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When you are growing plants, a suitable compost will make a world of difference. Choosing the right compost will ensure that your plants will absorb all the nutrients they need from the soil. You’ve probably heard of ericaceous compost as one the most commonly used composts and wondering what on earth ericaceous compost is and when it can be used.
Ericaceous compost is a type of compost suitable for plants that require acidic soil conditions to grow. Ericaceous compost is acidic, with a pH level between four and five. It can be used for growing potted plants or as a soil amendment to lower pH levels.
Ericaceous compost can be an important tool for gardeners, particularly if you are plants that love acidic soil. But it is important to make sure that you are using it correctly, as it can prove harmful for plants that require alkaline soils. Keep reading to learn more about this type of compost and when to utilize it within your garden.
What Makes Ericaceous Compost Unique?
There are many types of compost on the market. But ericaceous compost is unique because it is acidic. It’s common for this type of compost to have a pH score of between four and five.
As we’ll discuss later, there are a few types of ericaceous compost available, depending on the types of ingredients used. We’ll discuss this in more depth a little later.
When Should You Use Ericaceous Compost?
Hopefully, you have a better idea of what ericaceous compost is. But how can you use it within your garden? Here are some of the things to consider.
What Types of Plants Will Require Ericaceous Compost?
Though most species will adjust to the soil conditions that you provide, it can create problems for more sensitive species. Most plants will require slightly neutral or slightly alkaline soils. If this isn’t provided, they can struggle to extract nutrients from the soil. We’ll discuss some of the symptoms of a lack of nutrients later.
Because of this, only acid-loving plants should be given ericaceous compost. Here are some examples of the types of plants that tend to thrive in low-pH soils:
- Japanese iris
Before you plant something in your garden, it’s best to do a little research to learn the type of soil conditions they prefer. Usually, it won’t be too hard to find the ideal pH range for plants.
What Happens If You Plant An Acid-Loving Plant In Alkaline Soil?
This raises an important question, what happens if the soil pH isn’t right for a plant that needs acidic soil? Without the right pH, your plants will struggle to absorb nutrients from the soil. Here are a few warning signs that you should be looking out for:
- Yellowing leaves. Often, this will begin with the leaves that are close to the base of the plant. But it will soon spread its way to the top of the plant. At other times, the leaves will turn pale, with just the green veins visible within the leaf.
- Brown edges on the leaves. Mature leaves might start to develop a brown or yellow edge.
- Stunted growth. Sometimes, it can take a little longer for plants to develop if they don’t have access to the right nutrients.
If you see one of these problems developing you should check the soil pH, to see if it falls within the right range.
How Can You Tell If You Need To Use Ericaceous Compost?
It isn’t hard to find the right current pH level, to see if it will suit your plants. You should be able to find a soil test in your local hardware store. These will contain detailed instructions on how you can measure the soil pH levels.
If the pH levels are too alkaline, you can use some ericaceous compost to lower the pH to a suitable level. It should be noted that there are a few other ways to make the soil more acidic, these options include:
- Sulfur. You can sprinkle a little sulfur over the soil. It’s best to do this during the summer or spring months, so the soil is prepared before you start planting in spring.
- Adding iron sulfate. This will work quicker than adding sprinkling sulfur in the soil, as you should start to see the results within three to four weeks. But you will need to be careful and avoid overusing it.
- Sphagnum peat moss. This will add more acidity to the soil while improving water retention. This is fairly long-lasting and will often add acidity for two years.
- Aluminium sulfate. This won’t be suitable to use around edible foods and isn’t recommended if the garden will be used by young children or pets, as it can be dangerous when ingested.
- Vinegar. This is one of the most powerful ways to treat the soil, so you will have to be careful. As a result, you will need to make sure that you dilute it in water. If you don’t, there is a chance that it will damage your plants.
After adding these supplements, you should re-test the soil pH levels. This will allow you to gauge how effective it has been and whether you need to add further supplements to get to the acidity levels you require. You will need to be careful not to change the soil pH too quickly, as you risk burning the plants.
Another common option for using ericaceous compost is to create a suitable pH to grow pot plants. This ensures that you don’t need to change the pH of the soil.
Check out: Using Ericaceous Compost For Bedding Plants
What Is Used To Make Ericaceous Compost?
There are a few ingredients that are commonly found in ericaceous compost; these include:
- Peat. This is a more controversial ingredient because of the environmental damage associated with extracting it. The peat is used to provide acidity. The peat, or an alternative, will make up the bulk of the compost.
- Sand or grit. This is added to the mixture to provide some drainage. If you want, you can mix in more sand later if your plant requires well-drained soil.
- Perlite. This can also be used to improve drainage and help aerate the soil.
Can You Buy Ericaceous Compost?
You should be able to find ericaceous in your local hardware store. However, you will need to be careful about the type of compost you are buying. For example, some people prefer to avoid using a mix that contains peat. Extracting this ingredient is associated with environmental damage. The good news is that there are plenty of alternative mixes to explore.
How To Make Ericaceous Compost At Home
The good news is that it’s fairly easy to make ericaceous compost yourself. Here are some of the steps that you will need to follow:
- Choose a suitable site. The first thing that you need to do is decide where you want to place the compost pile. It’s best to choose a shady area. This will ensure that the heap doesn’t overheat. You might also want to take some precautions, like laying chicken wire at the base of the pile, to stop pests from getting into your compost.
- Lay the base layer. It’s important, to begin with, a layer of bulkier items like sticks and twigs.
- Adding green acidic items. There are two types of compost. Green items are used to provide nitrogen and other nutrients. Some examples include leaves and kitchen scraps. There are a few types of green items to include if you want to create ericaceous compost; they include:
- Green pine needles
- Coffee grounds
- Citrus fruits
- Onions, though, will need to be chopped first.
- Add brown items. The next type of compost is brown items. This is intended to provide carbohydrates for the microorganisms that are breaking down your compost. Examples include twigs, straw, cardboard, and paper. Generally, you want to provide a 50-50 mix between green and brown compost.
- Keep the compost moist. You want the pile to be damp, as this will allow the microorganisms to break down the compost. But you don’t want the pile to become wet.
- Turn the compost. You’ll need to turn the compost pile every few days. This ensures that it doesn’t get too hot. Plus, you’ll be able to ensure that everything gets broken down into the soil.
If this is your first-time composting, it’s normal to be a little confused about what you are expected to do. This video can help explain everything and give some additional tips:
Making compost is a slow process. Often, it can take between three to twelve months for a batch of compost to be made.
Remember that ericaceous compost is required to be acidic, with a pH range of between four to five. Because of this, you might want to test the compost regularly to ensure that it is within this range. If not, you can add some more acidic greens or mix in some sulfates.
It’s also good to customize the compost to suit the needs of your plants. For example, if your plant requires well-draining soil, you might want to consider adding some sand or grit.
Tips For Adding Ericaceous Compost into Your Garden
If you want to add ericaceous compost to your garden, here are some of the things that you should keep in mind:
- Add acidic compost slowly. You should only add a small amount of ericaceous compost. Place it around the base of the plants, making sure that you aren’t covering the leaves. This ensures that you aren’t accidentally burning the plants. This can occur when you over-fertilize. It can be up to 40mm deep.
- Water in the compost. Once you have applied the compost, it’s best to water it in.
- Preparing a garden bed. If you are planning on planting acid-loving plants in your garden, it’s a good idea to prepare the garden bed or pot first. In this case, you will need to mix some ericaceous compost with soil or potting mix. Don’t be afraid to use a generous amount.
How Often Should You Apply Ericaceous Compost?
It’s best to apply compost once a year if you are living in a colder part of the world. If you live in a warmer country, you will often have a longer growing season. As a result, you might have to apply compost twice a year. Plus, adding some moisture will help you retain moisture in your garden during a particularly hot summer.
It’s best to apply your compost during the fall. This ensures that the nutrients will be ready when the plants are ready to start growing in the spring.
Does Ericaceous Compost Expire?
It should be noted that ericaceous compost might start to lose its acidity over time as the nutrients leach out of the compost. There are a few ways to deal with this. First, it’s a good idea to regularly test your soil so you monitor the pH levels.
When you notice that the acidity levels are starting to drop, you can add some pine needles, citrus peels, or sawdust. You might also want to use a small number of sulfates, just be careful not to make the soil too acidic. This will help you maintain the soil pH.
There are a few other ways that you can maintain the acidity of your soil, these include:
- Use specially designed feed. It’s important to provide plant feed, to provide the nutrients your garden will need to thrive. However, you need to choose something that is specially designed for ericaceous plants, otherwise, it will be making your soil more alkaline.
- Use rainwater. Tap water is designed to be slightly alkaline, so you should only use rainwater in your ericaceous garden.
- Adding more ericaceous compost. As we mentioned, you are should aim to add new compost once or twice a year.
- Consider repotting. After a few years, you might want to start thinking about repotting your plants, as the ericaceous compost will have lost its acidity.
It’s important to create the soil conditions that will support the growth of your plants. Because of this, acid-loving plants are often provided with ericaceous compost due to its lower pH levels. You should be able to buy some ericaceous compost from the store, or, if you prefer, you can make it at home.