Peat free growing

Here we help you kick the peat habit. You can be peat free, and proud!
  1. How make your own homemade potting compost. It's not difficult, and we can help you create just the right mix for your pots and plants.
  2. Buying peat free bags
  3. Tips on peat free growing
  4. What is peat? And why we shouldn't use it.
Making your own potting compost:
Sowing seeds  Seeds contain their own nutrients so they will germinate successfully in low nutrient material, with good drainage.
Recommended mix: 1 part loam (garden soil), 1 part leafmould, 1 part horticultural sand.
Potting on  Seedlings and young plants need excellent drainage and a little more nutrient (not too much, or they become leggy without finding their own strength).
Recommended mix: 1 part loam (garden soil), 1 part leafmould, 1 part sieved garden compost.
Cuttings  These need excellent drainage (so their ends don’t rot) and fine textured medium (to help the roots establish).
Recommended mix: Half sharp sand and half home compost (or purchased peat-free growing medium such as coir).
Planting herbs  Sage, thyme, basil and marjoram all need a well-drained soil. It is the wet, not the cold, that will kill their roots.
Recommended mix: 1 part loam (garden soil), 1 part home compost, 1 part sharp sand.
Large containers  Plants growing for a long time in pots need a good source of slow release nutrients throughout the growing seasons.
Recommended mix: 1 part loam, 1 part compost. It is good to feed at certain times such as blooming and fruiting – use a foliar or liquid feed. 
The ideal growing medium for containers should:
  • Provide the correct nutrients for the plant.
  • Retain moisture, but drain well.
  • Retain air, yet hold plant roots firmly.
  • Be uniform in consistency, eg no large lumps, etc.
  • Be free from pest, disease and weed seeds.
It should not:
  • Reduce in volume, leaving pots, trays and containers half empty.
  • 'Slump’, becoming compact and airless.
  • Become drained of nutrients very quickly or be too rich for young seedlings
Buying peat free bags
  1. Be sure to get the right mix for the right stage in your plant’s life.  Seed sowing, potting on, cuttings etc. There are also mixes for ericaceous and other acid loving plants.
  2. Peat-free compost can be a little more expensive. It’s worth it. And it’s worth spending more within the peat-free range itself. Cheap peat-free will almost certainly disappoint.
  3. Garden Organic recommends producers which only make peat-free mixes, such as Melcourt (Sylvagrow range), Dalefoot (Lakeland Gold) and Fertile Fibre
  4. Read the label carefully. Beware those which say ‘Reduced peat’ – these can still hold up to 80% peat in the mix. Ignore claims of ‘not from an environmentally sensitive site’ – all peat bogs are sensitive habitats. And ‘organic’ doesn’t necessarily mean peat free.
Tips for using peat free compost
New peat-free composts perform excellently. But you might notice they have a different texture, which requires a slight change in watering habits.
  • Because of their high coir and woodchip content, peat-free mixes have a tendency to dry out more easily. They also have a course texture, which can appear dry on the surface but still damp further down.
  • Check by putting your finger in the soil to see if it’s dry all the way through.
  • Watering little and often is best. 
  • Don’t let them dry out otherwise they can be difficult to water again, as the water runs off the top. If this does happen, soak the whole pot in a bucket of water to let it draw up the moisture. 
All bagged composts have CRFs (controlled release fertilisers) included which will feed the plant over a period of just a few weeks. Peat-based composts claim to feed for up to 6 weeks, while most peat-free composts provide fertiliser up to 4 weeks.  
If you observe your plants on a regular basis you will know if they need extra feeding. Use liquid feeds, such as home-made comfrey tea (see Comfrey).  With more mature plants, we recommend adding in some homemade compost into the mix. It helps with structure, and provides slow release nutrients over a period of months.

What is peat
It is a type of soil made up of waterlogged, partially-decomposed plant material (including sphagnum moss and other acid-loving plants), which has built up over nearly 10,000 years in wetland habitats.
Why shouldn’t we use it?
More than 95% of lowland bogs in the UK have been destroyed or damaged, in order to gather peat on a large industrial scale. This totally destroys vast habitats which support many rare and endangered species of plants and wildlife. They cannot be regenerated - they are gone for ever. (It takes a year to create just 1mm of peat.) Peat is also the largest and most efficient land-based store of carbon, one of the planet’s damaging greenhouse gases. Peat bogs store on average 10 times more carbon per hectare than any other eco-system, including forests. Garden plants don't actually need peat, whereas bog plants growing in the wild do.