Global demand for peat-based compost over the past 70 years has had a huge impact on the world’s peat reserves. As a result, responsible gardeners are now looking for alternatives to peat, and peat-free products. But what alternatives are out there? And do they work just as well? Whether you buy your compost straight from the garden centre, or like to get the right mix using compost at home, these peat alternatives will help you get your soil just right for your needs, without damaging our world’s peat bogs.
Composted bark is a versatile planting material, and a by-product of the timber industry. It is one of the most common materials added to peat-free multipurpose compost to give it bulk. If using individually, mix well with your home made compost, or add to heavy or poor soil to improve its texture. Make sure your composted bark is fully rotted before using, to prevent it stealing nitrogen from the soil as it decomposes further.
Wood fibre is a similar medium to composted bark which has arrived on the market more recently. It is formed by blasting wood chips with high pressure steam, separating them into fibres. This forms an effective compost which retains nutrients and water well, and can be added to compost mixes or soil to improve texture.
Green waste is formed from rotted grass cuttings, leaves and other garden clippings that are usually disposed of at local recycling centres, making it a nutrient-rich and eco friendly choice. It is often found added to peat-free mutlipurpose compost, but can be bought separately and added to soil or homemade compost in varying ratios, depending on its purpose. Due to its mixed content, green waste can vary greatly from brand to brand and area to area. You may need to try a number of different varieties before finding one which works for you.
Coir is a similar planting medium to wood fibre, made from the fibres of coconut husks, and is a by-product of the Indian and Sri Lankan coconut industry. It has been said by many gardeners that coir feels and performs most similarly to peat. Because of this, it is ideal for mixing with homemade compost for planting seeds and cuttings as it adds bulk, improves airflow and holds water well. When using coir, remember that it can often dry out more quickly on its surface than peat or other mediums whilst retaining water below, so be careful not to over water. Coir may have to travel more miles to reach us than other organic materials, but it is usually transported in its lightweight, dry state to keep weight and packaging as low as possible.
Though it’s fairly easy to make the switch to a peat-free garden, it isn’t just a case of switching one material for another. Depending on your needs, you may need to choose a different material and use it in a different way. Pre mixed compost from a garden centre can offer a lot of versatility, and include useful information on the uses of each product. If you make your own compost at home, wood fibre can help to improve bulk, while coir aids aeration and makes compost more suitable for growing seeds and cuttings. Your first year of peat-free gardening may be filled with trial and error, but you will soon find that the right medium will work just as well as peat, and you’ll be well on your way to more environmentally responsible gardening.
Image sourced: Brian Pettingertagsconservationorganic gardeningpeatpeat alternativessustainable gardening