Gardening TipsGuides / Advices26/05/2024by mabramczTop Dressing with Compost: Enhancing Soil Health and Fertility in British Gardens

Top dressing with compost is an effective way to enhance soil health and fertility in British gardens. By applying nutrient-rich organic material to the soil surface, gardeners can stimulate plant growth and improve soil structure. This practice not only supports healthy plant development but also promotes sustainable gardening by reducing the need for chemical fertilizers. In this article, we will explore various types of compost and organic matter that can be used for top dressing, including well-rotted manure, peat-free compost, and kitchen scraps.

Key Takeaways

  • Top dressing with compost is typically done in the spring to stimulate plant growth at the start of the growing season.
  • Using well-rotted manure and peat-free compost can provide essential nutrients to plants while improving soil structure.
  • Home composting reduces landfill waste and creates nutrient-rich compost from organic waste like kitchen scraps and garden trimmings.
  • Wessex® Soil Improver Compost is a versatile, peat-free option that enhances soil fertility and structure.
  • Incorporating organic matter such as leaves, old flowers, and annual weeds into compost can turn waste into valuable plant food.


British garden with compost top dressing

Compost is a gardener’s best friend, made from a mix of various ingredients like loam, composted bark, coir, and sand. You can even mix your own! A compost heap is an essential part of any healthy garden. It not only improves soil health but also enhances fertility over time.

Homemade Compost

Home composting is a fantastic way to reduce waste and create nutrient-rich compost. By breaking down organic waste such as fruit and vegetable peelings, garden trimmings, and grass clippings, you can make your soil more productive and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers. Plus, the added organic material helps with moisture retention.

Why Compost?

Compost feeds soil in a slow and steady manner, allowing soil to feed plants. Unlike a mulch of undecomposed matter, compost results in fewer slugs and stronger plants. A compost heap speeds up nature’s process of decomposition, making it a more efficient way to improve your garden.

Expert tips for garden maintenance services: improve soil health with organic matter and seasonal care.

Types of Compost

There are various types of compost available, each with its own benefits. Whether you opt for homemade compost or a commercial mix, adding compost to your garden is a surefire way to boost soil health and plant vitality.

Well-Rotted Manure

compost and well-rotted manure in British garden

Well-rotted manure is a gardener’s best friend when it comes to enhancing soil health and fertility. Ideally materials should be in a well-rotted state, especially manures. Fresh manure is organic matter, but compared to compost, it contains fewer living organisms such as fungi, and its nutrients are more water-soluble.

When to Use

On most soils, well-rotted manure is best incorporated by cultivation in spring (March and April in most of the UK) just before growth starts. Sandy soils are best manured from late winter. However, autumn application can also work on all but sandy soils. Avoid applying in late summer as the warm soil can lead to significant nutrient loss.

How to Apply

  • Spring Application: Incorporate by cultivation just before growth starts.
  • Winter Application: Best for sandy soils.
  • Autumn Application: Suitable for most soils except sandy ones.


  • Improves soil structure
  • Increases water retention
  • Provides a slow release of nutrients

Well-rotted composts and manures will be relatively poor in soluble nutrients but rich in insoluble ones. This makes them excellent for long-term soil health.


  • Do not use fresh manure on crops that will be eaten raw (e.g., salads).
  • If using fresh manure, apply at half the usual rate and ensure it is well-covered and decomposed before use.

Peat-Free Compost

British garden with compost top dressing and peat-free compost

Why Choose Peat-Free?

If you choose not to compost, or if you need to supplement what you make, then purchasing a peat-free variety will help preserve what is one of the earth’s biggest carbon stores. This also prevents the escape of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that occurs as peat is harvested.

Environmental Benefits

Peat-free compost is made from 100% organic material, composted and screened to produce a quality dark and rich garden soil improver. This product is part of our Eco-Friendly range due to its low carbon footprint through local, sustainably sourced suppliers.

Quality Standards

The Publicly Available Specification that it has been awarded is a widely recognised compost quality standard within the organics recycling sector. To ensure a high standard of compost, PAS is set by the British Standards Institution which requires producers to establish a top-quality production policy.

Help us stop the use of peat compost in gardens. Find your perfect ‘soil mate’ and other useful information via its website. For more advice on using peat-free compost and its benefits, go to our for peats …

Organic Plant Food

British garden with compost top dressing and organic plant food

When it comes to feeding your plants, organic plant food is a fantastic choice. Not only does it provide essential nutrients, but it also improves soil structure and promotes healthy microbial activity. Here are some popular types of organic plant food you can use in your garden:

Granular Fertilisers

Granular fertilisers are a real all-purpose powerhouse. Use them to green up lawns early in spring, as an alternative to lime for your brassicas, or to boost your crops, triggering more flowers and fruits. Just make sure the product you buy has been harvested sustainably.

Organic Liquid Feeds

Organic liquid plant feed gets to work quickly to nourish your plants. These are 100% chemical-free and great for feeding pots, baskets, containers, grow bags, lawns, and veg beds. They are fast-acting and can be a great addition to your gardening routine.

Seaweed Extracts

Seaweed extracts are rich in trace elements and hormones that stimulate plant growth. They can be used as a foliar spray or soil drench and are particularly beneficial for stressed plants.

Animal-Based Fertilisers

These include products like fish blood & bone, bone meal, and poultry manure pellets. They are slower acting as they need to be broken down by soil organisms before the nutrients are released for plant use.

Organic plant food not only feeds your plants but also enhances the overall health of your soil, making it a win-win for any garden.

Using organic plant food is a great way to ensure your garden thrives while also being kind to the environment. Happy Planting!

Wessex® Soil Improver Compost

British garden with compost top dressing and Wessex® Soil Improver Compost


Wessex® Soil Improver Compost is a fantastic addition to your garden. A little bit goes a long way, and it’s very friable, making it easy to work with. This compost is renowned for breaking up heavy soils, allowing both nutrients and water to be absorbed evenly across the soil for optimal growth.


  • Ideal for improving soil structure and fertility.
  • Great for regularly planting trees and shrubs.
  • Perfect for Patio & drive way laying and Raised beds.


Our Soil Improver Compost is part of our Eco-Friendly range. It has a low carbon footprint and is made from recycled green waste, making it 100% peat-free.

Incorporate organic matter, use soil amendments, and smart garden design for efficient water usage and healthier plants.


Size Price
Per m² £8.00
Bulk Bag £80.00

Prices exclude VAT and delivery charges. Immediate delivery is available, and it’s in stock both in-store and online.

10mm Compost

British garden with 10mm compost top dressing

10mm Compost is a fantastic addition to any garden, especially for those looking to enhance soil health and fertility. This compost is made from recycled green waste, which is then composted down and screened to a 10mm particle size. This process ensures that the compost is high quality and Soil Association-approved, eliminating unwanted pieces of debris.

Benefits of 10mm Compost

  • Adds natural, organic matter to your soil, which is vital for steady growth or large blooms of flowers.
  • Slowly releases nutrients in a suitable and environmentally friendly manner.
  • Improves soil structure and fertility, making it ideal for regularly planting trees and shrubs.

Usage Tips

  • Not designed for use as a growing medium or for planting acid-loving species.
  • Not suitable as a top dressing for turf.
  • Best used in beds with an average annual application of about 3 cm/1 in.

Using less compost is possible but creates more work proportionate to results, through weeds growing, less healthy growth, and smaller harvests.

Spent Crops

British garden with compost top dressing and spent crops

Spent crops are an excellent addition to your compost heap. They provide a rich source of organic matter that can significantly enhance soil health and fertility. When your plants have finished their growing season, don’t just throw them away. Instead, chop them up and add them to your compost pile.

Benefits of Using Spent Crops

  • Nutrient-Rich: Spent crops are packed with nutrients that can be recycled back into your garden soil.
  • Cost-Effective: Using spent crops is a great way to recycle plant material without spending extra money.
  • Soil Structure: They help improve soil structure by adding organic matter.

How to Prepare Spent Crops for Composting

  1. Chop Them Up: Cut the spent crops into smaller pieces to speed up the decomposition process.
  2. Mix with Other Materials: Combine them with other compost materials like leaves and kitchen scraps for a balanced compost.
  3. Turn the Pile: Regularly turn your compost pile to ensure even decomposition.

Common Types of Spent Crops

  • Vegetable Plants: After harvesting, plants like tomatoes, beans, and peas can be composted.
  • Flowering Plants: Old flowers and stems can also be added to the compost heap.
  • Cover Crops: These are particularly beneficial as they help prevent soil erosion and improve soil structure.

Spent crops are not just waste; they are a valuable resource for your garden. Spread the compost around plants as mulch. Mulching helps retain soil moisture, suppress weeds, and gradually release nutrients into the soil as it decomposes.

Kitchen Scraps

composting kitchen scraps in a British garden

Using kitchen scraps for composting is a fantastic way to recycle waste and enrich your garden soil. It’s an easy and effective method to contribute to a sustainable garden.

What to Include

  • Vegetable peelings
  • Fruit scraps
  • Coffee grounds
  • Eggshells
  • Tea bags

What to Avoid

  • Meat and fish scraps
  • Dairy products
  • Oily foods
  • Diseased plants

Tips for Success

  1. Chop larger items into smaller pieces to speed up decomposition.
  2. Maintain a balance between green and brown materials.
  3. Regularly turn your compost to aerate it and speed up the process.

Incorporating kitchen scraps into your compost not only helps with Garden Clearance but also reduces the need for Waste Clearance services.

Old Flowers

composting in a British garden with old flowers

When your flowers have bloomed and are past their prime, don’t just toss them away. Old flowers can be a fantastic addition to your compost heap. They break down quickly and add valuable nutrients back into the soil.

Benefits of Using Old Flowers

  • Nutrient-Rich: Old flowers are packed with nutrients that can enhance the fertility of your soil.
  • Quick Decomposition: They break down faster than many other compost materials, speeding up the composting process.
  • Eco-Friendly: Recycling old flowers reduces waste and is great for the environment.

How to Compost Old Flowers

  1. Collect: Gather your old flowers. Make sure to remove any non-compostable materials like plastic ties or decorative elements.
  2. Chop: Cut the flowers into smaller pieces to help them decompose faster.
  3. Mix: Add the chopped flowers to your compost bin and mix them with other compost materials like kitchen scraps and leaves.
  4. Maintain: Keep your compost moist and turn it regularly to speed up the decomposition process.

Tips for Success

  • Avoid Diseased Plants: Do not compost flowers that show signs of disease or pest infestation, as this can spread to your garden.
  • Balance: Ensure a good balance of green (nitrogen-rich) and brown (carbon-rich) materials in your compost.
  • Ponds & Fountains: If you have ponds & fountains, avoid adding flowers treated with chemicals to prevent contamination.

Composting old flowers is a simple yet effective way to recycle garden waste and enrich your soil. Give it a try and see the difference it makes in your garden!


compost top dressing in British garden with autumn leaves

Leaves are a fantastic addition to your compost heap, especially during the autumn when tree leaves are abundant. Fresh leaves are green, while older leaves turn brown, making autumn leaves mostly brown. Tree leaves can take up to two years to compost, but if you add green/nitrogenous materials like grass, they can decompose in just one year. Chopping them with a rotary lawnmower can also speed up the process.

Composting Diseased Leaves

Diseased leaves, such as mildewed courgette and lettuce leaves, rusty garlic and leek leaves, and blighted potato and tomato leaves, are good to compost. Blight spores need living plant tissue to survive, so they die in a compost heap and in soil. You can safely spread compost made with blighted leaves around your plants without any problems.

Balancing Green and Brown Materials

In much of the growing season, there’s a surplus of green materials, especially when adding grass mowings. Keep a pile or some sacks of brown materials like paper, autumn leaves, cardboard, and twiggy materials. In winter, there’s more brown material available, and adding fresh manure or coffee grounds can help balance the green materials.

Leaves are a versatile and valuable component of your compost heap, helping to create rich, fertile soil for your garden.

Annual Weeds

compost top dressing in British garden with annual weeds

Annual weeds can be a real nuisance in the garden, but they can also be a valuable resource if managed correctly. One of the easiest ways to get rid of garden weeds is to compost them. Even though they might seem like a hassle, they can actually contribute to the health of your soil when used properly.

Composting Annual Weeds

Weeds, including their roots and leaves, can be composted effectively. They break down even in winter’s cooler heaps and regrow only if left exposed to light. This means you can save much time by not separating out perennial weeds. Just make sure to cover them well in your compost heap.

Avoiding Weed Seeds

When using manure or garden compost, be cautious of weed seeds. Manure from animals fed hay or where the manure has been stacked outside may contain weeds such as clover and nettles. To avoid this, use weed-free mulch like chipped bark after manuring.

Benefits of Composting Weeds

  • Reduces waste
  • Enhances soil fertility
  • Saves time and effort

By composting annual weeds, you not only get rid of them but also turn them into a valuable resource for your garden.

Practical Tips

  • Ensure weeds are covered well in the compost heap to prevent regrowth.
  • Use weed-free mulch to avoid introducing new weed seeds.
  • Regularly turn your compost to speed up the decomposition process.

Other Garden Maintenance Tips

  • Lawn Care & Mowing: Regular mowing helps keep weeds at bay.
  • Weeding & Pruning: Regular weeding and pruning can prevent weeds from taking over.
  • Artificial Grass: Consider using artificial grass in areas where weeds are particularly troublesome.
  • Turfing: Laying new turf can help smother existing weeds and provide a fresh start.
  • Hedge trimming: Regular hedge trimming can prevent weeds from establishing themselves in your hedges.


Top dressing with compost is a game-changer for enhancing soil health and fertility in British gardens. By incorporating compost into your gardening routine, you’re not only providing essential nutrients to your plants but also improving soil structure and moisture retention. Remember, gardening is a journey, and the more you invest in your soil, the more bountiful your garden will be. So, grab your tools, get your hands dirty, and watch your garden thrive!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is top dressing?

Top dressing is the application of quick-acting fertilisers to the soil surface around plants to stimulate growth. It is usually carried out in spring at the start of the growing season. Care should be taken to avoid leaf contact, which can cause scorching, and to protect against over-application, which could cause root damage and pollution of ground water.

What is base dressing?

Base dressing is the incorporation of fertiliser into the soil or potting compost before sowing or planting.

What are the benefits of home composting?

Home composting reduces the amount of waste going to landfill and creates nutrient-rich compost or ‘soil improver’ by breaking down organic waste, such as fruit and vegetable peelings, garden trimmings, and grass clippings. It makes the soil more productive, reduces the need for chemical fertilisers, and assists with moisture retention.

What materials can I compost at home?

You can compost spent crops, kitchen scraps, old flowers, leaves, annual weeds, and more. Composting these materials turns them into a valuable resource to feed your crops.

Why is organic matter important for soil health?

Organic matter, such as compost and manure, improves soil fertility, increases organic matter, breaks up heavy soils, improves light soils, helps lock in moisture and nutrients around roots, promotes healthy plant growth and germination, and speeds up root establishment in turf.

What is Wessex® Soil Improver Compost?

Wessex® Soil Improver Compost is a peat-free compost that can be scattered onto current plant beds and vegetable crops. It is friable, easy to work with, and a little bit goes a long way. It improves soil structure and fertility and is not designed for use as a growing medium for acid-loving species or as a top dressing for turf.

What is 10mm Compost used for?

10mm Compost adds natural, organic matter to your soil, which is vital for steady growth or large blooms of flowers. It slowly releases nutrients in an environmentally friendly manner and improves soil structure and fertility for planting trees and shrubs.

What are the advantages of no dig gardening with compost?

Adding compost to the surface of no dig beds feeds plants indirectly. Compost holds nutrients in a stable, insoluble form, making them available over a long period. Soil organisms eat and digest organic matter, and their excretions add to soil fertility.

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