Compost, Mulch and Aggregates



Composts are growing mediums, and can be a powerful tool for growing better plants. Broadly speaking composts aim to provide a better home for plants – particularly young plants or container plants – than ordinary soil, but there are specialist composts for different purposes. Compost can be added to garden soil to improve its drainage, water retention and nutrient level or used on its own.

We sell Levington, Growise and Vitax composts.

Multipurpose compost – suitable for most uses: potting, container planting, seed sowing and as a soil improver.

Ericaceous – ericaceous compost suits acid-loving plants like rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas, blueberries, junipers and many more.

Tomorite – specialist tomato compost. Can also be used for other flowering vegetables.

Growbags – compost-filled polythene bags with planting slits, often used in greenhouses for plants like tomatoes, courgettes, aubergines and other tender and hungry vegetables. We sell the small size.

John Innes composts were developed in the 1930s. It’s not a brand name, but the name of a 19th-century property magnate who left his money to fund horticultural research. Gardeners have good reason to be grateful to him. John Innes composts are sterilized with a carefully balanced mix of nutrients.

John Innes seed compost – suitable for any plants and rooting soft cuttings.

John Innes Number 1 – suitable for seedlings and rooted cuttings. Best for young plants.

John Innes Number 2 – suitable for larger, more established plants and most house plants.

John Innes Number 3 – the most nutrient rich John Innes, for hungry vegetable plants and large potted or container plants.


Mulching means putting a layer over the top of the soil. Usually the mulch is organic, and will decompose in time, adding nutrients to the soil. You can also mulch with plastic, specialist garden fabrics and all sorts of recycled materials.

Mulching protects the soil and your plants.

It will starve weeds of sunlight, making it harder for them to grow. Covering the soil reduces evaporation and helps keep the soil moist. Organic mulches hold water and release it slowly into the top soil. Mulches provide insulation and frost protection. Mulching protects the soil structure, limiting erosion by heavy rain and strong winds. Heavy rain also washes away soil nutrients, mulches slow this process. Some bark mulches contain oils that repel pests. They also encourage earthworms, one of the gardener’s greatest friends. Mulch is a low-maintenance and attractive ground cover.

When you mulch, be guided by the instructions on the particular mulch you buy, but a good general rule is to go for a depth of 2-4 inches.

Mulch in spring or autumn over warm, moist soil. Weed before you mulch, removing the roots. You can plant through mulches, but be careful of smothering small or low-growing plants. Mulches will retain water, but you may need to pour on a little more when you do water to get through to your plant roots. You can feed onto mulches.

Don’t pile up mulch around trunks or woody stems as it can promote insect damage and disease. Around grafted fruit trees, don’t mulch above the graft.

We sell Levington decorative bark mulch. Its large chips make it a good insulator and moisture retaining cover. It’s suitable for flower beds, borders, containers and pots.

You can also use farmyard manure, one of the best feeds you can add to your soil and traditionally the vegetable gardener’s secret weapon.


Aggregates like gravel can be used on paths, but also as decorative, non-organic mulches. Many of the benefits of organic mulches – weed suppression, water retention, insulation – can be enjoyed with aggregates. They are particularly popular ways to finish off containers.

We sell 20 different sizes and colours of gravel.

Pea gravel – this rounded gravel is particularly attractive and easy on the hands. Always available at a discount at Tate’s.

Builder’s sand – best used as a mulch rather than a soil improver as it is very lime rich.

Sharp sand – the best sand to improve soil drainage.

Silver sand – good for aquatic plants and bog gardens.

Playpit sand – soft sand for children’s sand pits.