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Ever wondered what the secret is behind successfully growing Ericaceae plants? Well, if you’ve tried and failed, you’ll be happy to hear that it probably isn’t your fault. In fact, the likelihood of you having soil suitable for Ericaceae plants is highly improbable. This is because most of the world’s distribution of soil isn’t acidic.
To overcome this issue, passionate gardeners (including myself) create ericaceous compost to increase the acidity levels in our soil. By doing this, we can compose a much healthier environment that acid-loving and Ericaceae plants adore.
Achieving success in acidifying your soil through ericaceous compost can be pretty problematic without the correct guidance. We understand this and want to make the process much easier. Below we’ve compiled a complete guide from start to finish about creating and using ericaceous compost.
What is Ericaceous Compost
Before we jump into making ericaceous compost, let me familiarize you with what it is. Ericaceous compost is a highly acidic mixture used to enhance the “sour” levels of soil. Typically, this type of compost is aimed towards the Ericaceae plant family, as referred to by “ericaceous” and has a pH between 4.5 and 6
Why do you need an ericaceous compost?
The main reason you’ll need ericaceous compost will, of course, be to acidify your soil. There are many acid-loving plants available worldwide, but there’s a catch to them. The possibility of you having a soil pH of below 7 (acidic soil) is doubtful. This is because most of our land is alkaline (commonly known as “sweet soil”), which causes massive negatives to our agricultural capabilities for plants in the Ericaceae family.
To grasp a better understanding of what plant’s need ericaceous compost to aid growth, here are some examples: Camellias, fern, blueberries, Japanese maple, viburnum, aster, and azaleas. You can find a full list of plants that would enjoy ericaceous compost here.
If you’re trying to grow acid-loving plants, don’t fear away just yet. Although they seem somewhat problematic, it isn’t as tricky as it may appear with the proper guidance. Below we go into detail about how you’re able to make Ericaceous compost and other vital “need to know” tips to ensure you’re applying it correctly.
How to Make Ericaceous Compost
If you’ve landed on this post, I can imagine you want to create your own ericaceous compost. As you’re probably aware, compost can be made from many recycled household products, which is the same for an ericaceous mixture.
What you’ll need
Making compost or any natural fertilizer is reasonably straightforward and doesn’t require much at all. However, to maximize the possibilities of achieving success with ericaceous compost, we recommend that you have the following.
Compost bin – Whether you buy a plastic compost bin or create a wooden structure, either will be able to provide a suitable area for your compost.
A soil pH tester – Again, there are multiple options here. We recommend you purchase some testing strips as these are inexpensive and reliable. However, you can also invest in a pH probe meter, these will typically give you the most accurate reading compared to the other testing methods.
Mixture – Green and brown materials in the proper ratio (leaves, sticks, etc), and some of the following items to provide that acidic level we’re working towards:
- Leaves from either a beech or oak tree
- Pine needles
- Coffee grounds
- Citrus fruits and peels. However, be sure to cut these into smaller pieces before putting them in your pile, as they’ll decompose easier.
- Freshly cut sawdust
- Finely chopped onions
Now you’ve gathered the above materials. You’re now ready to start creating your ericaceous compost.
The process of making ericaceous compost
Making compost can be as easy or complex as you generally make it. If this is your first time, I recommend taking the steps slow to ensure your compost doesn’t turn slimy.
First, you’ll want to find a designated area to start creating your compost. An ideal location is on soil that is free-draining and in the shade.
Once you’ve finalized your location, it’s time to start building the compost base. Start by placing bulkier materials on your pile. These include twigs and leaves (also known as “brown” and “green”). For best results, try to add a layer of green, then a layer of brown, and so on.
You’ll want to add these materials to your pile until it gets to around 5 feet in height.
If your pile is too dry, apply water. But do this sparingly to avoid it becoming slushy.
Once you’re happy with the pile, grab a garden fork and start mixing it together.
When you’ve finished the above, you’re able to transport it to your compost or heap bin for storage.
Wait a minimum of four weeks until you test the pH levels to see if it’s suitable for usage. Remember, four weeks is the minimum, and for compost to successfully decompose may take up to 6 months.
Note – You’ll gain better results from your ericaceous compost if it’s enclosed and stored away from rainwater.
Also be aware, that you shouldn’t add additional calcium or lime to your mix to reduce smells or the occurrence of bugs. This will neutralize the pH levels of your soil, causing it to be unsuitable for its purpose.
Measuring compost pH levels
Obviously, a massive part of creating the ideal ericaceous compost is measuring and understanding the pH levels it contains. Having some knowledge will allow you to add more acidic materials, or alternatively, if it’s too sour, add items that’ll neutralize the mix.
There are three main ways of doing this, these are with testing strips, a pH measuring probe, and lastly, a small science experiment:
The testing strips are by far the easiest and cheapest solution in providing decent results.
First, you’ll need a sample of the compost. With a hand shovel, dig around four to six inches deep into the mixture.
Once you’ve done this, place between one to three teaspoons of compost into a clean glass, be sure to remove any pieces of large debris.
Now fill the glass with water (to about the same height as the compost) and stir vigorously.
For accurate results, pour the soil sample through a coffee filter into another clean glass.
You can now use your testing strip in this water to determine the compost’s pH levels.
Be sure to try this several times in different areas of the compost to calculate the average pH.
pH Measuring Probe
Using a probe is the most expensive method of testing your pH levels, but of course, the most convenient. Each probe tool will be slightly different, but you’ll simply need to insert it into your compost and it’ll calculate the pH levels automatically.
You might have conducted this experiment way back in school, and it involves only household items.
First, like with all tests, you need a sample. Grab your hand shovel and dig a fair way into the mixture (around four to six inches deep).
Now you’ll want to add the mixture to a clean bowl (approximately 1 cup) and remove any large debris.
You should now add water into the mixture to about the same level as the compost.
Next, you need to add a 1/2 cup of vinegar and stir slightly. If your sample bubbles, it’s alkaline (above seven pH). If not, it’s acidic (below 7pH).
To gather added confirmation of this result, you’ll want to take another sample and repeat the process.
But, instead of adding vinegar, you’ll want to add 1/2 a cup of baking soda.Again, once added, stir slightly. If the mixture starts to fizz, foam, or bubble, your soil is acidic.
This method is easy to do, but the only downside is the accuracy it provides. For perfect ericaceous compost, you’ll want to achieve pH levels between four and five, but of course, acidic pH levels range between 0-7. So although you’ll be able to tell whether or not your soil is acidic or alkaline, you won’t be able to see if your ericaceous compost is a “perfect” acidity level.
As you can see from the above methods, measuring your pH levels isn’t that difficult and just requires some basic testing to ensure you’ve got the right mix. Understanding this is vital, as plants that require acidic soil will flourish much better in their ideal environments rather than something that isn’t suitable for them.
How To Create And Ericaceous Potting Mix
After making your ericaceous compost, you’ll either want to cultivate it into an existing plot or create a potting mix. Here’s how:
50% peat base (or a peat substitute), 20% perlite, 10% acidic compost, 10% sand, and lastly, 10% garden soil.
Creating a potting mix is relatively easy once you have the materials. Be sure to measure out your mixture for the best results.
Quick Tip – Remember that peat substitutes are much less acidic, meaning some may neutralize the mixture. After creating your potting mix, be sure to measure the pH levels of the soil to ensure you have the perfect growing conditions for your acid-loving plants.
How To Use Ericaceous Compost To Acidify Soil
If you want the best results from your ericaceous compost, you should cultivate it into your soils during peak seasons. This can have a dramatic effect on the benefits your plants or crops gain. It’s also valuable to understand how to treat the soil that includes this type of compost to guarantee excellent results all year round.
A common mistake I see with gardeners that use ericaceous compost is treating the soil with ordinary tap water. The water that we get from our everyday outdoor gardening taps is actually alkaline. Using this will dilute the acidity levels of the soil, causing it to become neutral again. To counteract this, you’ll want to use rainwater as this is generally acidic from the natural environment.
To reduce the number of times you’ll need to re-cultivate your soil with ericaceous compost. You can add acidic ingredients into the dirt to “top-up” the acidity. To achieve this, you should add such things as coffee beans and citrus peels. However, if you do this, make sure you add a layer of mulch over the designated area to avoid pests feeding off your citrus peels.
Following from the above, you should measure your soil’s pH levels regularly. If you know your garden well and are sure it’s primarily alkaline soil (above seven pH), acidic soil can rapidly become neutralized if you’re not careful. To reduce the chances of this happening, check the pH levels and act accordingly to the measurements.
After noting the above, you should be on your way to successfully using your ericaceous compost and achieving the acidic soil you genuinely desire.
Is Ericaceous Compost Good for All Plants?
As we’ve mentioned above, the word ericaceous is actually related to Ericaceae plants. In the plant world, some plants can generally become pretty adaptable to their environment. However, by providing perfect growing conditions, you’ll amplify their flourishment.
Plants that love ericaceous compost are typically acid-loving plants. They’re able to soak up these vital nutrients provided by this type of soil and grow into something more magnificent. On the other hand, if you provide acidic soil to plants that thrive in neutral or alkaline soil, they might not flourish into something that you’re expecting.
To stop this from happening, you should have a solid understanding of your plant’s preferred soils and group your acidic plants away from your lime-loving ones.
After reading the above, you should have complete knowledge of how to make and implement an ericaceous compost. It’s vital to be aware of how to use compost to its best advantage. By supplying plants with the correct nutrients needed for them to grow, they’ll have a much better chance of flourishing successfully. Without a doubt, it takes preparation to create compost, but it’s most definitely worth it if you consider the benefits your plants will receive.
Remember, ericaceous compost is primarily for Ericaceae and acid-loving plants. Using it for plants that prefer “sweet” soil may interrupt their growth patterns and reduce their chances of flowering successfully.
Now, what should you do? Start developing the resources for your pile to create an ericaceous compost and watch your acid-loving plants flourish remarkably once it’s applied.