Are you looking for advice on the best compost for pots and hanging baskets? This guide covers everything you need to know about choosing the right compost for your container plants.
What is the best compost for container gardening?
Naturally we all want our plants to grow strong and healthy. Getting the compost right is a key part of helping your plants to thrive. And not all compost is the same.
If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to using the right compost for potted plants, you’re in the right place.
A guide to the best compost for pots and hanging baskets
In this article we’ll take a look at the best compost for containers and pots, and why it’s important to choose the right product.
We’ve also included our picks of the best garden compost for plants, seeds, hanging baskets, cuttings, vegetables and indoor plants grown in pots, to save you lots of time and effort.
Why you should use the right compost for outdoor pots
Every type of plant has its own ideal conditions for growing. These conditions include the amount of light, heat, water and nutrients available to the plant. Get these conditions right, and your plant has a good chance of doing well.
Compost is hugely important when it comes to the nutrients available to your plant. Yes, you can help by using plant food, but the compost should be doing the main job of providing nutrients. This is even more important when a plant is grown in a pot, because the roots have limited access to compost and can’t reach out to a wider area to get the nutrients they need.
Using the right compost for pots also has an impact on watering. Plants grown in pots tend to dry out quicker than plants grown in the ground, but on the flip side pots can also become waterlogged if the container itself doesn’t have enough drainage holes. The balance to aim for is a compost that has an open structure which allows water to drain, but that also has a texture which allows for some water retention.
As you can see, it’s a very good idea to get the right compost for pots and baskets. It will keep your plants looking good for longer, save time on maintenance, and help you avoid having to replace plants on a regular basis.
What exactly is compost?
Before we dive into the best compost for pots, let’s take a minute to understand what compost is.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines compost as “decaying plant material that is added to soil to improve its quality.”
When you buy a bag of compost, it’s essentially organic matter which is designed to improve soil, or support plants grown in specific conditions – such as containers.
In contrast, soil is a mixture of organic matter and inorganic matter such as sand, rocks, and water. The organic materials can provide nutrients, but this is usually at lower levels than in compost.
What is the difference between potting compost and garden compost?
When choosing the best compost for garden containers, it’s important to also understand the difference between garden compost and potting compost.
Garden compost is the homemade compost you find in a compost bin. It’s made from rotted-down plant, vegetable and fruit waste, and can also include things like grass cuttings and cardboard. Garden compost is great for improving the structure of soil and adding nutrients, but it’s not the same as potting compost.
Potting compost is designed specifically for use with plants grown in pots and containers. It’s not a soil improver; it’s an alternative to soil. The texture of potting compost is lighter than garden compost, and it has the right balance of nutrients to support plants growing in pots.
Can I use garden compost in pots?
Garden compost is very nutrient rich, and as such it’s not ideal to use it on its own in pots and containers. Too much compost in a container could damage and even kill your plants.
Is it OK to mix compost with potting soil?
You can mix a little garden compost into your potting compost to give established container plants a boost.
Is topsoil better than compost for pots?
As the name suggests, topsoil is the top layer of the soil in your garden. As such, it’s where all your plants grow – so should you be using topsoil instead of compost for your pots and containers?
It’s tempting to just use some of your garden soil in your pots, but it’s not a great idea for a number of reasons.
Why can’t I use garden soil in pots?
Garden soil is usually too heavy and dense for containers. Worms and microorganisms do a great job of keeping it aerated when it’s in your garden, but if you put it in a pot it will become compacted. Once this happens, drainage becomes a problem. Water either runs straight off causing plants to dry out, or your plants end up sitting in a puddle which ultimately rots their roots.
You will also struggle to provide your plants with the nutrients they need from garden soil. As we mentioned above, soil usually contains less nutrients than compost. This means your plants will find it harder to grow and stay healthy if they have access to soil alone.
Finally, using garden soil in pots runs the risk of transferring harmful bacteria to your lovely container plants – and nobody wants that!
Managing water levels in potting compost
As we’ve already mentioned, getting the water levels right in potted plants can be a tricky business. You don’t want your plants to be parched, but you don’t want them to get waterlogged either.
If you’re worried about your pots drying out too quickly, you can add some *water retaining crystals to your compost. These will help to keep moisture levels more consistent and reduce the need for watering. You might also find our effective watering tips and our guide to drought tolerant plants useful.
What is the best soil mix for pots?
Obviously, gardening in containers covers a range of different projects, including growing plants from seed, growing young plants, growing vegetables, growing established plants, and growing indoor plants. We’re going to cover each of these in this roundup of the best compost for pots.
How to choose the right potting compost for garden pots and baskets
Now we’ve covered what potting compost is, and why it’s a great idea to use it for container plants, let’s take a look at options for potting compost available to buy.
Is multi purpose compost OK as potting soil?
Multi-purpose potting compost is a good option for most container gardening projects. If you’d like to keep things simple, choosing one of the best peat free compost for pots is a safe bet.
Best multi-purpose potting compost
This well-known brand of potting compost is ideal for pots, hanging baskets and seedlings. It’s also suitable for growing vegetables. It contains smart granules that release nutrients for up to three months.
Another good multi-purpose option, Westland New Horizon peat free compost has a unique formulation that provides optimum structure, water retention and nutrients for container plants. It’s suitable for ornamental plants, fruit and vegetables, seedlings and cuttings.
Best sustainable potting compost
Coir compost is naturally peat-free and sustainable, and a very clean growing medium. This nutrient-enriched coir block is rehydrated with water and is ideal for growing seeds and cuttings, potting on young plants, and container displays.
A multi-purpose premium potting compost, this is rich in nutrients and has great water retention, making it ideal for thirsty pots and planters.
Best compost for seeds
Seedlings thrive in light compost that allows their small stems to push through easily. This peat-free John Innes compost is enriched with coir, loam and vermiculite for optimum texture, plus balanced nutrients to support germination and growth.
This premium potting compost is made from bracken and wool, and offers a sustainable and peat-free way to raise healthy seedlings. It’s nutrient rich and has excellent water retaining properties.
Best compost for cuttings
Cuttings need a similar compost to seeds and seedlings: loose and free-draining. This coconut coir block provides both.
Best compost for hanging baskets
Hanging baskets dry out quickly, so you need a potting compost that can combat this if possible.
As well as plenty of controlled release nutrients, this compost has a water retaining agent to keep hanging baskets happy.
Another good all-rounder that is suitable for hanging baskets – you can mix in water retaining granules to help control moisture levels.
Best garden compost for vegetables
Both *Westland New Horizon peat free multi purpose compost and *Miracle-Gro premium all purpose peat free compost are suitable for use with container fruit and vegetables.
We’re also starting to see peat-free potting compost designed specifically for fruit and vegetables, such as:
This compost is 100% organic while also delivering on performance. It’s enriched with slow-release nutrients and contains natural hollow wood fibres to ensure an optimum balance of air and water.
Best compost for indoor plants
This peat-free houseplant compost is designed to support houseplants with balanced nutrients to encourage vigorous, healthy growth.
If you like the idea of low maintenance houseplants, this is good compost option. It has added Seramis granules to regulate water intake, and perlite to help with airflow and drainage.
How often should you change compost in pots?
Inevitably, the compost in a pot will eventually become exhausted and no longer able to provide enough nutrients for the plants. At this point, it’s time to refresh or replace the compost.
How often this needs to be done can vary, depending on the size of the pot and the number of plants the compost is supporting. Somewhere between six months and two years is a likely timeframe.
If your container plants are looking less healthy, or have stopped growing, it may be time to replace the compost.
Take the plant out of the pot, and gently remove any loose compost without damaging the roots. Repot the plant using fresh compost, and water thoroughly.
You can also give potted plants a mini-refresh by simply removing the top layer of compost and replacing it.
Should I repot with compost or soil?
You should always use potting compost when repotting container plants. As we covered earlier, soil won’t provide the right nutrients and structure for potted plants, and can introduce bacteria.
More container gardening advice
We hope you’ve found this guide to the best compost for pots and hanging baskets useful, and feel confident about choosing the best garden compost to help your container garden thrive. Happy gardening 🪴
If you’d like to explore more container gardening resources, we’ve got plenty to keep you busy.
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