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Welcome to the Garden Guru!

You will find lots of useful information on compost, composting and all things grow your own, from hints and tips to step by step how to guides on all sorts of interesting subjects.

Browse through all our garden guru's articles below to find the subject you are interested in.

If the article you  are looking for is not here, just ask The Compost Shop Garden Guru and he will get back to you as quickly as possible with the answers you are looking for!

Ericaceous Compost Facts

Ericaceous Compost Facts

Ericaceous Compost can seem difficult to understand and add to things to worry about. It really shouldn't and this article will help to get your head round what Ericaceous Compost is and what Ericacous Compost is used for.

What is Ericaceous Compost?

You will probably have heard of ericaceous compost in terms of what you can grow in it. It is an acidic compost, and suitable for growing rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas, heathers, and other plants that dislike alkaline soil, also known as lime-hating plants. The name ‘ericaceous’ comes from the Latin name for heathers, Erica.

Our ericaceous compost has a pH balance which is perfect for growing acid loving plants including blueberries, azaleas, camellias, rhododendrons, and heathers. The increasing popularity of blueberry bushes in our gardens and tomatoes in our greenhouses have made this one of the most widely-used and trusted specialist composts on the market. Whether it’s juicy superfoods or the vibrant, striking colour of acer trees, the delicate beauty of camellias, or the hardy, year-round charm of checkerberry, Ericaceous soil improvers offer your garden a healthy dose of low-ph goodness to keep your favourite specimens thriving. Specially formulated to provide a balanced nutritional profile for acid-loving plants, our Ericaceous compost is a great way to compensate for alkaline soil conditions to benefit your plants, while also feeding and nurturing them, regulating moisture and providing effective top dressing.

Ericaceous compost is trusted by experienced gardeners across the country to boost soil’s ph. profile, and keep acid-loving plants thriving!

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Summary Of Ericacous Compost Facts

Ericaceous plants needs to live in the correct soil for their vitamin needs- while lime-rich, high pH (alkaline) soil tends to bind the iron and other nutrients essential for healthy growth. Plants that need nutrients which are inaccessible in high pH soil are known as acid-loving (or lime-hating). If planted in normal, limey or alkaline soil,Ericaceous plants produce weak, yellow leaves and generally perform poorly.

Learn more about soil pH here and here.

Ensuring your Ericaceous plants perform well can be a challenge in the wrong soil. While long-term changes to neutralise alkalinity are possible, most gardening experts recommend planting your Ericaceous plants in an isolated pocket of acidic soil, using high quality topsoil and compost designed especially for this role. With the right specialist soil & compost, even the most demanding Ericaceous plants can thrive.

There are several ways to test your soil pH- for the most reliable results we recommend using a specialist kit.

We only stock Ericaceous Compost from reliable, tried & tested suppliers- and all our stock has been thoroughly tested on our own farm! We won’t sell a blend until it’s impressed us- and we’re satisfied its production surpasses high ethical standards.

Ericaceous compost gets amazing results because it allows the release of those vitamins, such as iron, needed most by acid-loving plants. These essential vitamins can be bound up in the structure of normal soil, depriving the roots of your plants and resulting in stunted, unhealthy growth that can leave you exasperated.

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When should You Use Acidic Compost?

You use ericaceous compost when the soil in your garden is too alkaline to grow lime-haters. And how do you know the pH of your soil? Well, you can either look at your neighbours’ gardens to see if they’re growing rhododendrons, or you can buy a soil-testing kit and test the pH for yourself. If the pH is above 7.0, then you will probably need to grow your ericaceous plants in pots, and in ericaceous compost. Although you can add chemicals to increase the acidity of your soil, you probably won’t have much long-term effect, especially if your soil is very alkaline. And some plants are so strongly ericaceous that they won’t grow in even slightly alkaline soil. Rhododendrons and azaleas are more tolerant, but blueberries like a pH of less than 5.5, so need to be grown in pots in ericaceous compost in much of the UK.

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Where Can I Buy ERICACEOUS COMPOST

Ericaceous compost is widely available from garden centres and compost suppliers. The Royal Horticultural Society recommends loam-based ericaceous compost such as John Innes Compost, but says that peat-free ericaceous composts are improving all the time, and will be perfectly suitable.

You can grow a wide range of plants in pots, even quite large shrubs such as camellias, provided you choose the right pots. Dwarf rhododendrons, such as the Rhododendron yakushimanum hybrids, are really good pot plants. They flower reliably, year after year, and remain small. There are also some lovely dwarf azaleas available that are perfect for pot cultivation. Camellias can get a bit big, but choose carefully, and you could even have one of those. As with all pot cultivation, you need to choose a pot that is not too much bigger than the pot your plant is currently in, or the soil will go sour before the roots have spread into it. You need it to be about two inches bigger than the rootball all the way round. If you want to use a much bigger pot, then put several plants in it.

Whatever ericaceous compost you choose, your plants will need repotting every couple of years, as the compost will lose its structure and nutrients over time. This will give you a chance to move your plants into bigger pots if necessary, or prune the rootball if you want to keep them small. Your plants will also thank you for feeding them with ericaceous fertiliser in the spring when they start to grow again.

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ERICACEOUS Compost USES:

Ericaceous compost is used for a lot of different purposes. Here is a small list of uses, with links to the RHS' website for more information on each suggestion:
  • Azaleas- a charming rhododendron flower with a bright and summery feel, great for brightening up your garden in those summer months.
    Read more on RHS
  • Blueberries- delicious (and very healthy!) treats with a delicate taste, perfect for baking, desserts or smoothies. For more information check out our article on blueberries!
    Read more on RHS
  • Raspberries- pretty and, of course, delicious! Like most berries these produce a huge crop that can be eaten as sweet summer desserts, made into jam, or frozen.
    Read more on RHS
  • Parsley- this traditional and versatile herb offers a welcome, fresh, peppery taste to any meal.
    Read more on RHS
  • Camellias- stunning flowers with a range of soft colours matched only by their elegant, almost porcelain beauty.
    Read more on RHS
  • Tomatoes- homegrown, freshly plucked from the vine: you’ll never get them of the supermarket again. The sweet, fresh slightly bitter scent of those soft pine green vines is enchanting.
    Read more on RHS
  • Callunas (heather)- Whether you want give your garden a wild feel, or simply punctuate your borders with a perennial flash of colour, these hardy plants offer a wide range of award-winning flowers.
    Read more on RHS
  • Enkianthus- gorgeous drops of colour that give your garden an Eastern feel. A beautiful shrub that not only supports stunning summer flowers but also produces an amazing variety of browns, reds and yellows in Autumn.
    Read more on RHS
  • Kalmias- Striking flowers originally from America, the popular Latifolia variety especially produces amazing ring-style colourations with shocking contrasts that really liven up a garden.
    Read more on RHS
  • Pieris- also known as forest flame, this often-overlooked shrub, if properly cared for, can develop into an elegant but hardy feature in your garden, decked in a subtle red-yellow leaves.
    Read more on RHS
  • Rhubarb- Massive and unmissable, rhubarb is also a great source of vitamin-rich, tart stalks.

Read more: Ericaceous Compost Facts

Garden Weeding Top Tips

It’s the job we dislike the most, yet it’s the biggest task on our “To Do List”.   Weeding. It often feels that no matter how much we pick, pull, spray and dig these troublesome tubers and pesky plants they still push their little green heads through, looking weak and defenseless, they then take hold of our borders or lawns like a tsunami of garden intruders.

Read more: Garden Weeding Top Tips

What is Compost

WHAT IS COMPOST?

The word ‘compost’ comes from ‘composite’, and it means a mixture of decomposed organic substances. The word is widely used to describe a whole range of suitable growing media for gardening purposes, including home-produced compost from kitchen waste, general purpose compost, potting compost and specialist composts such as mushroom compost or ericaceous compost.

WHAT CAN COMPOST BE USED FOR?

Compost can be used as a growing medium by itself, for example, in pots, plant containers or raised beds. You can buy compost for this purpose from garden centres or compost suppliers, and a wide range of suitable options are available, depending on what you want to use it for. For example, mushroom compost, or mushroom and manure compost are very good options for growing vegetables in raised beds. Mushroom compost consists of composted straw and animal waste that has been used for growing mushrooms, and then treated to destroy any spores. Mushroom and manure compost consists of mushroom compost with added manure. Both of these therefore have plenty of organic matter and nutrients suitable for vegetables.

You can also use compost as a soil improver in gardens or on allotments. Adding organic matter to soil has long been recognised as a way to improve soil structure, whether the soil is silty, clay or sandy. Whatever the structure, the organic matter seems to make the soil closer to the ideal soil, loam, with its mid-range particle size, close-to-neutral pH and good but not excessive drainage. You may consider it a bit extravagant to buy compost just to add it to your soil, and many gardeners choose to use farmyard manure for this purpose. However, if you’ve made your own compost from kitchen waste, it can feel very satisfying to use it to improve your garden beds, especially if it’s to grow vegetables!

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WHAT CAN ERICACEOUS COMPOST BE USED FOR?

If you want to grow ericaceous plants in pots, you will need ericaceous compost, which is acidic and so ideal for these plants, which dislike alkaline soil. If your plants are less specialist in their requirements, you may find that the ideal compost is multi-purpose compost or one of the John Innes Composts (a loam-based compost). These were formulated by the John Innes Institute for Plant Research, and contain the ideal balance of nutrients for plants at different stages, whether seeds, potting on, or mature plants. Because they are loam-based, they don’t dry out as quickly as some other composts. However, they’re made to standard formulae, and at present include peat, so if you want to go entirely peat-free, these may not be for you unless you can find a peat-free version.

Whatever you want from compost, there are so many varieties out there that you’re bound to find a suitable sort for your purpose.

Read more: What is Compost

How to Grow Chillies

HOW TO GROW CHILLIES

Discover how to grow your own delicious, flavour-filled chillies at home

Growing Conditions

Chillies are the delicious ingredient that gives that kick to so many recipes from around the world. While mass growing is usually linked with hot countries in Africa and Asia, they can also be grown from your home providing they are warm enough. You can start growing as early as January or February.

Chillies should be grown indoors in the UK, as our weather just isn’t warm enough to give us a successful crop. It is essential that chillies are kept warm, both in the early stages and later on in their development; although a greenhouse is usually warm enough once the plants have become established.

The minimum temperature your chillies should be exposed to is 10°c and they should be in a place where they get a lot of sunlight. A conservatory or windowsill is ideal. By May, the weather should be warm enough to move the plants into a greenhouse.

Equipment You Might Find Useful

  • Canes or sticks and string: Chillies are one of the many home grown foods that require something to support them. When they are smaller plants, they may flop under their own weight, whereas larger chilli plants may flop purely under the weight of their fruits. Tying them loosely to a garden cane or a large twig from your garden waste is usually enough to prevent a falling plant.
  • Troughs: Since your chillies should be grown indoors rather than in the soil for best results, you will need some pots or troughs to put them in. Troughs are better in greenhouses to maximise space, but they might look better in a nice round tub if kept in the home.
  • Clingfilm: Useful for keeping heat and moisture in seeding trays to help your baby chilli plants to germinate.
  • Capillary Matting: Roots may grow better and stronger if watered from below.

Getting Down To Growing

Plant your seeds. Fill seeding trays with compost, water them, and let the water drain. Seeds should be sown around 2-3 centimetres apart (one inch). Then, cover the trays loosely with Clingfilm.

It can take 1-2 weeks for your chillies to germinate, although some varieties can take up to six weeks. Popping the tray on a heated propagator can speed this up a little (although an electric blanket would serve you just as well).

Water your chillies regularly, but don’t soak them. In fact, some sources reckon that stressing your plants a little can give your crop a better flavour. In the early days though, keep soil damp but not ‘wet’.

Keep your trays somewhere warm with lots of bright sunlight such as a windowsill that gets a lot or sun, or in a conservatory if you have one.

When the seedlings are approximately 5cm (two inches) in height and have gained their second set of leaves, they are ready to be moved into their own individual pots. These pots should be around 8-10cm in diameter. You will need to re-pot them again when they have reached 15cm (six inches). Pop them in their own pots, or you can get three plants in one 12-inch tub. Make sure the pots have lots of compost, filling them up to around 1cm from the top.

One of the most important things to remember if you are growing indoors is to hand pollinate your chillies when they flower. This can be done with a cotton bud, just dabbed into each flower.

Harvesting your Chillies

When your first chillies have grown, cut them from the plant while they are green. By doing this, your plant should continue to fruit right through the season (which is between July and October).

If you want a better flavour, allow your further chillies to go red before harvesting.

If you moved your chillies to a greenhouse and they are struggling to ripen because of bad weather or poor sunlight, bring them back indoors and put them back on the windowsill, ensuring you keep the house warm.

For Best Results:
  • Use tomato feed weekly for better growth
  • Check leaves daily for aphids, treating if needed
  • Freeze or dry your excess chillies so you can enjoy your crop all year round

Read more: How to Grow Chillies