A Common-Sense Guide to Using Coffee Grounds in the Garden

, written by Ann Marie Hendry gb flag

Coffee grounds and coffee beans

Coffee shops often give coffee grounds away free to gardeners, as they’re a waste product they would normally have to pay to dispose of. For coffee-loving gardeners like me, this freely available resource sounds like a real boon. But some gardeners suggest that using coffee grounds could be ineffective or, worse, harmful to plants.

I decided to sort the facts from the hype and find out just how beneficial – or otherwise – coffee grounds are in the garden.

Using Coffee Grounds as Mulch

Mulching is incredibly beneficial but it’s notoriously difficult to come by compost, straw or other organic matter in large enough quantities at a low enough price. Using free coffee grounds seems like the perfect solution, but some gardeners have found that using coffee grounds directly on the soil has had a disastrous effect on plants. However this seems to be linked to using thick blankets of it to mulch around plants and over seeds.

“Pouring
With care, used coffee grounds can be added to the vegetable garden soil

The reason for this could be that coffee beans contain caffeine, which is said to suppress the growth of other plants to reduce competition for space, nutrients, water and sunlight. How much caffeine actually remains in used coffee grounds is debatable, and some plants will be more sensitive to caffeine than others. It would be sensible to avoid spreading coffee grounds around seeds or seedlings as they may inhibit germination and growth.

There is a more obvious reason why using coffee grounds alone for mulching could be detrimental. Like clay soil, coffee grounds consist of very fine particles that are prone to locking together. This turns them into a barrier that will resist water penetration and eventually result in plants dying of thirst.

The solution is to mix coffee grounds with other organic matter such as compost or leafmould before using it as a mulch. Alternatively, rake your coffee grounds into the top layer of soil so that they can’t clump together. Variable particle sizes is key to good soil structure.

Coffee grounds are often said to be acidic but this can vary a lot, from very acidic to slightly alkaline, so don’t expect them to acidify higher pH soils.

“Fertilising
Sprinkle used coffee grounds around plants as a slow-release fertiliser

Using Coffee Grounds as Fertiliser

Many of us will have dumped the cold remains of a forgotten coffee in a plant pot at some point, and then perhaps wondered if it was the wrong thing to do! But it turns out that coffee grounds contain a good amount of the essential nutrient nitrogen as well as some potassium and phosphorus, plus other micronutrients. The quantity and proportions of these nutrients varies, but coffee grounds can be used as a slow-release fertiliser.

To use coffee grounds as a fertiliser sprinkle them thinly onto your soil, or add them to your compost heap. Despite their colour, for the purposes of composting they’re a ‘green’, or nitrogen-rich organic material. Make sure to balance them with enough ‘browns’ – carbon-rich materials such as dried leaves, woody prunings or newspaper. Your compost heap’s tiny munchers and gnawers will process and mix them effectively, so using coffee grounds in this way is widely accepted to be safe and beneficial.

Many vermicomposters say that their worms love coffee grounds, so small quantities could also regularly be added to a worm bin if you have one. Paper coffee filters can go in too.

“Ingredients
Used coffee grounds can safely be added to the compost heap

Coffee Grounds as a Natural Pesticide

An oft-repeated nugget of advice is to spread used coffee grounds around plants that are vulnerable to slug damage. There are two theories why: either the texture of the grounds is abrasive, and soft-bodied slugs prefer not to cross them, or the caffeine is harmful to slugs so they tend to avoid it.

However in an experiment slugs took just seconds to decide to cross a barrier of coffee grounds! The same researcher also sought to find out if coffee grounds would repel ants, with similar results – ants may not particularly like coffee grounds, but they won’t scarper out of your garden to get away from them.

“Image
Enjoy your daily brew and recycle used coffee grounds in the garden

Coffee Grounds and Dogs

One word of warning though: coffee grounds may not have much effect on pests, but they can be harmful to pets in large enough doses. It’s hard to say what would be a large enough dose to cause poisoning because the amount of caffeine in used coffee grounds varies. But if you have a dog that insists on sampling anything that smells halfway agreeable, it would be wise to avoid laying coffee grounds directly onto the garden. Bury them in your compost heap instead.

Coffee grounds are free organic matter, whether a by-product of your at-home daily brew or collected from coffee shops that are only too glad to give them away for nothing. If used with care and common sense, they are a worthwhile addition your compost heap and your soil.

Have you used coffee grounds in the garden? What was your experience? Share it with us by leaving a comment below!

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Comments

 
"I only use coffee grounds from my own kitchen. I had collected free grounds from a coffee shop chain store until I realized they used artificial flavorings and I did not want to add chemicals to my organic garden."
LYN on Friday 5 January 2018
"I save all coffee grounds from our morning coffee and use it around the bases of my rose bushes. They love it! I also will be using it on the hydrangeas."
Helen Ullrich on Friday 5 January 2018
"I throw all my coffee grounds into the compost bin and also collect them from hotels in the area along with those beautiful vegetable scraps that prep cooks work with on a daily basis. I bring two empty five-gallon bins and walk out with two full five-gallon bins every day, all year long. It's as routine to me as brushing my teeth."
Wendy on Friday 5 January 2018
"I dumpster dive behind Starbucks for garbage bags, remove the mushy buns, coffee filters and banana peels and spread the coffee grounds around the edges of my garden beds. As they seem to hate the smell, coffee grounds deter animals like dogs, cats, raccoons or squirrels that dig in my garden or like the nice soft soil to poop. I use them in early Spring or whenever I have carefully nurtured seedlings that are killed when dug up by pests. I also add them to the compost bin."
Marion on Friday 5 January 2018
"For many of the reasons noted, composting or mixing coffee grounds into the soil or some carbonaceous material is perhaps the best approach. It allows faster breakdown and release of nutrients, incorporation into the soil matrix, and attraction of worms."
Steve on Saturday 6 January 2018
"It's great to hear that so many gardeners are experiencing success with used coffee grounds! Have you noticed any instances where you feel you shouldn't use them?"
Ann Marie Hendry on Tuesday 9 January 2018
"I collect 20 - 25 gallons of used coffee grounds per week from local coffee house.. I mix them with leaves and horse manure and make a big pile and add water and then let compost. I have been using for fertilizer for many years with good success. I don’t advise dumping coffee grounds in a pile by themselves. Coffee grounds by themselves make a gooy mess. Mixing with leaves works well."
Greg on Thursday 11 January 2018
"I just throw the grounds and filter into the compost. As a mulch, be sure to use a thin layer, mix in a little. If you have too thick of a layer of grounds it crusts over."
Sarah on Wednesday 17 January 2018
"For a number of years, I’ve just been putting uncomposted coffee grounds on my rose bushes - just “dumping them” around the base of each bush. Somehow, they disappear into the soil after a good rain or two and the roses thrive. I use 100% Colombian beans ground at my local coffee house."
Helen Ullrich on Wednesday 17 January 2018
"Into a five gallon bucket I put about 2/3 full of used coffee grounds and then filled it with water. I then stirred it well for a couple minutes with a stick as it was quite thick. Using a quart size container, I ladled the thick, wet mixture (like very thick coffee) onto the soil of four pots each with yellowing leaves, badly in need of fertilizer. The outside temp was about 85 degrees and in two days, the plants were green. Seriously. It was as effective at greening my plants as the most famous blue powder commercial fertilizer. Also, I have planted probably over 10,000 one or five gallon plants mixing a good amount of coffee grounds directly in the soil. The results are always good and are better than amending your planting soil with commercial mulches. "
Patrick on Thursday 22 February 2018
"I make my own filter coffee, grind the beans, make coffee I just dump em on the garden, I guess they will rot down in time, after all they are organic, then in the spring I just rake it into the topsoil I used to have chickens, all the waste food went to them, I used to buy em a cabbage or 2 to peck at as well I just used to dump coffee grounds in with them, they used to scratch it into the top soil for me, they used to peck it, but I don't think they ever ate them, if they did it never seemed to harm them Now food scraps are put in a hole, then spring time I did everything over I did try growing mushrooms in coffee grounds, well that's a month I wont be getting back, waste of time, they never grew"
Derrick on Friday 23 February 2018
"Great to hear that so many gardeners are enjoying success with coffee grounds. As with most things in gardening, carrying out your own practical experiments coupled with listening to other gardeners' experiences is the best way to learn what works best for your own unique garden!"
Ann Marie Hendry on Tuesday 27 February 2018
"Starbucks will give you a bag or two of coffee grounds for free, just ask. I not only add coffee grounds to my compost tumblers I also add worms, they love the grounds and everything else I add. I make some very rich compost that I use throughout my garden. Making compost is a must for any gardener, try it!"
Mike on Friday 23 March 2018
"my name is Kev Wharton i live in my own little Paradise i'm 89 at the moment i'm only interested in my own little plot, that i'm caring for. can anyone out there tell me how much coffee grounds should i apply in dried weight to the square metre of 4'' deep soil, reply sooner than latter, i'd like to work on it. Kev"
kevin Wharton on Wednesday 28 March 2018
"Hi Kev, if I was going to add coffee grounds directly to the soil a few handfuls then mixed in would be alright ever so often. I just prefer adding grounds to my compost pile instead then adding to my garden, just my choice."
Mike on Wednesday 28 March 2018
"Last year I saved coffee grounds over a few days and them put all of them at the base of my azaleas and rhododendron. The rhody bloomed well that year, but the azaleas didn't bloom and one of them looked like it was on the brink of dying. I had read that coffee grounds can rob the roots of plants from getting enough water and oxygen if they're applied to thickly, so I scooped about half the coffee grounds away from the azalea roots and watered them well. The plants eventually sprung back and are now budding, so I'm hopeful they'll bloom this year. Now I just sprinkle a small amount over the soil a couple times a year and put the grounds in with my compost the rest of the year."
Angela on Thursday 5 April 2018
"I've used coffee grounds as a fertilizer for many years. I sprinkle it over, just like you suggested. During winter I put it in my compost. "
Maria on Wednesday 18 April 2018
"I have always been told by a sicilian lady not to put coffee grinds around fruiting and flowering plants, but its ok for all other plants. I have been using it with herbs to great success."
Antonietta on Sunday 22 April 2018
"Interesting! Thanks for sharing."
Ann Marie Hendry on Tuesday 24 April 2018
"This is a great thread of examples! I've been throwing my coffee grounds on my grass and around all my flowers (acid loving and non) for a couple years now. The biggest change I've noticed in my red clay soil of Atlanta is the huge increase in worms! It's awesome! Everytime I dig to plant something, worms come up with. I've been in my house 13 years, and the worm increase is directly aligned with when I started tossing out coffee. Everything is happier with worms! I'm very unscientific. We make 8 cups a day.. I save the grounds in a tupperware, and when it's full I go sprinkle them in another section of the yard. Nothing is covered thicky, I just toss 'em out - easy to do! "
Lisa on Tuesday 15 May 2018
"I was using fresh coffee grounds- I added them to the soil but I promptly saw white fuzzy mold appear within days. Use with caution. "
X on Friday 18 May 2018
"It sounds like you've got a good system going Lisa! Keep up the good work. X, fungi are part of the composting process and it's not uncommon to see organic matter covered in mould as it rots down, so personally I wouldn't worry about this. But if anyone reading this has specialised knowledge of moulds, feel free to chip in with your opinion!"
Ann Marie Hendry on Tuesday 22 May 2018
"I used to put the coffee grounds into my compost and then dump the compost in the henhouse. The hens egg shells began to get thin and break. All winter, I tried everything to correct the thinning shells, finally I realized it was the coffee grounds. Kind of makes you wonder if coffee is leaching calcium from our bones..."
Sally McIntosh on Monday 11 June 2018
"Hi Sally. I haven't heard of any issues with hens eating coffee grounds in compost, but it's interesting that you've noticed a correlation between this and egg quality. Is the compost rotted down at all when you put it in your henhouse?"
Ann Marie Hendry on Tuesday 19 June 2018
"hi all I take my coffee grounds,put them a couple of shovels full ,through my mesh screen sifter one qtr inch, with my leaf mold ,looks like potting soil real qk,then i damp 2 shovels full of rabbit manure run it through sifter,mix this together , put it down day of a good rain around my tomatoes , the tomatoes think they are in tom heaven lol lol lol lol won largest tom in my county last year ,going for state record now i will get it if blight dont get me first love gardening hope u try this put a mulch of this down no fert ever needed "
bobby bennett on Wednesday 20 June 2018
"Wow, it sounds like you're enjoying great results Bobby! Fingers crossed for the state record."
Ann Marie Hendry on Wednesday 20 June 2018
"Hi there! Fairly new gardener (actually, single mom trying to help out my teenage son...he has the green thumb!) He heard about using coffee grounds and I brew at home daily. One potential problem: I break up a cinnamon stick in to my grounds prior to brewing for additional flavor. Anyone know if the cinnamon will hurt the plants? He currently is only growing a “salsa” garden. (Tomato, peppers (hot and bell), onion and chive). "
Tracy on Tuesday 26 June 2018
"Tracy - I use 100% flavored coffee - amaretto, cinnamon, chocolate, you name it! Now, I buy it that way so the flavor is part of the roasters prep vs mine.... but the worms and my dirt don't seem to mind at all. Not sure how much cinnamon you're putting in - but a little bit shouldn't hurt in my best guesstimate? I don't grow peppers so have never tested the coffee in peppers specifically - but flavored coffee in flowers has been a huge garden win for what that's worth :) "
Lisa on Wednesday 27 June 2018
"@Lisa Thank you! I usually just break up one cinnamon stick for each full pot of grounds. I was actually assuming it would be good because the cinnamon sticks are woody and could provide moisture benefits that way, but am nervous about the "spice" of them. He has several plants of each, so maybe I will test one of each variety and see what happens! "
Tracy on Wednesday 27 June 2018
"Hey Everyone, Hi work at a coffee bar in a Whole Foods. They use organic coffee, but can't advertise the organic status due to the way the urns, etc. are cleaned. If you only want organic grounds, they are more than happy to give them away to the public-just ask!"
Willa on Monday 9 July 2018
"That's great to know -thanks Willa!"
Lisa on Monday 9 July 2018

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