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If you are an avid gardener or even a novice looking into what kinds of compost you should use for your different plants, you might have heard of Ericaceous compost. This excellent compost is acidic, lime-free, and perfect for low pH-loving plants. But what makes it so acidic? Many manufacturers use peat to increase the acidity of soils and composts. This knowledge might make you wonder, does ericaceous compost contain peat?
Historically ericaceous compost has always included peat as one of its main ingredients to help increase its acidity and aid in aeration. Since the discovery of how bad peat harvesting is for the environment, there has been less and less peat in ericaceous compost, with some containing none at all.
Ericaceous compost is the optimal medium for growing acid-loving plants, such as rhododendrons, blueberries, or azaleas, and peat is one great way to ensure the correct acidity levels. As the world moves towards more environment-friendly practices, you might wonder if your typical ericaceous compost mix includes peat and, if not, what you might use in its place.
Is Peat Used In The Manufacturing Of Ericaceous Compost?
Until recently, peat has been one of the main ingredients used in manufacturing ericaceous compost due to its naturally acidic nature and ability to hold moisture and aerate the soil.
In recent years the popularity of including peat in ericaceous compost has reduced primarily due to the growing awareness of how peat harvesting degrades the environment. Peatlands are highly sensitive biomes with unique ecosystems that play a significant role in reducing climate change.
These days, manufacturers of ericaceous compost tend to limit the peat in their mixtures or leave it out altogether, using substitutes instead. At the same time, many gardeners, whether avid or hobbyists, will more often than not purchase an ericaceous compost that states on the package that it is peat free.
Do You Get Peat-Free Ericaceous Compost?
With the growing awareness of the climatic and environmental issues surrounding peat harvesting, there has been a shift towards using peat-free composts.
This shift does not mean that people are no longer using ericaceous compost. Instead, manufacturers have had to start producing peat-free options, as this compost is a necessary medium for some plants.
There are many plants out there that require an acidic medium to survive. These plants would suffer in more alkaline soils as this pH reduces the plant’s ability to absorb iron and other vital nutrients from the soil.
As many of these acid-loving plants grow in areas where the soil is too alkaline for their optimal growth, using ericaceous compost and other acidic potting mixes has become increasingly popular to help reduce the pH of said soil.
But the question remains if you make your ericaceous compost at home, what ingredients can you use if you remove peat from the mix?
It’s not just that peat provides a mode to increase the acidity of the compost; it also helps to aerate it and increases water retention. This dual purpose means that not only must its replacement be able to reduce the pH of the compost it will also need to aid its aeration and water retention.
There are a few ingredients you can use as substitutes for peat, including but not limited to:
- Coco coir – Will help aerate the compost and is one of the best-known peat alternatives
- Shredded pine needles
- Leaf mold
- Oak leaves
- Composted woody materials, such as fresh wood sawdust or shavings, coniferous wood chips
- Coffee grounds
How To Make Ericaceous Compost Without Peat
If you do not wish to acquire a shop-bought ericaceous compost, you could follow a couple of methods to make your own at home.
Making an ericaceous compost mix is similar to a regular compost mix, except that you will not be adding any lime as you do not wish to improve the alkalinity of this compost.
When making ericaceous compost, you will find that each batch will be different due to the pH levels of your ingredients. If you do opt to use a homemade mix, remember that it is challenging to create a consistent and reliable ericaceous compost mix, and there is the risk that your plants do not grow as optimally as they might in a shop-bought variant.
There are several methods to make an ericaceous compost mix, and the following steps are a guideline for one of those methods.
Start a compost pile by laying down a 6-8 inch layer of organic matter. If you wish to boost your compost’s acidity content, you can add organic matter with a low pH, such as coffee grounds, shredded pine needles, or oak leaves.
Pine needles are a great option, as they will aid in acidifying your compost until they decompose entirely. Although, once they have fully decomposed, their pH will return to neutral.
You can now sprinkle some dry garden fertilizer over your compost pile. Ensure that you measure your pile’s surface area beforehand to add the correct amount for your sized compost pile. Another suggestion would be to opt for a fertilizer that’s formula speaks to acid-loving plants.
You will now spread some garden soil over your pile. Ensure that the layer of soil is at least 1-2 inches thick. The microorganisms that live in the soil will help to boost the compost’s decomposition process.
Keep alternating between compost and garden soil, ensuring that you give the top of each layer a good watering before placing the next layer on top. Continue this process until your compost/garden pile is approximately 5 feet tall.
Once your compost is ready, you can add some perlite, coco coir, or grit to aid in aeration.
Why Should You Opt For A Peat-Free Ericaceous Compost?
Peat harvesting affects the climate and environment in multiple ways, including destroying the ecosystem, thus reducing the natural habitat of endangered and rare wildlife species.
Untouched peatlands also naturally purify the water, reducing the need for treatment before reaching our taps. They store water that people can use during times of drought. Contrastingly damaged peatlands tend to erode and leach peat into the nearby drinking water, causing contamination.
Peatlands offer protection during floods as it slows the water down from the hills, reducing the risk of flooding in the surrounding areas. They are also great carbon stores, and scientists have found that the increasing destruction of peatlands has increased greenhouse gasses entering our atmosphere.
Historically, peat has been one of the primary ingredients in ericaceous compost. Even today, you will still see it included in many shop-bought options. Yet, as awareness grows of the issues surrounding peat harvesting and its adverse effects on our climate and environment, its use is starting to dwindle, and many manufacturers are now producing peat-free ericaceous composts.