Deciding what compost to buy for your garden is rarely easy. With such a massive range of composts available, knowing which types are best-suited for your plants can be quite difficult. This is especially true when you consider that plants have different preferences when it comes to soil.
Even the slightest differences in nutrients and pH levels can impact the suitability of soil for a plant, but if you get the balance right then you are almost guaranteeing much healthier and more vibrant plants and flowers in the garden.
One of the best products to use for acid-loving plants is ericaceous compost.
What is Ericaceous Compost?
This type of compost is one that most gardeners have come across. The name certainly stands out, but ericaceous compost is one of the most useful types of soil available, mainly because of its high acidity.
Soil can have various pH levels, ranging from acidic, neutral and alkaline, with each type being suitable for certain plants. To determine the natural pH levels of your garden soil, testing kits are available for a modest price, helping to accurately read how acidic or alkaline the soil is.
Ericaceous compost is therefore one of the best soils available for lime hating (calcifuge) plants.
Why Do I Need Ericaceous Compost?
The main reason to buy ericaceous compost is if intend to grow lime hating plants. Simply put, these types of plants and shrubs do not thrive well in alkaline soil, so require an acidic alternative for healthy growth.
There are many popular plants and shrubs that fall into the lime hating category, including:
- Lily of the Valley
So, if you own or wish to grow any of these plants and find your soil is too alkaline, then ericaceous compost is a fantastic way to encourage healthy growth. Growing any lime hating plants in alkaline rich soil will result in yellow leaves, withering, and even possible death.
Where Can I Get Ericaceous Compost?
Most garden centres carry various ericaceous compost, as it’s available from a number of manufacturers. It’s also readily available online, so it should be easy enough to find a good source for the compost.
However, as a specialist compost it can be on the expensive side, especially if using on large areas. This can be problematic if you’re using ericaceous compost outside of pots, as many people tend to use it to acidify soil in their garden.
Peat was once used for this, but environment concerns regarding the availability and harvesting of peat means ericaceous compost is one of the few ways to acidify garden soil.
How to Acidify Soil
If your garden soil needs more acidity, there are effective methods available. For instance, adding sulphur powder into your soil is a quick and easy way to increase acidity. It’s available at most gardening stores or online, costing very little in most instances.
Once you have some sulphur power, you will need to determine how much to use. This requires a pH tester, with anything above the pH level of 7 being non-acidic. The more alkaline the soil, the more sulphur you need to use, while larger areas obviously require more sulphur.
It is important to add the sulphur in the correct conditions. Wet and windy days aren’t ideal for adding sulphur, as the power is very fine so won’t take effectively when added in these conditions. Also, be sure to wear protective gloves and a dust mask to avoid contact!
Making Ericaceous Compost
For gardeners that love to make their own compost, it is certainly possible to produce your ericaceous compost too! There are various materials that can be added to your composter to help increase acidity, including:
- Bark Chips
- Citrus Peel
- Coffee Grounds
Should you not have these materials or they aren’t as effective as you require, then the addition of some sulphur chips should do the trick. It is worth noting that in creating your own ericaceous compost there will be some materials you cannot add.
For instance, calcium or lime should never be added to the compost, as it reduced acidity. These materials are popular for reducing strong odours and flies in the compost, but it’s necessary to prevent the compost’s pH levels from becoming neutral.
Tips When Using Ericaceous Compost
One of the most important things to remember when combining ericaceous compost with ground soil is that the effects will only be temporary.
As the compost combines with the ground soil, it will naturally lose its acidity, so be sure to regularly check pH levels over time and add any acid-rich materials when necessary. This doesn’t even need to be sulphur powder, as simply tossing on coffee grounds or citrus peels onto the soil should help acidify it.
Similarly, adding mulch on top of the ericaceous compost and soil mixture should help maintain acidity for longer.
Never combine tap water with ericaceous soil. While tap water is certainly handy for watering plants, it is usually alkaline so may reduce the acidity of the compost. Rain water is naturally more acidic, so collecting it for irrigation purposes is a great idea, although you may need water butt container for this
Use ericaceous compost in pots or containers if you are struggling to maintain acidity levels in ground soil. When the alkaline is very high in soil, ericaceous compost only temporarily reduces the pH levels, so the results will likely be much better using pots.
Consider using an ericaceous plant feed alongside the compost. While multi-purpose plant feed can be used, lime hating plants really flourish when ericaceous compost and plant feed are combined. Expect even more vibrant foliage and flowers when doing so.