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When I was starting out in horticulture many moons ago we had to mix our own potting composts and it was quite revolutionary when we had a choice of a bag of soil-based or a bag of soil-less compost to buy at a garden centre! Perhaps I am just showing my age here but recent observations have led me to believe that there is far too much choice!

Multi-purpose composts


These are great for sowing seeds, pricking out, potting on and potting up a wide range of plants both indoors and out. The soil-less versions only have enough nutrients for about six weeks though so you will need to feed your plants. Also they are very attractive to the evil vine weevil attack.


Originally John Innes but now there are a few brands on the market. These have loam, peat, sand and nutrients lasting a little longer. JI no 1 for seeds and cuttings, JI no 2 for potting on and JI no 3 for mature plants. The numbers relate to an increase in nutrients.


If you are potting ericaceous plants like Camellias you will need to buy a compost that omits the lime in the nutrient content so ericaceous compost is essential. You can buy cactus compost which has extra grit, orchid compost which is bark based and basically compost for any type of pant but what I don’t recommend is using multi-purpose potting compost on the garden….

Compost for the Garden

If you have a compost heap and a little knowledge you can recycle all your garden waste and kitchen waste and create a wonderful product to use as a mulch to improve your soil and feed your plants in the garden. The problem with using multi-purpose potting composts is that they are expensive to buy and disappear too quickly in the soil and what we want is to increase worm activity to feed the soil and release nutrients to plants. Also it is very easy to buy the wrong product! We will look at creating garden compost another time.


Horse manure is one of the best products for the garden providing it is well rotted and not fresh. It improves all soils and is an excellent source of nutrients for plants as well as a brilliant soil improver. It is not, however, suitable for potting up plants!

If you have any questions about this subject please drop me an email!

Horticultural Consultancy 

I can spend half a day in your garden identifying your plants, teaching you how to look after them and discuss design ideas. I can also work out a maintenance programme for you. The visit is followed up by a written report so you don’t have to remember all those Latin names! This may be all you need to gain a little confidence in the garden to maintain it yourself. I can also work with you and teach you pruning or I can just do it for you!

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