For Peat’s Sake!

Filed in Blog, Guest Posts by on June 24, 2010 2 Comments
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Peter Hill, WRAPs waste reduction adviser

Peter Hill, WRAPs waste reduction adviser

Our guest post today is from WRAP Waste Reduction Adviser, Peter Hill.

Peter is a keen gardener who worked as a garden centre manager before joining WRAP as a Waste Reduction Adviser. His current role involves speaking to people about ways in which they can reduce their waste at home and at work, whether that’s through recycling, reducing food waste, composting, or using recycled, peat free compost!”

Planing time

With the sun finally creeping out, now is the time to plant your containers and grow bags for the summer, either for a riot of colour or some home grown veg – anyone who’s ever tried growing their own will tell you that you just can’t beat the taste.  What to plant will depend on your tastes and situation, as will your choice of container – just make sure that it’s large enough and has adequate drainage. What to fill those containers with is also your choice, but rather than just grabbing the nearest bags of compost or grow bags when you go into your local garden centre or DIY store why not pause and consider the options about which products to use.

Multi purpose compost

Many gardeners don’t realise that unless multi-purpose composts and grow bags are labelled ‘peat-free’, they can contain between 70 and 100 per cent peat. These products often come labelled as ‘organic’ or ‘environmentally friendly’, and this can lead people into thinking they’re peat-free. In fact approximately 69 per cent1 of all peat sold in the UK is bought by amateur gardeners using multi-purpose composts.


As part of the latest Act on CO2 campaign, Defra recently announced a call for the phase-out of peat in compost material by 2020. The phase out would mean that gardening centres and DIY stores would cease to sell peat-based composts within ten years and switch to peat-free alternatives instead. But what does this mean for gardeners, and what’s so bad about peat?


Peat may be a natural resource, but it certainly isn’t sustainable and there are a number of clear environmental reasons why we should be reducing its use. Peat develops very slowly, no more than 1mm in depth per year. A ten metre deep peat reserve will have taken 10,000 years to develop. So when peat is extracted for use in growing media it takes 1,000 years to replace every metre that is taken away.2  Extracting peat also releases its stored carbon.  British peat bogs store the carbon equivalent to about 20 years’ worth of national industrial emissions, and mining the peat bogs causes them to dry out, releasing this carbon into the atmosphere. We also know that lowland peat bogs and the wildlife they support, such as dragonflies, butterflies and birds, are threatened through peat extraction. Add to this the fact that some peat is imported, and this creates a sizeable environmental impact.

Peat free compost

Peat-free compost on the other hand is a much greener choice, and can include ingredients, such as recycled garden material, bark fines, coir and wood fibre. Peat-free composts have been extensively trialled and give consistently good results when used in the right way, providing a perfect alternative to traditional peat based composts. I’ve used peat-free compost for years, and can honestly say my plants both inside and out are thriving. Like many gardeners I grew up using peat and it wasn’t until I started working in a garden centre that I became aware that alternatives were available.  Having tried them I’ve carried on using them as I find that they work just as well as peat. Many others gardeners have swapped to using environmentally friendly peat-free compost – gardeners at the National Trust and Kew Gardens swear by it and their results speak for themselves!

Top tips

Here are my top tips on how to get the best out of your peat-free compost:

  • Check the labeling: Firstly, know what you’re looking for! If the bag doesn’t say peat-free then it most likely isn’t. Wording such as ‘environmentally friendly’, ‘compost’ and ‘organic’ can often confuse gardeners into thinking they are buying peat-free products.
  • Watch your watering: Peat-free composts need to be watered little and often, because they tend to retain water better than peat.  This can be great during the summer months but will need to be watched in the winter.  You may need to reduce the amount of water that you put on in winter. You can also try mixing grit and sharp sand with the product, to help it to drain properly.
  • Food for thought: Nutrients in peat-free compost can be released more slowly and over a longer period of time so plants may need supplementary feeding earlier on in the growing season.
  • Sieves away! Peat-free compost is ideal for potting up established seedlings and general repotting, but is not always ideal for sowing seeds. When I use peat-free compost for seed sowing I find that sieving it and mixing it with vermiculite or perlite gives a nice open structure which works for me.
  • Make your own: You can grow perfectly good plants without buying compost – anyone with a compost bin has the potential to produce enough compost to fill at least a couple of tubs – this is truly satisfying and environmentally friendly.
  • Visit the Recycle Now website for more tips on how to get the most out of peat-free compost, as well as advice on home composting if you want to boost your green credentials further.

It may be a while before garden centres stop selling peat-based composts, however we can start taking action immediately. With the summer ahead, it’s a good time to give peat-free a go, and start the season as you mean to go on.

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (2)

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  1. Karin says:

    This is a very interesting article. I tend to buy ‘organic’ compost made from garden waste, but I do find this has small amounts of shredded plastic perhaps from pots and bags. It also has a tendency to sprout small toadstools, but perhaps I am watering it too much or should have mixed it with sand. I will try to bear that in next year.

    I also buy grow bags from the Organic Garden Catalogue, which I believe are peat-based, but like their Moorland Gold, which I use for my blueberries, this is peat collected from rivers and not dug from peat bogs, so, I am told, totally environmentally friendly.

  2. Mrs Green says:

    @Karin: Thanks for telling me about the Organic Garden compost; I’ll take a look at that. Glad you found the article useful; I’d love to hear how you get on if you mix peat free compost with sand …

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