How to go peat free in your garden
What is peat?
Peat is made up of decayed organic matter and vegetation, developing slowly under particular, wet conditions over thousands of years. Peat can be found in wetlands such as bogs and moors, and its composition makes it home to a unique ecosystem.
Peat bogs are home to all sorts of plants, including colourful sphagnum mosses, insect-eating plants, and curious plants such as ‘butterwort’ and ‘bog myrtle’. They also provide an environment for rare dragonflies, spiders and other invertebrates, and a feeding ground for birds, such as golden plover, meadow pipit and skylark.
When it comes to climate change, peatlands are vital. The excess carbon in our atmosphere is causing the planet to heat up. Peat bogs act like a sponge, absorbing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it like a sink.
The UK’s peatlands store around 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon and alongside the oceans, are the second largest store of carbon on the planet whilst covering a much smaller area.
Peat is formed under unique environmental conditions
But sadly, more than 94% of the UK’s lowland peat bogs have been destroyed or damaged, and a wealth of wildlife has disappeared along with it. This vital habitat isn't easily replaced.
Going peat free to protect the planet:
Peat has been a major ingredient of the compost used in gardening for many years. This peat is dug out of wild places, damaging some of the last remaining peatlands in both the UK and overseas in places like Eastern Europe. This process also releases carbon into the atmosphere, accelerating climate change.
Peat and compost are different things. Compost is often used as a growing medium to provide food, whilst peat is used to ‘condition’ soil; improving its water and nutrient retention. ‘Low peat’ compost, those that claim to be from ‘sustainable sources’ and many soil improvers can all contain a high proportion of peat, as do many of the potted plants in garden centres.
Be a savvy gardener
Specifically-labelled peat free compost is available but be aware that they are not necessarily the cheapest. The more we ask for peat-free options, the more stores will likely stock it. By buying peat free, you’re helping our precious peatlands and sending a message to manufacturers that people want peat-free products. Both actions are really important.
There are an increasing number of peat free alternatives; all providing different conditions for growing. It’s hard to provide detailed advice as this will depend on what you want to grow and the existing soil you have in your garden. However, you may want to research and experiment with some of the following:
- Bark chippings
- Wood fibre
- Composted waste from your own garden