EcoTip – Going peat-free in the garden

Bog Asphodel

by Tricia Marcouse

IN 2011, our government said it would phase out the sale of peat-based composts to the public by 2020 and for commercial use by 2030. 2020 has passed, and a new announcement gives 2024 as the first target.

You don’t need to wait until then. If you tried it before and thought ‘this is terrible stuff’, then try again, because the manufacturers have been working hard to make really good formulations for potting compost and pretty good stuff for seed compost as well.

Yes, it may be more expensive than 3 bags of a peat-based product for £10 at the supermarket, but you are making a choice that has huge environmental benefits.

Peat is a major carbon store and a water management system to help against flooding, as well as a habitat for a range of specialist fauna and flora, such as the cotton grass and bog asphodel pictured here. According to Natural England, exposed peat soils can release up to 38 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare each year, whereas peat bogs in their natural state soak up around a tonne of carbon dioxide per hectare each year.

Which? did a trial this spring of peat-based and non-peat composts and recommends the following products:

  • Melcourt SylvaGrow Multipurpose Compost came up tops as a potting compost, and scored higher than peat-based composts. It is also endorsed by the RHS.
  • For seed sowing, Which? recommends New Horizon peat-based compost and Melcourt Sylvagrow with added John Innes

Please do something else as well: ASK for these peat-free composts at your garden centre to show that the public want change before 2024. Dobbies have committed to phase out peat from all their products before the end of 2022, so challenge the others. And don’t forget you can buy locally produced soil conditioner/potting compost (useless as seed compost), made from our green waste collections, from RE3 at Smallmead for £3.50 a bag.