If you’re looking for eco-friendly living tips for sustainable living, today we’ll discuss all about how to give your plants the best start and the most protection over winter, with organic compost.
Each different mix of compost soil is full of nutrients, good things and PH-appropriate food, but which one is right for your garden? Should you try DIY composting, or should you buy it in bulk from the garden centre?
To help you decide, in this blog we’re going to look at:
- What is compost?
- The different kinds for different plants.
- How to create your own compost bin.
As far as composting goes, there’s not one size fits all. Plants are as individual as people, so let’s get gardening the right way…
What Is Compost Soil?
In its most basic form, compost is selected organic matter that has decomposed down into a dry, dark brown material, which can improve the condition of your soil. We’re talking branches, leaves, banana peels, grass, food scraps, whatever – they can all be thrown in the compost bin to be recycled.
Some commercial producers include in their compost additional nutrition such as plant food granules or specific PH level loam, but there are plenty (maybe too many) options to choose from:
1. Multi-purpose Compost
A mix of peat and woodland fibres (leaves and bark), this compost is most commonly used by beginner gardeners. The appeal of a mix that’s generally good for everything is hard to resist, and can be helpful for a while. But in the long run this compost soil isn’t ideal for all kinds of plants to reach maximum growth. And the peat included isn’t good for the environment either!
2. Peat Free Compost
It’s the negative environmental impact of peat harvesting that’s helping peat-free mixes grow in popularity among those wishing to join the zero waste journey. Instead of taking valuable swamp-land peat, peat free compost contains organic materials like wood and green waste, as well as coconut fibres, mixed with inorganic matter, to replicate the nutrient and moisture-retention properties. DIY composting makes peat-free compost as well, but it’s a more costly and lengthy process.
3. Loam Based Compost
If you’ve got heavy, hard to drain soil, you probably need to look into loam-based compost. Loam is a kind of soil that mixes sand, silt and clay to improve drainage and water retention when needed. Compost which includes loam, such as John Innes varieties, is a great nutrient boost for your plants.
4. Ericaceous Mixes
You may have seen Ericaceous mixes in the compost aisle as well. Having a higher PH level, these are best used when your soil PH is too low, when there’s too much lime in the soil or if you have acid soil-loving plants.
5. Manure Compost
If you just need to improve the nutrients in your soil and nothing else, then consider using manure. You can buy it from your local council or garden centre and it’s an excellent soil conditioner or mulch. Mix it into your borders in winter for new growth in spring.
6. Specialist Compost Mixes
Specialist mixes can also be found if you want to be the perfect gardener. You can find aquatic compost, cacti mixes, alpine varieties and more which are optimized for a specific kind of plant.
The Different Kinds, For Different Plants
We’ve already mentioned the specialist compost soil mixes made for certain kinds of plants, but when no dedicated mixes exist, what are you supposed to do?
With young, fragile plants which are desperately trying to develop root systems, you need something light, with good drainage. There are mixes out there called seed and cutting composts which are ideal for encouraging germination and roots with seeds, plugs and propagated cuttings. These generally consist of fine particles of organic compost mixed with perlite or vermiculite for added aeration.
That Ericaceous mix we spoke about before which is best used to address the PH levels in your soil, or for planting acid-loving plants, can be used with japonicas, rhododendrons, anemones and more.
For cottage gardens and container plants both indoors and outside, a general multipurpose compost should be fine, although you may want to consider a container mix as they come with a slow-release fertilizer in.
Other mixes, such as John Innes No.3, are ideal for more established plants in pots.
If you’re trying to level out or repair your turf, then don’t use compost – it’s better to use quality topsoil that sieved for better aeration. Don’t forget to add a layer of mulch for winter and wet weather protection. An inch or so of bark or compost will keep everything frost-free and warm.
How To Create Your Own Organic Compost Bin
The next level for gardening glory is to start creating your own organic compost. It’s a challenge and it takes time, but the rewards are environmentally and carbon friendly.
First up, you need to choose your compost bin. It needs to be at least 1m x 1m and should be preferably located somewhere lightly shaded. Also, it needs to rest on the soil to allow for drainage and the all-important microbes, fungi and organisms to have access to the waste.
Some bins come with lids to keep in the smells and keep out the flies, others come with temperature controls and a tumbling function for easy turning, all to aid the decomposition process.
The only thing you need to do after choosing your bin is to start the composting process. Throw in your veg peels, weeds, wood whippings and leaves – everything natural will smush down into valuable organic compost eventually (expect usable compost in six months to two years). For nutritionally-balanced compost, try and keep it 50/50 green and brown waste.
TOP TIP: Don’t forget to turn your compost for even decomposition. It needs good air circulation and good levels of moisture to compost properly, but try and cover it when there is a rainstorm, to prevent it from getting too wet.
So, there you have it. That’s everything you need to get composting using a compost bin and to understand what your garden and plants need in around 900 words.
There’s loads more info out there about compost soil if you want more detail, but no one will know better than your local garden centre workers or allotment owners. Ask them for help – we bet they’ll be happy to.
And in the meantime if you’re interested in finding other useful ideas for transforming your garden and house to be more eco-friendly, follow our blog. We have many great ideas for you coming up!