You may have seen compost labelled as peat-free, but if you aren’t aware what peat is, and importantly, where it comes from, you wouldn’t understand why it is so important to choose a peat-free product. You also probably wouldn’t know that if a compost is not labelled as peat-free, then it likely comprises between 60-90% peat!

To fully appreciate WHY we should all be sourcing peat-free composts, it’s best to start at the beginning; what is peat, and where does it come from?

Peat is a natural product. It is made from partially decomposed plant material and forms in waterlogged, acidic bogs. A lack of oxygen means the plants do not rot completely.
The formation of peat happens very slowly – over thousands of years. A 10 metre deep peat reserve will have taken 10,000 years to develop!

We use peat at a far greater rate than it forms, which means that peat is not a renewable resource, certainly not in this lifetime!

Currently, living peat bogs cover approximately only 3% of the Earth’s surface.

Why are Peat bogs important?

When it comes to climate change the 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. It is estimated they store a combined 500 metric gigatons of carbon, which is a lot!

The UK’s peatlands alone 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.

As if this isn’t reason enough, peat bogs provide an important habitat for the plants, insects and wildlife which live there. Peat bogs are home to all sorts of interesting and curious plants, a wide variety of insects – among them rare dragonflies, specialised bugs, butterflies, caterpillars and several spider species can be found. They also provide a feeding ground for birds such as skylarks.

How is Peat being used?

Peat has been used for the past 200 years, mainly for burning. In some parts of the world peat is still used on an industrial scale, being burnt in power stations to produce electricity.

Peat is also widely used by gardeners as a soil improver.

Why is using Peat bad?

When peat is extracted, the bog is drained so it’s no longer waterlogged. Once the bog is drained, it begins to dry out and will eventually die. A dead peat bog will then begin to release its stored carbon into the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming.

Did You Know? In one year, the peat dug up for use in garden compost in Britain alone releases almost half a million tonnes of carbon dioxide – this is equivalent to 100,000 cars on the road!

So, aside from damaging the habitats of the insects and plants which live in the peat bogs, it will also start to release its vast amounts of stored carbon into the atmosphere.

What can we do to change this?

Raising awareness through education about peat is a vital first step in protecting our peat bogs.

For gardening uses, peat can easily be replaced with a peat-free substitute. Something as simple as choosing a peat-free compost will deliver an immediate improvement on the situation; if there isn’t demand for the product there won’t be a need to supply it.

Historically, peat-free products have varied in quality and were considered inferior products. It could be a worry for gardeners and landscapers that by choosing a peat-free product the quality will not be good as a peat product. However, this should no longer be a concern with the BSI PAS100 which is a British standard for the quality specification of compost, meaning that any compost with the BSI PAS100 accreditation will always be of a certain quality.

The government have made a pledge to be completely peat-free by the year 2030, but to phase out peat in garden products by 2020. The National Trust and The Eden Project have already banned the use of peat products which should go a long way to positively influence gardeners all over the UK to follow suit.

Our Regal Blend contains peat-free compost which is clearly labelled and is accredited with BSI PAS100 so you can be guaranteed it meets the high standards you want for your garden.

What are the benefits of Peat-free compost?

Compost can be used to add organic matter to soils in order to achieve many benefits:

  1. Reduces the need for inorganic fertilisers. Peat free compost is a valuable organic source of the nutrients commonly found in inorganic fertilisers. Nitrogen, phosphate, potash, magnesium and sulphur (as well as trace elements) all occur naturally in compost, in quantities that can be extremely valuable.
  2. Can increase yield. Modern plants and crops need to establish rapidly in order to thrive. To do this, they depend on very high levels of organic matter in the soil. Tests prove that adding fertiliser is no substitute for this organic matter.Peat free compost not only provides fertilisation, it is high in organic matter.
  3. Improves soil structure. It’s been proven that peat free compost improves the aggregate strength of soil. It also allows root systems to penetrate more easily, enabling them to find nutrients and water more effectively. Adding peat free compost improves workability too and makes soil less likely to become compacted.
  4. Raises water retention capacity. Soil rich in compost absorbs and retains water better. This meansit needs less irrigation, which reduces overall consumption.
  5. Reduces soil erosion. Wind and rain can erode soil, particularly when it contains low levels of organic matter. Peat free compost can be applied generally to solve this problem or applied to areas of particular concern.
  6. Contains valuable micro-organisms. Micro-organisms do three good things to soil. Feeding off the organic matter in peat free compost and teaming up with the micro-organisms already present in the soil to which they’ve been added, they release polysaccarids and humic substances that help improve soil structure. They release nutrients in organic matter and make it available to plants to use as food. They can suppress soil bourne plant pathogens.
  7. Reduces cost. Peat free compost improves soil quality which leads to better plants and crops that need less irrigating, that are easier to cultivate and need less fertilising.

How can I use Peat free compost?

  • Soil Improver

    Simply add the peat free compost to your gardens topsoil to increase fertility and moisture retention, as well as increasing soil temperatures.

  • Feeding Mulch

    Spread a layer of peat free compost (4cm to 8cm) over your flower bed soil, this will stop the weeds growing through, reduce moisture loss and feed the soil and plants.

  • Shrub and Plant Compost

    Dig the hole for the plant or shrub and line with peat free compost before planting. This will increase moisture retention around the roots, feed the plant and increase root establishment.

  • Lawn Top Dressing

    The finest screened peat free compost can be used as a top dressing to feed your lawn and at the same time it will keep your grass greener during dry periods, reducing the need to water.

  • Turf Laying

    Trials have shown that peat free compost decreases the time it takes for newly laid turf roots to knit with the prepared topsoil thus speeding up lawn establishment and reducing the “watering in” period. Simply apply a layer of peat free compost to the prepared topsoil and rake in prior to laying turf.