Struggling to make sense of the different types of compost? I’ve tried and tested tons of different composts so I can recommend my 5 favorites for you and your garden.
Having personally struggled, standing in the compost aisle at the home-garden store confused, I know the feeling, so I’m ready to talk through my top tips and guide to buying the best compost for your garden.
In this buyer’s guide I have included 5 of the best composts I have found, the do’s and don’ts when using compost and an FAQ section so that you can make sure you know all there is to know about compost use!
I have chosen Charlie’s Compost as my top choice because it was super effective, it lasted a long time, it had minimum smell and mixed well with soil! There’s plenty of great composts depending on what your needs are. I’ve picked some based on budgets, needs and sustainability!
Check out my top 5 picks here:
- Best Overall Compost: Charlie’s compost
- Best Compost for Houseplants: Miracle-Gro Indoor Potting Mix
- Best Compost for Seedlings: Espoma Organic Seed Starter
- Best Organic Option: Good Earth Organics Gaia’s Gift
- Best Choice Made With Coco Coir: Burpee Organic Coco Coir Mix
Best Overall Choice – Charlie’s Compost
Charlie’s compost is a natural fertilizer that is made in Kentucky. The poultry farm in Calhoun recycles the manure from the farm alongside other organic matter, all sourced locally on the farm.
- Size: Available as 10 lb, 40 lb or 2000 lb
- Made from: chicken manure, corn stalks, staw, hay, clay and microorganism inoculants
|Natural ingredients||Not suited for citrus plants|
Who is it for?
Charlie’s compost is the perfect choice for people who are really invested in their growing, but don’t have enough time or space to make their own compost. This is a great option because it is eco-friendly, sustainable, made right on the farm and very effective.
I’d recommend this compost to all!
Best Compost for Houseplants – Miracle-Gro Indoor Potting Mix
This repotting mix is suitable for a wide range of houseplants, with a pH of around 6. It drains well, which is useful for healthy root growth and contains a balance of nutrients, ideal for promoting healthy plants.
- Size: Available as 6 qts, 12 qts or 18 qts
- Made from: sphagnum peat, fine bark, perlite coconut coir, and nutrients for your plants
|Affordable||Small bag, won’t last long if you have lots of plants|
|Odorless||The packaging is not recyclable plastic|
Who is it for?
This option is a lot more affordable and works well with indoor plants as it has no odor. I like this mix because I know it works well and contains fertilizer. So for the first six months I don’t have to fertilize! This brand does a range of similar products to cater to specific plant needs, such as citrus plants or cacti and succulents.
Best Compost For Seedlings – Espoma Organic Seed Starter
This compost is made specifically with seedlings in mind, the main goal is to promote fast, healthy seed germination. The compost has added sphagnum moss to retain moisture which is crucial for young plants. Once the seedlings have established I would switch to one of the other composts I’ve recommended. It can be used all year round from January to December.
- Size: Available as 8 quart bags
- Made from sphagnum peat moss, peat humus, perlite and myco-tone
|Improves moisture retention||Pricey compared to the other options|
|Easy to water and rewet||Doesn’t drain that quickly|
|The added myco-tone helps the plants to grow larger and bloom more||Must be stored away safely to keep it dry|
Who is it for?
I like this compost for my younger plants or seedlings, so this compost is for anyone who is starting off some plants and wants to give their plantlets the best chances. This option is great at getting your plants established and I have found that the veg I planted with this compost flourished, I grew some potatoes and carrots in with this soil. Westland also makes a range of similar composts but for older plants, as well as just general multi-purpose compost which can suit any growing needs.
Best Organic Option – Good Earth Organics Gaia’s Gift Premium Potting Soil
This organic potting soil is suitable for all types of plants and is suitable for indoor and outdoor use. It has high nitrogen content and great drainage. Since the soil is so high in nitrogen it is best and safest to use this compost on more established plants with a developed root system.
- Size: 2.5 Gallons
- Made from: coconut coir, pumice, compost, sphagnum moss, perlite, seabird guano, alfalfa meal worm castings
|Made in the USA||The most expensive option available|
|Certified organic||Not suited to baby plants or seedlings|
Who is it for?
This product is a good match for people who grow outdoors, indoors or even in greenhouses. It’s great if you like to grow plants that have high demands throughout their vegetative period. You can also use this as dressing over soil beds or other compost and it’ll still provide a lot of benefits to the plant whilst using this expensive product more sparingly.
Best Coco Coir Compost – Burpee Organic Coconut Coir Mix
This product is a dehydrated coconut coir in a dense block, you add water and the size of the compost grows massively. I really like this because it stores easily and then you can just add water as you need to use the compost. This compost is completely peat free and is made completely of coconut husk, additionally, the coco coir has no artificial fertilizers included.
- Size: 16 quarts
- Made from: Coconut husk
|Delivery emissions are offset||Needs to be supplemented with plant food|
|No peat included||It can be challenging to manage the pH levels|
|Odorless||The husk can compact over time|
Who is it for?
This is a great, clean option that’s easy to store, making it the perfect choice if you primarily grow your garden indoors. The compost is suitable for any type of plant and won’t scorch them. Coco coir is naturally bacterial and fungal resistant which is extra helpful indoors where the lack of airflow often leads to houseplant pests.
You can reuse the coir compost as well!
Buyer’s Guide – All You Need to Know About Compost
First, a quick definition, what actually IS compost? What makes it different from soil? Compost is a denser medium, and it’s packed with nutrients which come from green and brown matter which decompose to make compost. You can buy bagged compost or make your own. I’ll go more into the details of making your own compost and the advantages of using compost over fertilizer in this section of the buyer’s guide.
Why Use Compost?
Using composts is a great way to improve your garden’s long term health by building good soil structure, allowing the soil to retain nutrients and water, maintains a neutral pH and protects the plants from diseases. All types of garden and soil can be improved by the use of compost.
One benefit of compost is that it contains nutrients that your plants need to thrive, especially for the micronutrients that aren’t always included in the fertilizers available.
The nutrients are released at the rate the plants need them, it’s really cool! The nutrients are released from the soil as the microorganisms do their work, these microbes work faster in higher temperatures. In the summertime, plants need more nutrients because they are photosynthesizing faster, and the compost provides it because the microorganisms work faster in warmer temperatures.
Compost helps to improve the soil’s structure because it binds with soil which creates a crumbly texture. The crumb helps to create more spaces for oxygen pockets and channels for water to penetrate through the soil and then drain away. All in all, compost prevents root rot.
Compost helps to neutralize the pH of the soil, the compost bonds with soil toxins and metals and prevents them from being taken up by the plant’s roots.
How to Use Compost
You can use your compost indoors or outdoors, and the way you use it is the same whether you bought the compost or made it.
There’s a few different options of how to use compost in your garden.
One of the most popular ways to use compost in your garden is to lay it on top of your beds, this is called mulching. I like to sprinkle about 2-3 inches over my soil in the autumn time so that the compost is integrated in time for planting season.
If your plants have already been planted you can spread a thin layer of compost around the base of the plants.
Using compost as mulch helps to prevent evaporation, so reduces the frequency that you need to water the garden, and helps to prevent weeds from sprouting.
Compost is great for creating a potting mix for containers. You can mix about two-thirds soil with one-third compost. Compost is too strong to be used by itself because of the high nutrient content.
Dressing a new lawn can really help the grass seeds take root, making the grass grown healthier and greener. To do this I like mixing the compost with sand to help spread it more easily. Spread a thin layer of the compost-sand mix over the whole lawn.
You can go ahead and sieve the compost before using it to make the end result even better!
Just be aware that new lawns can be scorched if you use too much fertilizer and compost.
If you want to get nutrients directly to the roots of your plants, try making compost tea. Simply steep your compost in water to make it! There’s a few methods to make compost tea. I tend to have a mesh bag filled with compost sit in a bucket of water to make the tea.
These composts are made from peat mixed with a variety of ingredients, each slightly different depending on which brand you get. They’ll be combined with fertilizer, sand, perlite, and vermiculite, in different ratios depending on what the intended use of the particular compost is for. Peat based composts are the best option for carnivorous plants like Venus Fly traps.
Peat comes from peat bogs which are collectively called peatlands. These peatlands contain roughly a third of the world’s soil carbon, when it is harvested the carbon is released into the environment, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Peat use is now generally looked down upon in the plant community, the practice of using peat is very destructive.
I recommend always looking for peat-free products.
Peat Free Compost
Peat free composts are generally made with ingredients such as coco-coir, wood fibers and barks. Peat free composts are great for planters, tubs and hanging baskets. All of the composts I have linked above are peat free or formulated to have naturally reduced peat levels except the houseplant focus repotting mix.
Loam Based Compost
Loam is soil which is made of sand, clay and silt. Loam based composts often also contain sand, limestone and fertilizers. The compost I have recommended for seedlings is a loam based compost. The John Innes compost often is categorized into three types, No. 1, 2 or 3. No.1 has the least amount of nutrients, and is most suited for seedlings. No. 2 for small plants and the last type being best for larger plants.
Organic composts vary quite a lot from product to product so it is important to really read the ingredients and instructions on the product you’re considering. The nutrient level differs greatly as the composition can be entirely different from brand to brand. Usually, organic compost is made using peat, wood fibers and bark.
While the fertilizers can be great I tend to look for peat-free options over organic composts.
Making Your Own Compost
Over the last few years, I started composting at home to reduce my carbon footprint and to save money at the garden center. I found that the best compost for gardening is honestly the compost you make yourself. When you send food scraps to landfill they decompose, but not fully, and release methane into the atmosphere. Composting is a greener way to get rid of your scraps without damaging the environment. If you have the space to try it out, I can’t encourage you enough!
There’s a few start-up costs (but I’ll give you some top tips to cut this cost down) and a few things that are important to know, but overall I think domestic compositing is pretty simple.
The first step is to set up your composting bin or pile – I opted for a closed bin because that is what they had in the shop when I went, that’s really the only reason. Some people feel strongly about the look and the smell (though there won’t actually be much of a smell if you follow my tips) so opt for closed bins, but a regular heap is fine too.
You can get smaller, indoor compost bins if you don’t have an outdoor space. You’ll need to pick your spot, somewhere in the sun is ideal, remember that it’s pretty hard to move the bins once you’ve filled them up. So, pick somewhere not too far away from your kitchen and the space where you’ll want to be using the compost.
The best compost will have an even mix of green and brown materials in the bin.
|Cut flowers||Paper/ card such as egg boxes, toilet roll|
|Fruit and veg waste||Egg shells|
|Houseplant cuttings||Human hair and skin|
|Grass clippings||Straw and hay|
Not Suitable for the Compost
|Raw meat and fish|
|Cat or dog waste|
Add green and brown materials as you go and stir when you can. I like to collect rainwater and add that into the compost when I aerate it to help speed up the process. It’s completely fine if you can’t do this, it just takes longer.
Your compost is done when you can no longer see individual ingredients or materials that you had added, finished compost will be a dark, crumbly color/texture. It’ll smell fresh and earthy but shouldn’t smell bad. A bad smelling compost is a sign that you’ve added something not suitable for compost. Your homemade compost might have some pieces of woody stems, twigs or eggshells still remaining, just sift the compost if need be and return the larger chunks to the compost bin.
Common FAQs About Composting
Is it safe to throw away garden chemicals in the regular bin?
No, definitely not. If you’ve been using any kind of weedkillers, fertilizers or other gardening chemicals it is very important to dispose of them properly. They should not be put down the drain, toilet or any other way that they’ll end up in the water. Best practice is to use up surplus product, thoroughly rinse the container and then recycle the packaging.
Is compost safe around children and pets?
Compost is very much safe as long as you haven’t put anything dangerous in the compost like chemicals that should not be ingested (only really relevant when growing veggies or if you have curious children or pets). Regular compost should not pose an issue, but it is extra important to wash produce grown at home. Compost piles reach a high temperature, where most pathogens will be killed off. If you are worried about compost safety you can opt to use just bagged compost, which doesn’t pose a risk.
How long does it take to make compost?
Compost normally takes around 3-12 months to be fully decomposed, but this time varies depending on three factors.
The size and type of organic matter that you use in your compost, using a proper 50/50 ratio of green and brown material will speed up the rate of decomposition. Additionally, the smaller the pieces of material are, the faster they will break down.
How often you turn over the compost turning the compost helps to aerate the compost pile and moves the larger bits to the center of the pile, where it is warmer and the matter will break down faster. I use a pitchfork to turn my compost over but you can get a tumbler to make your life easier.
The temperature of the compost pile the warmer the compost pile (up until a certain point, 160ºF to be exact) the faster the decomposition, the increased heat means that the enzymes and microorganisms can operate at a greater rate, reducing the time needed to make the compost. At a certain temperature the enzymes will denature and the microorganisms will not be able to digest the organic material in the bin, it is important not to increase the temperature unnecessarily as the compost pile will heat up naturally.
Get Composting to Help Your Garden!
There’s a whole host of products on the market. The key things to consider are the nutrients in the compost, the type of compost and how you’ll be using it in your garden.
Each of the composts I have recommended will be a great fit for your garden, everyone has their own preferences so it could even be worth trying a few to see what you like! Personally, I really like to use Charlie’s Compost because it mixes well with the soil and doesn’t have a super strong smell. This is great for me because I live in an apartment and can’t keep my compost mix outside.
Using compost in your garden is one of the best ways to prepare for the next season. Compost helps with long term soil health, aids in the structure of the garden and helps your plants flourish. Consider going the extra mile and finding a peat-free option to help protect our climate.
Hungry for more plant advice?
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