Coffee Grounds as Nutrient-Rich Mulch

Jul 23, 2017

With the popularity of coffee-drink stores like Starbucks and Peet’s and so many others—seemingly on nearly every block in shopping areas—gardeners have nearby and plentiful access to this free nutrient-rich resource. While it can be composted, its great advantage is that it can be applied directly to garden beds.

Spreading the grounds an inch thick and watering in provides slow-release nutrients to the soil and plant roots, including nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and copper. As they decompose naturally, and you incorporate them into the soil between crops, the grounds’ slight acidity also aids the soil structure.

With many Starbucks, Peet’s and other vendors eager to have their grounds taken by gardeners instead of having to throw them away, they’re available for free, many times already packaged up. What a bargain!


Spreading coffee grounds onto soil as mulch provides nutrients each time you water and continues as they decompose, improving soil structure.


Here are the simple steps I take…

1. Dump the bag of grounds and their filters onto the soil.


Step 1


2. Shake the grounds off the filters.

3. Spread the grounds about an inch thick.

4. Water the grounds so they’re thoroughly moist.


Step 2-4.


Dark top section is coffee grounds, lower brown stable bedding mulch went down when seeds were planted.


5. Distribute the filters on top of the compost pile, preferably only one layer thick since the dry ones will repel water and take longer to decompose.

6. Add a layer of greenery on top of the layer of filters.

7. Water the compost pile to thoroughly moisten the filters.


Step 5: Distribute filter papers on top of compost pile just one-layer thick. Step 6: Add greenery on top. Step 7: Water.


Manure Is Another Nutrient-Rich Mulch
Manure can be applied as a mulch directly onto globe  artichokes, asparagus, cabbages and other cole crops, cucumbers, melons, sweet corn, and squash—but don’t let it touch the stems or foliage, as it will burn them.

Keep high-nitrogen fertilizers away from beans, beets, carrots, parsnips, sweet and white potatoes, and tomatoes, or there’ll be more foliage than fruit.

Continue watering and feeding the entire garden with a balanced fertilizer and manure tea or fish emulsion every other week or so for steady growth and food production. Foliar sprays of liquid seaweed help trees, vegetables, fruits, and ornamentals withstand heat stress.

Pay special attention to shallow-rooted plants, which wilt and dry out quickly in hot, dry weather. Remember to not overhead water late in the day during warm weather, when leaves can’t dry off by sunset, as this encourages diseases.

Tomatoes and other large plants in loamy clay soil use about one inch of water in three days of hot dry weather. Rinse the undersides of leaves with water to discourage spider mites.

Water and fertilize melons deeply once a week for juicy, fleshy fruits. Hold off irrigating melons about a week before they will ripen so their sugars will concentrate.

Soak strawberry beds and fruit and nut trees every other week this month if the weather’s especially hot.

Keep citrus and avocado trees well-watered through the summer. Build  a basin for water to soak in deeply, but start it one foot away from the trunk to prevent crown rot.

Propping Up Vine Fruits
Protect vine crop fruits like melons and squash from snails and slugs by lifting the fruits or vegetables onto cans, berry baskets, or boards. Metal cans speed ripening and sweetening of melons by concentrating the sun’s warmth and transfering it to the melons.

Place ripening melons onto upside down aluminum pie pans or cans to keep them off the damp soil. The reflected heat and light will help them ripen evenly and sooner than when they are shaded by foliage.


Distinction between squash blossoms: Male (straight stem below blossom) on right, female (baby squash below blossom) on left.


Glorious tomato bounty. Critter-munched portions cut off and added back to the compost pile.


Blossoms and baby cucumber.


Amarcrinum’s delicate pink blossoms last only 1 day each.


Multicolored plumeria has a sweet fragrance.


Droopy chard in early evening will revive fine with watering.


Single monster-sized Cherokee Purple.


August Pride peach first harvest.


For more advice and insight from Yvonne Savio, please visit



Yvonne Savio grew up and still lives on a 3/4-acre hillside city lot in Pasadena, growing fruits, vegetables, and flowers year-round in manure- and compost-amended gardens. From years of gardening, she knows what “harvested at the perfect moment of ripeness” means and is passionate about enabling others to enjoy the benefits of “growing your own.”

Yvonne earned degrees in journalism, English literature, art and photography from California State University at Los Angeles and Sacramento; her horticulture degree is from American River College, Sacramento. For 15 years, she worked in the Botany and Vegetable Crops Cooperative Extension Departments at the University of California, Davis, where she conferred with Statewide Vegetable Specialists regarding cultural and postharvest handling techniques. In the early 1980s she helped initiate and develop the Master Gardener Program in Yolo County. From 1994-2015, she managed the Los Angeles County Master Gardener Program, teaching 1,183 volunteers who then helped 1.3 million residents to garden more sustainably.

Yvonne maintains demonstration and trial gardens in Southern and Northern California, specializing in drought-tolerant techniques for growing vegetables, fruits, perennials, roses, and succulents. She documents the creative fun stuff of repurposed tools and garden art. She loves chatting with gardening groups; for more of her presentation topics. see

More Yvonne Savio posts:
Beyond Artichokes, Onto Yummy Boysenberries!
Spring Eats & Perfect Transplanting Weather
Yvonne Talks Tomatoes & Tomatomania
Planting Tomatoes
Yvonne’s Basic Pruning Overview
Nipped by Frost?


Boysenberries in Yvonne’s garden as seen in “Beyond Artichokes, Onto Yummy Boysenberries!






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