Peat-Free Compost Is a Must For Sustainable Gardeners

The onus is on us to make sure we only use peat-free compost in our gardens.

Close up view of African-American father and daughter planting potted plant at plant nursery

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As gardeners, there is a lot we can do to make sure our gardening efforts are as sustainable as possible. This means gardening organically, avoiding the use of harmful pesticides and herbicides, and following ethical principles to reduce our negative impact on the planet. 

As a sustainable gardener, designer, and consultant, I have spent many years explaining to people the ways in which a garden (however small) can enable a more sustainable way of life. By growing our own food and other resources in our gardens, we can move closer to a sustainable, zero-waste way of life. 

But in the process of cultivating their gardens, many unfortunately unwittingly contribute to the destruction of natural habitats. Many buy products that are not at all sustainable, and which contribute to the destruction of precious natural ecosystems. Peat-based compost/potting soil is one of those things. 

In the UK, the sale of peat-based compost will finally be banned starting in 2024, after voluntary phasing out was a complete and utter failure. Unfortunately, peat-based compost is still produced and sold in massive quantities around the globe. As sustainable gardeners, the onus is on us to make sure that, right now, we stop using this harmful product and use only peat-free compost in our gardens. 

I have been gardening peat-free for many years and still manage to grow an attractive and abundant garden. I use my own compost which I make at home. But even if you do not want to take a DIY approach, there are plenty of peat-free options on the market. 

Why is Peat Compost Used?

Peat has traditionally been used in growing media and soil amending composts because it retains water well and provides nutrients. And also because it has a good texture that helps in keeping the medium aerated and avoiding compaction. Historically, a major challenge in horticulture has involved trying to replicate these qualities with other organic materials. 

The horticultural industry and home gardeners have long considered peat to be preferable for growing a wide range of plants and for filling pots and containers. But today, new innovations and research mean that comparable peat-free alternatives are now readily available. Most if not all plants can thrive in peat-free composts and potting mixes. So there really is no excuse for not making the switch. 

Why Peat Compost Should Not Be Used

Peat compost contributes to our climate crisis and degrades the natural environment. Peat comes from peat bogs—unique wetland ecosystems which should not be disturbed.

Yes, peat is a natural material, but that does not mean that it is an eco-friendly one. Its use in gardens means that it is being depleted far more quickly than it can be regenerated. And for many reasons, we need to retain and protect existing peat bogs at all costs.

  • Peat bogs are crucial carbon sinks. They sequester more carbon than any other ecosystem type—forests included. Covering just 3% of our planet, peat bogs store 1/3 of soil carbon on Earth. Of course, if we destroy them by digging them up for garden use, they can no longer fulfill this important function.
  • These wetland ecosystems also play a very important role in the world's water cycle. They naturally filter water through the landscape, and, globally, provide nearly 4% of freshwater stored in reservoirs. Millions of people rely on drinking water that comes from peat bog catchment areas. 
  • And peat bogs also soak up and hold water in the landscape—preventing flooding issues downstream. When peat bogs are degraded, serious flooding events can become much more prevalent. 
  • Wetlands like peat bogs are the most biodiverse ecosystems on our planet. When they are destroyed or degraded, many species of plants and animals are affected. Halting biodiversity losses means preserving precious ecosystems like these. By using peat, you are contributing to biodiversity loss and wildlife habitat destruction. 

Peat-Free Options

Fortunately, there are plenty of peat-free alternatives for sustainable gardeners. And if you choose the right ones for the plants you wish to grow, these are now just as good as peat-based options. 

A range of different ingredients are used to formulate commercial peat-free composts: woody materials, coconut coir, municipal green waste (usually not more than around 30% of the finished product), bracken, straw waste, and even waste sheep's wool. 

If you are making your own, you can make a good potting soil/ growing medium using homemade compost, leaf mold, and inorganic soil elements (loam/sand). 

Whether you go for a commercial product or make your own, peat-free compost/ potting mix is a must for sustainable gardeners. 

View Article Sources
  1. Boldrin, Alessio, et al. "Environmental Inventory Modelling of the Use of Compost and Peat in Growth Media Preparation". Resources, Conservation and Recycling, vol. 54, no. 12, 2010, pp. 1250-1260, doi:10.1016/j.resconrec.2010.04.003