How to Use Compost in the Flower Garden

Using Compost in the Flower Garden

If a fresh start is being made in your new flower garden, and a plot is being prepared for a specific purpose, as for a herbaceous border, I would prefer to dig the area first. Then I should fork in as generous a layer of compost as is available, say 2ins., but 3ins. if possible, and to keep this in the top 4ins. of soil.

On established borders in the flower garden, fork in a similar layer of compost each winter but avoid damage to the roots of plants in so doing. If the plants are so close that little forking is possible, leave the compost as a mulch on the surface.

If a new plot is being prepared and ample compost is available, dig in about 2lbs. to the square yard, as well as forking in the dressing described above. If only one application can be given, I prefer the surface dressing, lightly forked in as already mentioned.

Flower garden beds can be treated in the same way as are herbaceous borders, and the forking in of a surface dressing, prior to planting, should always be aimed at. A further mulch, even if only 1 in. thick, is of great benefit also, especially in a hot dry summer.

Where surface dressings have been forked in one year, and the plot comes empty, do not dig this deeply. It can be dug a little deeper than when the compost was forked in, but only a little. Aim at improving the quality of the soil from the top down. Repeated treatment on even the heaviest soils will bring about a vast improvement in the physical structure and the “workability” of the soil, as well as increased quality of flowers and growth generally.

It may well be that the amount of compost which can be applied to the flower garden is strictly limited by the material available for the actual making. If one has vegetables and flowers, the latter may suffer to the benefit of the vegetables. The best advice that can be given is to use as much as is available, each year, paying special attention to dahlias, chrysanthemums and roses, giving moderate dressings to the herbaceous border and the bedding plants, and the least amount to the annual border sown direct.


Animal Manures and Other Organic Materials used by themselves

I have heard of a dead horse being buried at the bottom of a new vine border and of dead cows being used similarly for fertilising purposes, but this usage of animal waste material is so rare that it is mentioned merely for interest. I once knew an enthusiastic grower of sweet peas who filled the bottom of the trenches with waste fish, with very good results. As far as whole animals are concerned, the average gardener may find the odd dead mouse, or even a dead bird, finding its way into the compost heap, but that is likely to be all, by way of animals.


Farm Yard Manure

This may now be almost unavailable although I was surprised on several occasions last winter, in a London suburb, to be offered a load of this rare material. The price was high, however, and the quality not to my liking. If a supply is available, dig it in at 4 to 5lbs. to the square yard, for the flower garden.

Farm yard manure varies considerably, for it may be from horses, cows, pigs or mixed stock, and the bedding used may have been straw or other material. If only a small quantity irrespective of type can be obtained, for direct digging in, keep it for dahlias or chrysanthemums, which will benefit most of all from its application.


Poultry Manure

If this is used by itself, a satisfactory rate of application for flower crops is 1/4 lb. to each square yard. Its manurial value varies, but a typical analysis usually shows that it is high in nitrogen.


Spent Hops

Some gardeners are fortunate enough to live in an area where these can be obtained from a brewery. The material is extremely useful for mulching flower crops in summer or for forking into the top few inches of soil in winter. It contains varying amounts of nitrogen, often about 3 per cent, but it is for its organic rather than its nitrogenous content that it is used. For digging or forking into the soil, in winter or early spring, use a bucketful to each square yard.



There are several grades or types and it is the granulated types that are used mostly for inclusion in potting composts. Other, finer-textured grades are available and sometimes used for mulching lawns or flowers, but these are too expensive for widespread use in the flower garden.

On a new soil, and before compost is available, if peat is dug in by itself it improves the organic content of the soil although it does not add much in the way of manurial material. The rate of application for digging in, on heavy soil, is a bucketful to the square yard. It is best kept in the top bins. of soil, to get the fullest benefit. I like to fork it in, after the first rough digging has been weathered for a few months, thus retaining it in the surface layer, rather than burying it a spade depth down.


Wood Ashes

The chief nutrient in wood ash, is potash. Although the actual amount may be variable, many samples contain 5% potash. If the ashes are not used straight away, store them in sacks in a dry place, for, if left exposed to rain, most of their value is quickly lost. Wood ashes can be used as a base dressing for all flower crops at 2 to 3ozs. to the square yard.


Dried Blood

This usually contains about 15% nitrogen and is quick acting. It can be used in the early stages of building up the nutrient level of a flower garden – that is until supplies of compost become available. It should be applied at 1 to 2ozs. to the square yard, between growing crops.


Bone Meal and Steamed Bone Flour

Bone meal contains approximately 30% phosphoric acid and 3% nitrogen both of which are released very slowly. For use on flower beds and borders, in the initial preparation, 4ozs. to the square yard may be applied.

Steamed bone flour is quicker acting than bone meal and contains 25 to 30% phosphoric acid and 1% nitrogen. It too can be used at 4ozs. to the square yard, as an alternative to bone meal.


Green Manures

If you are working mostly on your flower garden, there may not be much space available for making use of a green crop, to dig in as manure. The most likely use of this valuable procedure, may be in a new garden, and the annual lupin is one of the most useful plants for green manuring. A small area can be sown, the seed broadcast in April or May, and the foliage stems cut down, whilst in flower, for digging in. Mustard can also be used as a green crop. Seed may be sown, broadcast at the rate of 4ozs. to 10 square yards, at any time between April and July. Dig in the stems and foliage, having first cut the mustard down, just as the flowers show. Make sure to get mustard dug in before severe frosts. Whilst digging in either lupins or mustard, add loz. of dried blood to each square yard, to help the rotting down process.


“No Dig” Gardening

“No dig” gardening means in practice, surface cultivations combined with the liberal use of compost to improve a soil from the top down as it were. It takes as its example, nature’s own method of replacement of surface layers by leaves, rotting grass and other organic residues, and leaving the lower layers of soil as they are.

The value of a high earthworm population of soils where no digging is practised, is clear, and the object should be to increase their numbers as much as possible. My own experience of “no dig” gardening methods has been that compost must be available in near abundance, for which reason I feel that this system should come later in the organic gardener’s program.

It is true that some aspects of flower growing, like the herbaceous border, lend themselves very well to management by surface cultivation only. It is here, I feel, that a start could be made.

I would however prefer to “build up” a soil with compost, before turning over to “no digging” gardening methods. It must be borne in mind that a 2 in. layer of compost will be needed each winter, if this method is to be adopted.

It would not be wise to try the “no dig” gardening method on hard, heavy soil, that had not been cultivated at all, or not for some time. Normal digging should be done for at least two seasons, I feel, before trying a bed or border to flower crops. As well as the herbaceous border already mentioned, annuals or bedding plants could be tried under this method.

If perennial weeds are present, every effort must be made to remove these, by digging out the roots, before a plot is switched over to no digging methods. This applies to docks, convolvulus, ground elder and buttercup, in particular.

If an area is turned over to “no dig” gardening methods, a 2 in. layer of compost should be applied and raked over to remove any large pieces, in spring, prior to seeds being sown (as in an annual border). If seeds can be covered with a further dressing of compost, of appropriate depth, so much the better.

Remember that weed seeds will find a compost surface very attractive. Close attention may be needed to their removal on a plot where no digging is done and the compost surface is maintained.

If an existing herbaceous border is turned over to “no digging” methods it is best, for the first season, at least to loosen the soil between the clumps, before applying the recommended tins. of compost in autumn or spring.

As most herbaceous plants have to be lifted every few years, to prevent overcrowding and subsequent weakening of growth, this in itself ensures much of the soil being stirred. It is well worth setting aside a portion of the border at least, which is not to be dug for 3 or 4 seasons and to rely on surface applications of compost.

With herbaceous plants in particular, there will be a considerable amount of fresh roots made, into the compost layers, this being especially apparent after the second year. When this takes place, deep cultivation would damage this fresh and active root system.

To summarise, it is best to try some “no digging” on a small scale first, to gain experience and note results. If the response under one’s own conditions justifies it, the undug area may be extended.


Proprietary Organic Manures

When a new flower garden is being made, there may be very little compost-making material available, and a small quantity of a proprietary product may need to be purchased. Cost may preclude more than a small amount being used but the choice of materials is fairly wide.

There is a product available at present, made from grape pips and waste grape material. It is used at the rate of 1 lb. to each square yard.

There are several proprietary organic manures based on spent hops and these may be considered for use in the initial stages as may those based on seaweed. Various fish compounds are also available. Mention should be made of several meat and bone, or blood, meat and bone preparations.


31. August 2010 by admin
Categories: Compost Making, Garden Management, Soil Cultivation | Tags: , | Comments Off on How to Use Compost in the Flower Garden


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