How to garden without peat and be peat-free
Dominated by carpets of colourful mosses and cotton grasses, and dotted with bog asphodel, heath spotted orchid, marsh violet and sundews, peat bogs are one of our most valuable habitats.
These wild plants support a range of butterflies, dragonflies and birds, such as emperor moths, snipe and merlins.
Peat habitats also provide crucial ‘ecosystem services’ like clean water, and store huge amounts of carbon dioxide. In the UK, peat bogs hold almost four times as much carbon as forests.
But since the beginning of the 19th century, 94% of the UK’s lowland raised bogs have been severely damaged or destroyed.
Peat in gardening
Peat is popular in gardening because it holds water well and has a predictable, consistent quality which is good for growing plants, including fruit and vegetables.
But there is absolutely no reason to use peat in the garden, as the beautiful gardens of the National Trust, where there is a peat-free policy, more than demonstrate.
Peat-free potting composts contain mixtures of organic material – such as composted bark, coir (coconut fibre), woodfibre and green compost – mixed with inorganic materials such as grit, sharp sand, rock wool and perlite. A mix of coarse and fine particles is needed to create a balanced compost containing enough water and air, which are essential for root growth.
Although extraction still takes place in the UK, the majority of peat sold here is now imported from Ireland and Baltic countries, where the industry is also responsible for destroying wildlife habitats.
- Peat ‘grows’ by only a millimetre a year
- Commercial extraction can remove over 500 years worth of ‘growth’ in a single year
- Amateur gardening accounts for 69% of peat compost used in the UK - we currently use some three billion litres of peat every year in our gardens
- 32% of our peat comes from the UK, 60% from Ireland and 8% from Europe
Put simply, our current use of peat is unsustainable.
How you can help
There are several ways you can reduce or stop your use of peat:
- Buy peat-free compost. Read compost labels and ask questions at your garden centre if labels are not clear.
- Support local nurseries that grow plants peat free. Use the RHS plant finder to find your nearest peat free grower – if none are close to you, encourage your local retailer to go peat free.
More on peat and what we’re doing to save our peat bogs.