Here's how to boost your garden soil for free this autumn
By Hannah Stephenson
Autumn is the time when gardeners dig compost into their beds because the ground is still warm enough to work and their soil will be enriched over winter.
Online horticultural expert Huw Richards, who has one of the biggest gardening channels on YouTube and is working in partnership with Dobbies Garden Centres, says adding unusual ingredients including sheep's fleece, coffee grounds, seaweed and hair to the mix can boost your soil.
These are some of his favourite soil-enriching additions.
Visit a hair salon to get a bag of hair (but not dyed or bleached), which contains nitrogen. Give it a year to mature and then mix it into the compost with other materials.
2. Spent hops
If you have any local breweries, visit one to pick up some spent hops, which have been soaked for a long time. They are high in nitrogen.
3. Shredded paper
If you know of an office which shreds paper, pick some up to add to the mix. It contains carbon and also will help the soil retain moisture. And don't worry about the ink, which often contains micro-nutrients. However, don't use paper which has a gloss finish or is heavily inked, as this may contain toxins.
4. Coffee grounds
Visit your local coffee shop for spent coffee grounds. While fresh coffee grounds are acidic, used grounds are neutral. They contain nitrogen and have a pH of around 6.5-7, which is ideal for many plants. Spread handfuls around your plants like a mulch but avoid using grounds on soil around acid-loving plants such as rhododendrons, azaleas and blueberries.
5. Crushed eggshells
If you crush up eggshells to add to your compost, they provide a slow release of calcium, which is particularly beneficial when growing produce such as tomatoes.
Seaweed contains all the main elements to boost soil including nitrogen, potassium, phosphate, magnesium, iodine and calcium. If you live in a coastal area, storms will wash up mounds of brown, red and green seaweed.
Collect a variety if you can as they have different nutrient levels. You can chop up it up and use it sparingly. Put it directly on to beds but don't place it in planting holes or directly on to plants as it is salty. However, the autumn rains should wash the excess salt away.
7. Wood ash
Don't use ash from a barbecue if you are using charcoal, but wood ash from hard woods is fine to add to compost. It tends to be a bit more acidic and is good for plants such as rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias.
8. Sheep's fleece
Lay sheep's wool down around perennial plants and add it to the compost bin. It contains nitrogen and, as an added bonus, also deters slugs. If you are clearing ground in the autumn, lay down cardboard over the top of the ground you've dug, followed by a layer of sheep's wool, and finish it with compost or well-rotted manure. Sheep's wool will biodegrade over time and will retain moisture.