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Sustainable peat alternatives, such as composts and management residues, are considered to have beneficial microbiological characteristics compared to peat-based substrates. Studies comparing microbiological characteristics of these three types of biomass are, however, lacking. This study examined if and how microbiological characteristics of subtypes of composts and management residues differ from peat-based substrates, and how feedstock and (bio)chemical characteristics drive these characteristics. In addition, microbiome characteristics were evaluated that may contribute to plant growth and health. These characteristics include: genera associated with known beneficial or harmful microorganisms, microbial diversity, functional diversity/activity, microbial biomass, fungal to bacterial ratio and inoculation efficiency with the biocontrol fungus Trichoderma harzianum. Bacterial and fungal communities were studied using 16S rRNA and ITS2 gene metabarcoding, community-level physiological profiling (Biolog EcoPlates) and PLFA analysis. Inoculation with T. harzianum was assessed using qPCR. Samples of feedstock-based subtypes of composts and peat-based substrates showed similar microbial community compositions, while subtypes based on management residues were more variable in their microbial community composition. For management residues, a classification based on pH and hemicellulose content may be relevant for bacterial and fungal communities, respectively. Green composts, vegetable, fruit and garden composts and woody composts show the most potential to enhance plant growth or to suppress pathogens for non-acidophilic plants, while grass clippings, chopped heath and woody fractions of compost show the most potential for blends for calcifuge plants. Fungal biomass was a suitable predictor for inoculation efficiency of composts and management residues.
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