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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Choosing peat-free soils and fertilisers

Peat has only been widely used in gardens from the 1950s, but its use has increased since. This has led to the destruction of many natural habitats. Fortunately, there are alternatives to peat which work just as well or even better.

Choose alternatives to peat

Choosing alternatives to peat when you buy soils and fertilisers is one of the most important things you can do to make your garden greener. Soils and fertilisers are also known as 'growing media'.

Peat-free products are widely available at high street stores and garden centres. Check that the bag says 'peat-free' or ask an assistant if it’s not clear.

There are alternative options for the various uses of peat in the garden.

Mulch

If you’re looking for mulch (material placed on top of soil to keep down weeds and conserve moisture) consider bark or leaf mould based materials. These work much better than peat, which breaks down too easily.

Growing media

When you want to grow plants and seedlings, look for products that contain:

  • bark
  • wood fibre
  • coir (coconut fibre)
  • spent mushroom compost (this is compost previously used by mushroom growers)

These alternatives can work as well as peat, provided you follow the feeding and watering instructions.

Soil conditioner and fertiliser

Try improving your soil with conditioners based on wood waste, leaf mould, farmyard manure or home compost.

You can also use 'green manures' to improve the condition and fertility of your soil. Green manures are fast-growing plants sown to cover bare soil. When used in the vegetable garden, their foliage smothers weeds and their roots prevent soil erosion. When dug into the ground while still green, they return valuable nutrients to the soil and improve soil structure.

Get advice on peat-free products

Peat-free products are widely available

Peat-free products are widely available at high street stores and garden centres. The Wildlife Trusts provide information on where to buy them, and Natural England produces a guide to composting and peat-free gardening.

Start making your own compost

Having a compost bin or starting a compost heap means you can use your kitchen and garden waste to improve your soil. It’s a greener way of gardening because:

  • you can avoid using peat
  • you don’t have to rely on artificial fertilisers, which take a lot of energy to make and can cause water pollution
  • you throw less away
  • you can save money

Some councils provide composting bins or sell them at reduced prices.

The wider issue

Peat bogs provide unique wildlife habitats and are valuable stores of carbon; globally, peat bogs hold more carbon than the world’s forests. When peat is extracted, carbon is released into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.

Large areas of these important habitats have been damaged in the UK and abroad by the commercial use of peat. Although some UK peatlands are now protected, many in Europe are not, and this is where most of the UK's garden peat comes from.

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