Choosing the Right Compost and Feed for Your Garden

It may be slightly daunting to know what is the right compost and feed to use in your garden and containers. With a seemingly bewildering array of composts and plant feed products available, here’s our top tips and advice for choosing the right ones.

Main Compost Types

  • Multi-purpose compost: as the name suggests this compost is suitable for most types of plant, but may not necessarily be the best option available.
  • John Innes composts: these are a group of traditional composts that are based on loam (soil) rather than peat or any of its alternatives. Because of this they are more suitable for the long term planting of plants that come back each year. They are not generally suitable for bedding plants as they are generally too heavy for these plants.
  • Ericaceous compost: this is compost specifically for acid-loving plants as it has the specific extra nutrients that these plants require mixed into it. There is also John Innes Ericaceous compost available for long term planting of this type of plant.
  • Bulb Fibre: as the name suggests this compost is specifically for bulbs. It is coarse compost that prevents too much water sitting around the bulb which could cause your bulbs to rot off.

Main Plant Feeds

  • Liquid feed: this type of feed is diluted in water and feeds your plants as you water them. It is quick acting but doesn’t last that long. It needs to be used once or twice a week as it gets washed out of the compost easily. Popular examples of this feed include: Miracle-Gro, Phostrogen and Tomorite.
  • Granular feed: This type of feed is applied to the surface of the soil or the compost. It gradually dissolves each time the plant is watered. The most popular example of this type of feed is Growmore.
  • Slow release feed: sometimes referred to as controlled release feed, it is either mixed into compost before planting or applied to the surface of the compost. The feed is contained within pellets that gradually release it over time. It will feed your plants for up to 6 to 8 months.
  • Ericaceous feed: like ericaceous compost this feed is specifically for acid-loving plants. It is usually available as a liquid feed or a slow release feed.

Before choosing the right products for you, it is important know what types of plants that you want to use. Plants can roughly be broken down into the following groups:

Bedding and Annuals

These plants provide lots of colour but are usually replaced 2 or 3 times a year. Popular plants in this group include: Pansies, Primroses, Violas, Petunias, Lobelia, Geraniums, Begonias and Sweet Peas.

  • Compost: good quality multi-purpose compost is best for this group.
  • Plant Feed: a slow release feed, a liquid feed or a combination of both.

For trees, shrubs & perennials

These are plants that come back year after year. This group includes fruit trees and bushes (except Blueberries), and also includes Roses.

  • Compost: John Innes No. 3 compost is the best option here, but multi-purpose compost with added John Innes will also be OK.
  • Plant Feed: a granular feed or slow release feed is best for these plants.

For acid loving plants

These are plants such as Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Camellias, Heathers, Pieris and Skimmia. Blueberries are also included in this group.

  • Compost: for this group of plants Ericaceous compost is a must. John Innes Ericaceous compost is best for plants in containers long term.
  • Plant Feed: the plant feeds that are specifically for acid-loving plants are the best options for this group of plants.

For alpine plants

This is another group of plants that come back year after year but have different requirements when it comes to the type of compost they will grow in.

  • Compost: you will not usually find specific compost for alpine plants. Their main requirement is extra drainage; therefore it is best to use multi-purpose compost with added John Innes and mix in some grit to achieve this.
  • Plant Feed: a general purpose granular or slow release feed is best for alpine plants.

For planting bulbs

This group includes all plants grown from a bulb, examples of which are: Daffodils, Tulips, Crocus, Snowdrops, Bluebells and Lilies.

  • Compost: bulb fibre is the best option here, but multi-purpose compost with added grit can also be used.
  • Plant Feed: a general purpose granular or slow release feed is also best for these plants.