What is peat moss?
Peat (also known as peat moss) is an acidic growing medium used in garden composts. It has good water retention and a resistance to compaction. It’s ideal for growing acid-loving plants such as blueberries, heathers and camellias, as it has a low pH. Peat-based composts are widely in horticulture – indeed, most garden composts contain peat, while most garden centres still sell plants growing in pots of peat-based compost.
Why is peat being banned?
Peat moss forms naturally in peatlands such as bogs and fens. Peatlands are unique habitats for a diverse range of plant and animal species. Peat moss grows by as little as 1mm per year, so when it’s harvested these habitats are degraded and take a long time to regenerate. Peatlands also trap carbon dioxide and, combined, have the potential to absorb more CO2 than the world’s forests. However, when peat moss is extracted, the CO2 it stores is released back into the atmosphere, contributing significantly to climate change.
Peat moss has traditionally been harvested in Ireland and the UK, where most peat bogs are now damaged and are releasing more CO2 than they’re absorbing. These days peat moss is harvested from Europe.
Due to its environmentally damaging effects, sales of peat-based composts will be banned in the UK by 2024.
Alternatives to peat moss
The good news is that there are plenty of alternatives to peat, including ready made peat-free compost mixes. But you can also make your own peat-free potting mix using homemade compost, soil and leaf mould.
Peat-free potting mixes
There’s an increasing range of peat-free potting mixes available to buy, including multi-purpose compost, compost suitable for seed-sowing, and even ericaceous (acidic) mixes. Often these are aren’t available in garden centres, but can easily be bought online.
How to make peat-free compost
It’s easy to make your own peat-free potting mix, using a mix of different ingredients, including well-rotted leaf mould, garden compost, vermiculite and garden soil. Monty Don recommends using three parts coir, one part sieved garden compost, one part sieved loam and one part sharp sand, perlite or horticultural grit. Find out more about the some of the ingredients used to make peat-free composts, below.
Leaf mould makes an excellent soil conditioner. It’s easy to make your own. If you have lots of leaves, try making it a leaf mould bin to process large amounts, or on a smaller scale you can use plastic sacks.
Garden, or home-made compost is something that nearly every garden should be able to produce. The key is balancing green, leafy nitrogen-rich material with carbon-rich brown material, like woody stems and cardboard. Take a look at our full guide to making compost.
Loam is essentially garden soil. You can buy good quality loam (or topsoil) from the garden centre. Alternatively you can use old sections of turf, which you stack up, grass side down, and cover with tarpauline. After around a year it will have broken down into good, loamy soil, which you can use in potting mixes.
Coir is a waste product from coconut plantations in tropical countries like India and Sri Lanka, and you’ll often come across it in compressed blocks that expand when watered. Coir is sold in blocks and also as part of coir-based composts. It’s absorbent and is an excellent open growing medium for sowing seeds and growing plants. Incorporate slow-release fertiliser to boost the nutrient content.