It’s well documented that harvesting peat is unsustainable as well as harmful to the environment. Our planet needs peat more than our gardens, for a number of reasons:
it is a huge natural carbon store – in harvesting it we release CO2 into the atmosphere
it is home to countless species of wildlife
it helps manage our water – filtering it and reducing flooding.
Taking centuries to establish, but just moments to be destroyed, there has now been formal recognition that peatlands must be protected, and we can all help, starting in our own gardens, right now.
What is peat and why is it used in horticulture?
Peat is a type of soil produced by a gradual build-up of waterlogged partially decomposed plant material, in poorly drained wetland habitats, over the course of an estimated 10,000 years.
Its origin and composition give it a high natural moisture content helping it to retain water easily. When used in composts this helps to extend plant life by preventing plants from drying out, this is especially beneficial for seedlings and young plants, hence the widespread use in the industry.
However, aside from its ability to retain water, peat has few benefits for plant life, with limited nutrient content.
Successful alternatives to peat-based compost and topsoil
So how easy is it to switch to a peat-free growing scheme?
Peat-free products are widely available - for years, there have been alternative growing media which enable horticultural success, but without detriment to the environment. These products substitute the peat content with materials like wood fibre, coir and composted bark to help with moisture retention. Most garden centres stock a range of peat-free products, or you can buy direct from suppliers.
Peat-free products have excellent growing results - the National Trust’s Plant Conservation Centre is a fantastic example of a successful transition to peat-free products. For over 35 years, they have been successfully using peat-free materials to propagate botanically and culturally significant plants, from original specimens growing within their gardens across the country.
You can customise general purpose or home-made composts according to the long-term needs of particular plants and it’s more sustainable – once you’ve bought a general-purpose compost or topsoil, you can increase your success rates by adding extra materials. For example, use additional composted bark, coir or wood fibre for a moisture retentive mix. Or, for a more open mix suitable for cuttings and young plants, which need to establish roots quickly and easily, add horticultural sand or grit or some perlite. Home-composting has the added advantage of not requiring packaging and means you’re recycling at the same time.
Rolawn Topsoils – 100% peat free since day one
Always ahead of the curve with ensuring our products are sustainable and responsibly sourced and produced, Rolawn has been championing ‘peat-free’ since we began supplying topsoils, only ever producing 100% peat-free products.
One last but very significant point – always check the small print! Recent consumer research indicates that almost two-thirds of the gardening public still buy peat-based composts. That could be partly down to labelling. Just because a product is labelled 'Environmentally friendly' or 'organic' doesn’t mean it is necessarily peat-free.
Our 'Selecting the right topsoil' guide tells you more about choosing topsoil you can trust.