Houseplant Compost: Can I Use Normal Compost for Houseplants?

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Person using trowel to add houseplant compost to potted plant

House plants add color, vibrancy, and a touch of nature to our living space and are perfect for sprucing up a room. They’re a popular choice in a wide range of homes and work well for lifting and adding interest to a space. In the quest to keep our indoor plants looking fresh and attractive, nurturing them with suitable compost is essential. A common question is, “Can normal compost be used as houseplant compost?” 

Normal compost is any organic matter, like garden waste and kitchen scraps, that has decomposed with the help of microorganisms. A mix of green and brown materials and manure, this mixture is used as plant fertilizer to help the soil’s structure and biological properties. You can opt for store-bought compost or make your own at home, which we’ll explore further in this article.  

On the other hand, houseplant potting mix is typically made up of peat or peat substitutes (bark or wood fiber), perlite, and vermiculite. These ingredients help with aeration and drainage and help retain nutrients and water. 

In this blog, we’ll explore the answer and understand how to care for our treasured plants properly. If you want to learn more about the intricacies of looking after your indoor plants with houseplant compost, you’ve come to the right place.

Can I Use Compost for Houseplants?

Are you wondering, “Can I use compost for houseplants?” The short answer is that, in most cases, normal compost is not only safe to use on your indoor plants but can play a vital role in the successful growth of your plants. 

As a gardener, you can opt to buy normal compost or make your own. Generally, homemade compost, when correctly prepared, is a good choice as it’s full of a range of ingredients that contribute to a healthy compost that’ll benefit plants. Furthermore, you’ll know the exact ingredients used, whereas with store-bought normal compost, you won’t know where the matter used has been sourced from. 

However, making your own compost can be lengthy, and the quality can vary. Store-bought compost is usually ready to use and will have been graded, making it the easier option. It’s also worth paying a bit more for higher-quality compost, as it’s not always evident what cheap compost is made from or what contaminants and chemicals it has been exposed to. Check the label for details or ask the seller, and opt for organic options if possible.

If you see potting compost mixed with the words “all-purpose” or “multipurpose,” you can use it for your indoor and outdoor plants. However, that’s not to say all kinds of normal potting compost are suitable for your house plants and won’t negatively impact their look and overall health. 

Leaves in wooden bin, prepared for houseplant composting amidst fall scenery.

What is Normal Compost? 

When it comes to caring for houseplants, choosing the right kind of compost is essential because of its impact on soil. Compost is a mixture of organic matter used as a plant fertilizer that enhances soil’s health, structure, and chemical, physical, and biological properties. The process of composting is natural, as microorganisms like fungi and bacteria break down the matter into a crumbly, dark substance.

Here are the key components of normal compost:

  • Green matter. Green matter is material that is usually green in color and typically high in nitrogen. Green matter is an essential component of compost, as it consists of nutrient-rich materials that help to accelerate the decomposition process. You can make your own compost for green matter, including kitchen scraps and food waste, grass clippings, recently pulled weeds, green leaves, manure, and coffee grounds.
  • Brown matter. The materials that fall under the category of brown matter are generally brown and typically carbon-rich. This matter is a vital part of compost, as it helps with the aeration of the soil and adds carbon to the composting process. Brown matter consists of brown leaves, hay, straw, corn stalks, newspaper, and sawdust.
  • Water. An adequate amount of water is vital for composting as it allows for the activity of microorganisms. Ideally, composting materials should be between 40 and 60 percent water in order to support the activity without overpowering or causing anaerobic conditions. 
  • Air. Air is necessary for compost as it supports aerobic microorganisms that need oxygen to survive. For example, fungi and bacteria need oxygen to break down organic materials effectively and contribute to healthy compost. A clear indication that there’s not enough air is the compost will produce a foul-smelling odor. 

When these components interact, the organic matter experiences decomposition and produces earth-smelling, brown, and crumbly compost. By creating a compost pile of green and brown matter, managing water levels, and ensuring there’s effective aeration, you can produce adequate compost that’ll boost the health of your plants.

Compost Houseplants: How to Use Compost for House Plants

Knowing the benefits of using normal compost can help you create a healthy and thriving environment for your plants to grow in. 

While you can use normal compost, here are vital steps to take to ensure the right balance and achieve the best results:

Choose High-Quality Compost

For the best results, choosing a high-quality mix is essential. If you’re using store-bought compost, ensure it’s well-prepared and fully decomposed. This will help you ensure it’s free from contaminants like pathogens, pests, and weeds. This way, it’s more likely to be consistent with reliable nutrients for your indoor plants and won’t introduce unwanted elements into your indoor space. 

Blend Potting Mix with Compost

Blending store-bought or homemade compost with a good quality potting mix that is specifically designed for indoor house plants is a great idea. This blend will work wonders for your plant, ensuring balanced texture, moisture retention, and nutrient content for indoor plants, not to mention the benefits of using normal compost to enhance the life of your plant.  As a general rule, blend together 30% compost and 70% potting mix, but note that this percentage can vary depending on the individual needs and growth habits of your plants.

Use Indoor Compost

Indoor houseplant compost is explicitly designed to benefit houseplants, so why not give it a go? Specialized compost blends are often sterilized to eliminate odors and pests, which is ideal and avoids concerns associated with using normal outdoor compost. Keep in mind that different kinds of houseplants have varied requirements, and considering this can help you choose the right compost blend.

Regularly Inspect the Plant

Your house plant will let you know its conditions are unsuitable with signs of poor growth. Keep an eye on your plants to see if you notice any nutrient deficiencies ie yellowing of the leaves, signs of pests, or foul odors surrounding them, and take action to address them. A plant will tell you of its poor condition through dry soil, leaf curling, wilting, and crispy leaves. These are all signs of an unhealthy houseplant. Regular inspections can help you flag any potential problems and should steer you in the direction of making necessary changes.

Hands holding plant over soil bag, preparing to pot with houseplant compost

What Happens if You Use the Wrong Compost?

Generally, adding compost to houseplants is safe and can offer benefits, and you’ll be pleased to know it can enhance a plant’s condition. However, using the wrong kind of compost can have a detrimental impact on your house plants, and you could be putting their health and appearance at risk.

Here are some negative ways poorly prepared or incorrect compost can impact your houseplants:

Nutrient Imbalance

If you use the wrong compost for your indoor plants, you could cause a nutrient imbalance, which can negatively impact the health of your plants. As a plant parent, this is certainly something you’ll want to avoid.

pH Imbalance

The wrong kind of compost could have either too high or too low pH levels. This can affect a plant’s ability to absorb elements or lead to it getting a lack of nutrients. As a result, your precious indoor plant will suffer from growth issues, impacting its aesthetic appeal and health.

Odor Problems

Have you ever known a houseplant to have a pungent and unpleasant smell? This could be to do with the compost. Whether it’s not fresh compost, the process of decomposition is incomplete, or it’s the wrong compost blend for your houseplant, it’s likely to cause a bad smell. If used for indoor plants, this can be pretty off-putting and affect the surroundings of where it’s located inside.

Moisture Retention

In some cases, indoor plants have specific moisture requirements that need to be provided to keep looking fresh, healthy, and able to grow. Sometimes, normal compost or the use of the wrong soil mixture can lead to a house plant retaining more moisture than necessary. This can lead to overwatering issues that cause complications like root rot. 

Pest Infestation

Poorly managed compost can attract pests, like fruit flies, larvae, and other insects, which is not ideal in an indoor environment. By introducing normal, unfinished compost into your home, you could put yourself at risk of infestation in the soil, leading to an adverse effect on your indoor space. 

While these adverse effects on house plants may deter you from using ordinary compost, it’s essential to be aware of the positive ways it can enhance your plants. It’s not all bad, as normal compost can encourage plant growth and have a positive effect on its look and health. 

Whether you opt for normal store-bought or homemade compost, it can enhance the look and health of your houseplants. By improving the soil conditions, your indoor plants will thrive.

Gardener in gloves pots large-leafed plant in terracotta pot on table, surrounded by tools and plants, using houseplant compost.

The Benefits of Adding Compost to Houseplants

In contrast, here are some benefits that well-balanced, normal compost can provide for indoor plants:

Nutrient-Rich

A balanced, normal compost is full of nutrients like nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, which can work wonders for the vitality of a plant. The diverse mix of nutrients can help to increase the resilience of a plant, make it stronger, and contribute to its overall health. Using either high-quality store-bought or homemade compost can add essential nutrients to the soil. 

Improved Soil Structure

Using homemade or good-quality compost can help with aeration and water retention in the soil, helping improve the structure. For example, the organic matter in compost prevents soil particles from compacting and allows for gasses, like oxygen and carbon dioxide, to flow. These are both essential gasses for root respiration and will help your plant remain healthy and continue to grow and thrive. 

The soil structure will also improve because of the water retention that the compost helps with, meaning your house plant will have access to water at all times. This will lead to consistent moisture levels in the soil, keeping your house plants vibrant and healthy. 

Beneficial Microbial Activity

Using homemade or store-bought normal compost can trigger microbial activity, which can be really helpful for a plant’s roots and general soil health. Compost introduces beneficial bacteria, like fungi and microorganisms, to plants, and they work to break down organic matter in the soil, which is crucial to a healthy plant. They suppress harmful pathogens and help with nutrient cycling, creating a resilient and balanced soil ecosystem. 

Environmental Benefits

If you want to lower your carbon footprint and help the environment, using compost is a great way forward. Using compost has environmental benefits, as recycling organic matter into compost reduces the need for disposal in landfill sites. So, by using compost for your house plants, you’ll help to decrease waste.

Patterned-gloved person fills terracotta pot with soil among empty pots and plants, utilizing houseplant compost for gardening.

Using Normal Compost as Houseplant Compost

In the dynamic world of indoor gardening, the decision to use normal compost for your house plants requires careful consideration in order to keep your plants healthy and indoor space thriving. To conclude, you can use normal compost for your houseplants as it offers nutrient-rich benefits that can enhance the soil. However, you must ensure the compost is well-decomposed, high-quality, and free from contaminants.

TIP: Homemade compost can easily be sterilized in a microwave! It is best to use an old microwave ideally placed in an outhouse or shed to avoid unpleasant smells inside the house. Simply place moist (not slushy) compost into a microwavable container, cover with clingfilm with holes for steam evaporation. Microwave for 90 seconds for every 2lb of soil used. Caution: allow to completely cool before using.

By adopting the best practices, like blending suitable compost with potting mixes, using high-quality compost, and regularly inspecting your plants for any potential issues, you can nurture a flourishing indoor garden with effective houseplant compost

For more information on all things gardening, check out our blogs!  

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about using normal compost for indoor plants.

Do I need a specific kind of compost for my houseplants?

Technically, you can use normal compost for your houseplants. In some cases, the compost will be “multi-purpose,” meaning you can use it on all plants, and it won’t impact the health of your plant. Ensure your compost is free from contaminants and well-prepared to create an optimum environment. 

How can I tell if my houseplant needs a different compost?

Some signs that you might be using the wrong kind of compost for your houseplant are stunted growth, yellowing leaves, excessive water retention, foul odors, and pest infestations.

What is normal compost made of? 

Compost is made from a blend of organic materials, like green matter (kitchen scraps and grass clippings), brown matter (dry leaves and hay), microorganisms, air, and water. This mixture then decomposes in order to create a nutrient-rich mix that is beneficial to the health of both outdoor and indoor plants.

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