows what else I'll find there?

The old swimming pool has been filled in, as you can see above. This is a good thing in my book. The location of the old pool, near the house, and its well-defined shape suggest a more formal garden could go here. Instead, I have an out of control Ficus tree and Agapanthus galore. Get set for demolition!

The property line cinderblock wall on the left needs to be softened.  I do believe that good walls make good neighbors, but this needs a little help, beyond the overgrown rosemary bush visible behind and to the left of the ficus tree.

The giant Brazilian pepper tree at far right shades a spa. It's probably the progenitor of all the feral pepper trees on the hillside. There's lots of concrete that I could strategically cut one of these days.

A small hedge at the far side of the lawn would screen the view of the neighbor's trash cans and yard.  Why didn't someone plant Agapanthus there instead of those scrawny roses?

Ah, home sweet home.

The front yard I'll leave in peace for at least a while. This driveway-adjacent hillside of yet more Agapanthus and featuring the Christmas tree will no doubt be the first area to go, but probably later rather than sooner. I'll do some selected editing in the rest of the front garden areas, but I won't plan to touch them for a while.

The other side yard has some fruit trees, but I don't know that they get enough sun because of what used to be a live Christmas tree that the previous owner planted outside at his daughter's request. I think it's shading this side yard a bit much. There's also a drainage problem here. I'll need to give area some thought, but no immediate action: Maybe a retaining wall and drain?
Above: Side yard with fruit trees (3 or 4 citrus, fig, and peach) and a grape vine.  Oh, don't forget more Agapanthus.

Above: "Christmas" tree at right in front of fence.

One side yard has garage access and serves as a service yard. There's some overgrown trees and shrubs here. In the interest of keeping it simple and going with what is already working, I think its future holds fewer trees and shrubs and more Bougainvillea.

*The answer to whether I can compost oleander, all parts of which are toxic if ingested, seems to be yes according to Google consensus. A mailing list post and article by Deborah Mills here seems to clearly state the case for using oleander mulch.

...the problem with using Oleander in the compost is if the leaves are not completely decomposed and a piece of it happens to get mixed in with the produce, for example, loose leaf lettuce, and that piece of Oleander leaf gets ingested. Once the leaves are completely decomposed they don't pose a hazard. Usually I recommend that Oleander compost is great for landscapes and use with caution in vegetable gardens for the reason above.

Not convinced? See also James A. Downer and Arthur Craigmill (Composting is an effective method means of destroying one of the toxic glycosides in oleander. The composting process causes a rapid decline in oleandrin concentration and eventually its complete disappearance from the compost.) Separate studies confirm that oleadrin is not taken up by plants.


  1. Congrats on negotiating the real estate roller coaster.

  2. I'll send Tractor Man over with his new-to-him brush cutter, which WOULD compost your whole yard. Nice to have a new project to embark on though, no matter how many stages you'll go through. The wall and concrete could be stained....we did that ourselves on our floor. Best wishes!

  3. Christmas tree=Norfolk Island Pine, I believe--Do people really not understand how big those things get?

  4. Thank you all for your words of encouragement. It has indeed been a roller coaster to get to this point, but not anything worthy of a blog,

    I'll give concrete stain some thought, but I think that for the immediate future I just need to cut the concrete for a planter or put some pots nearby.

    Karen - I believe you're right. That's a Norfolk Island Pine. The answer to who plants stuff like that is that your average home owner thinks nothing of planting something inappropriate like that.