Compost Buying Guide

Compost Buying Guide

Whatever you’re growing in your garden, sometimes you’ll want to give your plants a little something extra to help them thrive. Good quality compost is rich in nutrients, and the perfect way to keep your plants strong and healthy.

What is compost?

Traditional compost comprises primarily of peat sourced from lowland raised bogs, but over time resource has become scarce. In an effort to preserve these bogs, peat-free and reduced-peat alternatives are now more common.

Peat-free composts are made up of a mixture of organic and inorganic materials such as composted bark, wood fibre, coconut fibre (also known as coir), loam (a soil made mostly of sand and silt with a bit of clay) and rock wool. This combination of coarse and fine materials, infused with nitrogen, phosphates and potash, creates a balanced compost that will help your garden grow beautifully.

What sort of soil is in your garden?

Before you buy anything, you’ll need to know what sort of soil is in your garden to ensure you get the right type of compost. Pick up a simple soil testing kit to help work out whether your soil is acid or alkaline. Measuring the pH of your soil will help you work out what plants will grow easily in it.

The pH scale

pH Soil type
0-6.5 Acid
7 Neutral
7.5-14 Alkaline

The majority of plants in British gardens grow best in soil with a pH of 6.0-6.5. This is because most plants prefer a slightly acidic growing medium. However, some plants will thrive in even more acidic soil (see ericaceous compost below), widening your choice of potential planters.

What compost should you use?

There are many different types of compost available. The type you choose really comes down to what you’re growing in your garden.

Fine compost with low-level nutrients

This type of compost is perfect for seeds and cuttings in early development, as too much food can be harmful to new plants. Usually, this type of compost will have ‘seed and cutting compost’ written on the bag.

Homebase John Innes compost

Compost with increased nutrients is a great choice for cultivating plants that are building strength and need help to develop. A good compost for plants and tomatoes at this stage in their life is Homebase John Innes No.2.

Multi-purpose compost

Multi-purpose compost is great for use throughout the garden – everything from flower beds and borders to potted plants and shrubs will benefit from this type of compost.

Compost for hanging baskets and patio pots

Look for composts specifically formulated for hanging baskets and patio pots. These feature slow-release fertilisers that will help plants flower throughout the summer. These composts also usually feature moisture retention properties to keep plants well fed on hot days.

Grow bags

A space-saving solution for growing, a single grow bag will usually have enough space for 3 plants. Grow bags are perfect if you’re growing fruit and veg but are short on space.

Ericaceous compost

This type of compost is more acidic, with a pH of around 5.5-6.0. Available within the J Arthur Bower’s soil-based range, ericaceous compost is perfect for growing azaleas, camellias, heathers and rhododendrons. You’ll get the perfect conditions for plants that don’t like excessive levels of lime but need a specific pH level for healthy growth.

Orchid compost

Orchid compost is made from a rich blend of bark and Seramis clay granules. The clay absorbs water for slow yet regulated release, and the pine bark mix helps increase airflow. Together they create the perfect growing conditions for orchids. This compost aims to produce healthier roots, giving orchids plenty of room to bloom.

Bonsai compost

Bonsai trees need strong roots and other specific conditions for healthy growth. They need soil that has great water and nutrient retention, slowly released over time. Bonsai compost uses Seramis clay granules that absorb excess water, mixed with wood fibres to improve drainage and aeration.

Citrus compost

Plant your citrus fruit trees and evergreen plants using specifically tailored citrus potting mix. With a perfect balance of nutrients, this type of compost uses Seramis clay granules that work to maintain water absorption. It also contains loam to help retain enough nutrients to develop high-quality fruit trees that you can enjoy for years to come.

Cacti & succulent compost

This type of compost is also composed of Seramis clay granules, with added grit and sand for optimum long-term absorption and drainage, strengthening roots. This unique blend creates the ideal conditions needed for cacti and succulents to grow.

Homemade compost

It’s easy to make your own compost with the Homebase range of composters. Simply put one of these large plastic bins in your garden and empty all sorts of organic waste into it – anything from leftover fruit and vegetables, tea leaves, coffee grounds and garden clippings – along with things like shredded paper and eggshells.

Everything you put in the composter will decompose naturally over time to create a rich compost that you can use around your garden. Creating your own compost is not only cost-efficient, but it’s also great for the environment and can reduce household waste.

Compost top tips

  • It’s worth spending a little more to ensure you’re getting a really high-quality compost as it will result in better flowers and vegetables.
  • Be careful when lifting bags of compost – they can be much heavier than you might expect.
  • Store open bags of unused compost in a warm dry environment, so it’s as good as new when you need it again.
  • Use rain water to feed plants growing in ericaceous compost, as the alkaline nature of tap water will reduce the effectiveness of the acidic compost. Rain water is slightly acidic, so it will help keep the compost at the desired pH level.
  • If you’re making your own compost, make sure you use one of our simple testing kits to check the pH of your soil before spreading it on your garden. The target pH you are looking for is between 6.5 and 7 for general-purpose use.
  • Keep your garden neat and tidy when you’re using compost with these garden accessories.




Writer and expert