Soil and Compost Explained

The term compost can be confusing because there are many different types. However, compost can be divided into two sorts:

• Potting and Planting Compost that you buy in bags from garden centres
• Home Compost

Potting and Planting composts are totally different to the home compost that you make in a compost bin and the two should not be interchanged.
Knowing when to use home compost and when to choose a potting or planting compost, is just one of the secrets to a successful, healthy garden.

Potting and Planting Compost

Potting and Planting Compost is the specially formulated, growing media that you buy in bags from the garden centre, for example, West+ Multi-Purpose Compost & 4 Month Feed. There is a wide range of potting and planting compost available to provide gardeners with a choice of specially tailored compost for growing and nurturing specific types of different plants.

Each pack of potting and planting compost in the Westland range is a finely tuned mixture that has been prepared to enable gardeners to provide the very best growing conditions for their garden plants. It introduces exactly the right environment to the immediate area around the plant roots to ensure that they have everything they need for successful growth. It is also free from weeds and pathogens to ensure healthy plant growth.

Home Compost

Home compost is the result of home composting. It is an important ingredient of healthy garden soil. Making your own home compost is a great way to reduce landfill and help meet local recycling targets. In ideal conditions it can take as little as eight weeks to create fully composted home compost that is ready to use in your garden. For more information see our section on making your own compost.

Which Compost Should I Use?

There are many different composts available and it may seem like a daunting decision but with a little guidance it’s really very simple to make the correct decision to help your plants flourish.

The main things to consider when selecting your growing media or compost are the plants that you want to grow in it and where the plant will be growing.

Will the plant be growing in a bed or border or in a container or hanging basket?

Is the plant acid loving like rhododendrons or camellias? (Acid loving plants need an ericaceous compost to excel) or a Rose, Tree or Shrub?

Beds and Borders

When planting in beds and borders it is essential to first improve the soil structure and nutrient levels and the best way to do this is by incorporating plenty of well rotted organic matter. The best way to do this is to dig in organic Farmyard Manure and Bone Meal Root Builder. Add a little West + Rose, Tree and Shrub Compost & 4 Month Feed to the bottom of the planting hole.

Ericaceous Plants

If you are looking to plant ericaceous plants in your borders first test your soil. The simplest way to do this is to use a soil testing kit available in local garden centres and DIY stores. For more help see our guide on How to Test your Soil. If your soil is acidic it means that different plants will thrive in your soil, these include most ericaceous plants such as azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias. If your soil is more alkaline then the ericaceous plants will struggle to grow in your garden unless you grow them in pots of ericaceous compost. Choose John Innes Ericaceous Compost. Both can be used in pots for containerised plants or added to beds and borders to help plants establish.

In Containers

If you are potting Trees, Shrubs and Roses into containers, unless they are acid loving, the best option to go for is West + Rose, Tree and Shrub Compost & 4 Month Feed. This is specially formulated to provide the specific nutrient requirements of these plants whilst giving superior moisture control, reducing the need for watering. It is also enriched with root builder for better plant establishment.

Also great for container grown specimens is John Innes No 3 Mature Plant Compost which is rich in nutrients producing bigger, beautiful flowers and healthier, greener foliage.

It is a good idea to add a top dressing of the appropriate compost to containers each season. This will provide extra nutrients to depleted reserves and combined with feeding and will help plants to thrive.


If you are propagating cuttings from trees or shrubs fill large flowerpots or root trainers with a quality, gritty compost. John Innes No 1 Young Plants Compost is a good choice. When they have rooted they can be repotted into larger pots of John Innes No 2 Potting-On Compost or planted out into the garden. For more information see our guide on How to Take Hardwood Cuttings.