Gardening with Wool

How to improve your soil and help your local sheep farmer

Sara John

6/1/20246 min read

Wool is hugely underutilised here in the UK, its sustainable credentials are much better than many other fibres on the market, and it has wonderful properties, read more about them on the Campaign for Wool website. Many UK farmers struggle to make a profit from shearing. The cost to shear a sheep usually far outweighs the amount they receive for the fleece, but it has to be done for the animal’s welfare. We can only hope that spreading the word about the fabulous uses for (waste) wool means that more people will consider using wool for gardening, and in turn, it helps the farmer find a home for it.

Gardening with wool and sourcing it locally (and from an organic farmer where possible) fits with the principles of permaculture. By making use of an otherwise waste product, you reduce your carbon footprint, water usage and use of chemical fertilisers, whilst improving your soil health.

Making up around 20% of a total fleece are skirts, belly wool and dags/daggings/dockings (different terms are used in various parts of the UK, and in other parts of the world). Dags are made up of mucky, soiled wool often from the rear end of the sheep, while skirts are cotted (matted/felted) bits often from the outer edges of a fleece. These fibres aren’t suitable to be processed; here in the UK, this wool cannot be sent to British Wool and farmers get penalised if they do send it in with the rest of their wool clip. Many farmers think of it as worthless waste wool, but it can be a valuable commodity to a gardener:

  • When transplanting seedlings of long maturing plants, add some skirts and dags to the bottom of the hole, the muck & dirt will help fertilise, whilst the wool will help with water retention, aid the roots, and help fertilise by adding nutrients into the soil as it decomposes (approx. 6 months).

  • Skirts and belly wool can be added to your compost heap as green waste; and should decompose after 6 months. As it biodegrades it adds nutrients to the compost. If you’re not an avid composter yourself but would like to give some wool compost a go, you can buy organic (Soil Association Approved) peat-free wool compost from Dalefoot Composts. Best of all, you’ll still be supporting a British farmer, as it’s made on their farm in the Lake District.

  • Sheep muck and mucky wool soaked in a bucket with water to decompose makes a brilliant liquid fertiliser (especially for tomatoes).


Using wool (either whole raw fleeces or skirts) to mulch with is very advantageous to your plants, it may take up to 2-3 years to fully decompose in this way and will add minerals into the soil then, but there are benefits for using wool in this way prior to biodegradation:

  • It naturally regulates temperature, helping to avoid extremes.

  • It improves water retention due to the wool fibres absorbing water and releasing it again slowly- less water evaporates, lessening your water usage, and helps you avoid overwatering. This may be especially advantageous if you are in an area where hosepipe bans occur in the summer months.

  • It helps suppress weeds.

  • Slugs and snails don’t like travelling over it.

  • Mulching saplings and freshly planted hedges etc. provides insulation and helps protect the plant’s roots from frost over winter months.

I read an interesting article online a few months ago by American Wool (to read it in full yourself, just ​​​​​​​​​​click here), and I learnt something very interesting from it:

Everyone is looking for that magic thing that will allow them to go on vacation and come home to living, breathing plants. And Wilde thinks wool might be the key. Ever heard of a Wilt Study? We hadn’t either, until Wilde filled us in. Basically, a Wilt Study is when you see how long it takes a plant to begin to wilt and then eventually die, without the reintroduction of water. Wilde and his team conducted one study in 4” pots and this is what they found:

  • Traditional soil had wilting plants on days 1 and 2, and dead plants on days 5 and 6.

  • Soil married with wool had wilting plants on days 7 and 8, and then dead plants on day 14.

“What’s happening here,” says Wilde, “is that because wool can hold between 20-30x its own weight in water, and then release it slowly, it’s allowing these plants to continuously have access to water, without overwatering them.” That’s the key here — a lot of materials can hold water next to the roots of a plant, but so far, wool is the clear leader for slowly releasing that water to each plant when it needs it.

Partly felted fleeces (or old felted or moth attacked knitwear) can be used as hanging basket liners, any of these woolly options would be more ethical and environmentally friendly than sphagnum moss.

I’ve recently seen online that some people have experimented using wool for underneath stone paths instead of using a plastic membrane. So far, I think it has been successful, which is great, so that is some less plastic entering circulation.

Another way to use wool in gardening is by using ​​​​​​​​Twool. It’s a garden twine made using wool from local Whiteface Dartmoor sheep, supporting British farming, with every manufacturing process carried out in Britain.

Some people claim to struggle to source wool for gardening, but even if you live in a town or city, farms aren’t that far away, and city farms do exist. I’ve put together some hints and tips to help anyone wanting to give wool a go in their garden.

  • Keep in mind the time of year- shearing usually commences between May-July here in the UK. Some farmers shear their lambs that they’re keeping on to become breeding stock in August-September too, and often the sheep’s rears get docked in September-November (and onwards throughout the winter months for lambs going off to market and abattoirs, plus belly wool for them too). The trick is to build up a relationship with a farmer, and they can keep some aside for you as and when they clip and contact you to pick it up when it’s convenient.

  • An easily accessible place to enquire would be a local Facebook community group, or if you pass a sheep farm, stop by, and ask or drop a note in. It’s likely that the farmer will be more than willing to help you out, maybe even for free, but we do have paying customers for this “waste” wool here on our farm and charge £3 a sack (we provide the empty feed sacks, do the filling- different sacks for cleaner skirts to the dags & muck, and often the loading into vehicles too).

Many farmers are the humblest of people, and would probably refuse any offer of money, but some would probably appreciate it, even if it’s only a few pounds; if they continue to refuse, and you know that they have children you could always tell them to give it to them instead, or maybe say to donate it to a local charity. All farmers are different and there are various ways it could pan out:

  1. A farmer may say just to come and help yourself, so you do all the work filling sacks and getting a bit stinky, be sure to wear old clothes and bring strong sacks- mucky wool is much heavier than clean fleece.

  2. If the farmer provides some strong empty feed sacks or even fills them for you, it would be courteous to offer some money for their time.

  3. If they offer to do all the work and even deliver it too, definitely pay them for their time & fuel.

Once you’ve built up a relationship for wool, if the farmer has cows or horses, you might be able to get some top quality manure off them too (or maybe they might be able to point you in the direction of another farmer); horse muck is best for roses, and we use well-rotted cattle manure from our herd (which also has straw mixed with it, from their winter housing) for all of our vegetables.

If you’re not keen on the idea of approaching a local sheep farmer, you can buy garden felt matting made from wool to use for mulching. Chimney Sheep produce this in Yorkshire, it can also be used as a base layer for propagating seeds indoors.

For more information and to read more on the subject, here are a few useful links: