What is Compost Made of and Used for in UK Gardens 

By  Enda

General Guide to Composting?

To answer the question, "what is compost," the simple answer is that compost is simply decomposed organic matter.

The process of decomposing is known as composting and it is a very natural process where organic material such as leaves and vegetable scraps are recycled.

That compost then becomes a rich soil additive that is used to promote the growth of vegetables, fruit and other plants. Many gardeners refer to this by the name of "Black Gold."

Compost is used widely by gardeners, for landscapers, in horticulture, and organic farming.

Some new beginners to gardening can often get confused as to what exactly compost is. You can easily make your own compost at home, or you can buy it ready made, as bags of garden compost or peat compost from garden centres.

Those two types of compost are not exactly the same as I will explain later in this article, but the purpose of using it, is exactly the same.

Compost is also a natural pesticide for soil. The actual process of composting usually requires making a heap of organic matter, such as green waste, and that would include grass, hedge clippings and food scraps. 

That heap then warms up and when it is also ventilated, after time the materials will break down into humus after a period of some months.

The compost process can be aided by shredding the plant matter, adding some water and ensuring the proper airflow by regularly turning the mixture.

That encourages a chemical decomposing process by creating heat, carbon dioxide, and ammonium.

compost making

The Many Benefits of Compost

  • Compost is rich in nutrients - Gardeners who add compost to the soil during the planting season are in effect adding important nutrients to the soil. Those nutrients help promote soil microbes and those help a lot with plant growth.
  • Environmentally Friendly - One of the key benefits of any garden compost is that this is an environmentally friendly gardening practice. You are in effect recycling green waste and then using it to grow new plants. This is exactly a home grown version of the same process that creates soil on the earth.
  • Energise the Soil - Good quality compost helps to energise the soil. Compost along with other life forms such as worms all help break up the soil and make it healthier. It also makes the soil better for plant roots, making it better for vegetables, fruit and plants to feed themselves more efficiently.
  • Compost Helps Fight Disease - Compost also increases the ability of plants, fruits and vegetables to stand up to common plant diseases.
  • Moisture Retention - It is well known that composted soil helps a lot with retaining moisture.
  • Increase Taste and Nutritional Value - Richer soil will help improve their flavor and nutritional value of vegetables.
  • Reduces Waste - Composting has a two in one value in that it helps the soil in your garden grow healthy plants, fruits and vegetables while at the same time reducing the amount of waste in your home.

How to Make or Buy Compost?

When it comes to using compost then you have two choices as to where you can get it:

  1. Bought compost from a store or garden center (Usually peat)
  2. Make Your Own Home made compost

Where to Buy Compost?

You can buy compost in many stores and garden centers. For small amounts it can be bought in slightly different sized bags.

For those who need a lot of compost it can be bought in bulk and you can have that delivered to your home.

When you go to buy this, the main ingredient is "peat," and this "Peat Compost" has formed over thousands of years. As such is is made up of very old organic matter. However this old peat holds no nutrients and is in effect sterile.

This only becomes of value when nutrients are added to it. That is what has happened when you buy a peat based multipurpose compost from the shop.

The nutrients that are added to the peat based composts are almost always artificial, and will support plant growth for approximately four weeks.

Peat compost is very good for improving soil structure, however it has no nutritional benefit at all for any plants that grow in the compost. In addition to this the actual harvesting of peat is not an environmentally friendly process.

When peat is being removed from the ground that process destroys rare and unique plant and animal habitats. Peat compost is not a renewable resource.

So if you are planning on buying compost this is worth your consideration. The good news is that there are peat free composts available on the market. These are made from composted green wastes and other organic materials like coconut fibre.

Making Homemade Compost

This is a pretty simple thing to do as long as you have the time and patience to do that. All you need to make compost is simple kitchen and garden scraps.

Those are the providers that will give you green material for your compost. You can use trimmings from fruits, herbs, and vegetables for composting. When flowers start to wither they also make very good compost ingredients.

Depending on what ingredients used, compost can be different every time depending on the exact materials that go into it.

Gardeners will usually throw into the compost pile whatever they have at hand to make their compost. The reality is that there is no ideal list of ingredients to make a good compost product.

Most gardeners will use fruit and vegetable trimmings, old plants from your vegetable garden, and leaves and grass clippings.

The biggest problem with making compost at home is the time period that it takes. It will also depend on how much waste material you have at your availability.

Typically it can take anything between 2 to 12 months to make the compost. The time period differs a lot depending on the method that you use, the ingredients that you use and also the outside temperature.

It is however a compost that is rich in nutrients and friendly bacteria. Garden compost is made by adding the organic material described above to a heap, a compost bin or a composter and allowing it to rot until it becomes a dark and crumbly soil like substance.

Difference Between Compost and Fertilizer?

Some gardeners, especially those new to gardening, can easily get confused in the difference between compost and fertiliser. A simple way to remember this is that garden compost feeds the soil and any type of fertiliser feeds the plants.

The purpose of a fertiliser is to speed up the growing of plants. Compost can be dug into the ground at any time, and is most commonly done in early Spring and in the late Fall. You can however make and dig in compost to the ground at any time.

With a fertiliser though the application rate is always based on the needs of the specific plants. You can use either an organic or a typical conventional fertiliser. 

Organic fertilisers are friendlier to the environment than chemical fertilisers. It is also worth noting that the continued use of chemical fertilisers will throw soil chemistry out of balance and that is never a good thing for your soil.

Compost and organic fertilisers can work as individual treatments. Any type of soil that is regularly improved with compost becomes wonderfully rich, dark and crumbly. As a result this means that much less fertiliser is required, compared to soil that has not been treated with regular helpings of compost.

Compost Useful Resources


I am someone who enjoys a little gardening. Now I am not someone who spend hours in the garden, but I do like both my front and back gardens to look really nice. Well kept lawns, neatly trimmed hedges, and borders filled with plants, make a huge difference, to how your property looks.

Enda McLarnon

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