Peat is an acidic growing medium, which thanks to its excellent water and nutrient retention is traditionally used in garden composts. With a low pH it’s ideal for growing acid-loving plants such as blueberries, heather and Camellia sinensis, and peat-based composts have been widely used in horticulture – most garden composts contain some peat, and most garden centres still sell plants growing in pots of peat-based compost. However, due to its environmentally damaging effects, sales of peat-based composts will be banned in the UK by 2024.
- Why use peat free compost?
- What is peat free compost?
- How to choose peat free compost
- Buyer beware
- How to grow with peat free compost
- 10 of the best peat free composts
- How to make your own peat free compost
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Peat moss forms naturally in peatlands such as bogs and fens. Peatlands are unique habitats for a diverse range of plant and animal species and are the world’s largest carbon store, trapping far more of the carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming than forests. 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. Plus, 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.
Issues with peat-free composts, such as expense, availability and performance have hindered its take up in the past but thankfully, compost manufacturers have responded to these concerns with research and investment and a broad range of high quality, peat-free composts are now widely available, with some even costing less than their peat-based counterparts.
Peat free composts contain a variety of organic, sustainable ingredients as alternatives to peat. Proportions of these core ingredients are mixed with inorganic materials such as perlite, grit and sand as well as fertiliser. Specialist composts use the above as a base and other ingredients are added depending on what they’re for. These include:
- Coir, or coconut fibre. This by-product has good water holding ability and a porous structure, but doesn’t retain nutrients well.
- Woody materials, such as wood fibre or composted bark. Easily tailored to suit different plants, these provide an open structure and have good drainage
- Green waste. Collected and composted by local authorities, this is high in nutrients and must abide by industry standards to ensure consistency
- Sheep wool. A waste product from farming, that’s high in nitrogen with good water retention.
- Bracken. Sustainably harvested and composted this invasive plant is high in potash and a great soil conditioner
Peat-free ranges have expanded hugely and as well as multipurpose, many now include tailored composts for specific uses, such as seed sowing, container growing and grow bags, as well as for cultivating particular plants, from veg and citrus to ericaceous and bulbs. Take care to choose the right compost for the job and always check the label for instructions about the suitability of the compost for a particular purpose; peat-free soil conditioners for example are for working into the soil rather than potting or seed sowing.
If a bag of compost isn’t clearly labelled with the words peat-free then it almost certainly isn’t, and words like ‘organic’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘environmentally friendly’ on bags don’t mean peat-free either. The percentage of peat in peat-reduced composts can still be quite high and with so many peat-free options available, opt for one of these instead.
Peat-free composts can require slightly different handling to traditional composts:
Watering. Peat-free composts often differ in colour to peat-based compost and recognising whether they’re dry or wet can take some getting used to. Some can look well-watered, others dry, when the opposite is true just below the surface. Check carefully with a finger or by picking up pots to see if they feel heavy or light, and therefore need watering. Most hold on to water well so if you’re growing plants that require good drainage add grit or sand to the mix.
Feeding. Most peat-free composts have enough nutrients in them to last just three or four weeks so be prepared to give potted plants a liquid feed after this or add a slow release fertiliser at planting to help sustain your plants throughout the season.
Storing. Use peat free compost as soon as you can and close any you have left and store in a cool, dry place.
We’ve scoured the market to find our pick of the most popular and widely available peat-free composts:
A good value peat-free compost containing a combination of bark, coir, West+, a patented FSC wood fibre and fertiliser to support growth for six weeks. Only available as multipurpose and in 50 litre bags.
Price: £5.95 for 50L Multipurpose compost
Buy Homebase peat free multipurpose compost from Homebase.
The SylvaGrow peat-free range includes multipurpose, organic, ericaceous and tub and basket composts as well as grow bags. Most contain a mix of fine bark, wood fibre and coir plus a balanced mix of nutrients that will last four-six weeks. The grow bag and organic compost are RHS and Soil Association endorsed. Composts are available in 15L and 50L sizes
Price: £8.99 for 50L Multipurpose compost
Westland’s peat free range contains their patented Bio3, a peat free technology that includes West+ wood fibre and coir. Their All Plant compost comes in 10, 20, 40 and 50L bags, an All Vegetable compost is available in 50L bags and a medium size Tomato planter is big enough for two plants.
Price: £7.99 for 50L All Plant compost
These coir based multipurpose, seed and potting composts are available in organic, vegan and biodynamic ranges. They contain no green waste and are fully accredited by the Soil Association. Bag sizes range from 10 – 60 litres but you can also buy in bulk in loads of 1000 – 2000 litres. They’re not available in garden centres but they will deliver – just one bag or an entire load.
Price: £22.00 for 60L Multipurpose compost
A nutrient rich blend of sheep’s wool, comfrey and bracken this Wool Compost range is Soil Association approved. Naturally water retentive with enough nutrients to last a season the extensive range includes Potting, Seed, Bulb, Vegetable and Salad and Ericaceous composts as well as a specialist Tomato compost. Dalefoot also restore peat bogs, including some previously owned by peat compost companies. Sizes range from 10 to 30 litre bags
Price: £10.99 for 30L Potting compost
A wide range of wood fibre and coir-based composts, which includes All Purpose, Bulb, Houseplant, Ericaceous, Pots and Baskets and Fruit and Vegetable composts. Each contains their patented Aquacoir technology to help plants stay hydrated and enough nutrients to last three months. Composts are available in a range of sizes including 10, 20 and 40 litre bags.
Price: £10.99 for 40L All Purpose compost
Made from recycled and by-product materials including bark, green compost, wood fibre and coir, all bags in this eco-friendly range are also recyclable and have been produced using 30% recycled plastic.
Available in 20L and 50L bags
Price: £5.99 for 50L All Purpose compost
Buy Happy compost from the Greener Gardening Company.
With an extensive range including multipurpose, seed and cutting, bulb, houseplant, cacti and succulent, citrus and container and basket compost, B & Q’s peat-free compost is based on a mix of coir, composted bark and green waste. Depending on the compost it’s available in 10L – 50L bags and is cheaper than their peat-based compost.
Price: £4.17 for 50L Multipurpose compost
Buy Verve peat free compost from B & Q.
Harmony Gardens composts are the first to claim carbon-neutral status. Coir-based with a balanced
mineral fertiliser, the range comes in recyclable bags and includes a multipurpose in 50-litre size, as well as a handy growing bag for vegetables, fruit and salad.
Price: £7.99 for 50 litres
Buy Harmony Gardens peat free composts from cocoandcoir.com
Soil Association and FSC approved, Carbon Gold Biochar composts are peat- and synthetic chemical-free. A coir-based mix, including a high carbon charcoal that locks in carbon and has great water and nutrient retention, the range comprises Biochar All Purpose and Biochar Seed in 10-, 20- and 40-litre bags.
Price: £17.99 for 40 litres
It’s also 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 a mix of 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 – An excellent soil conditioner and easy to make yourself. If you have lots of leaves, try making a leaf mould bin to process large amounts, or on a smaller scale you can use plastic sacks.
Home-made garden compost – Every garden should be able to produce this and 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 and if you’re looking for a compost bin see our review guide to the best compost bins.
Loam – 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 tarpaulin. After around a year it will have broken down into good, loamy soil, which you can use in potting mixes.
Coir – A waste product from coconut plantations in tropical countries like India and Sri Lanka, you’ll often come across it in compressed blocks that expand when watered. It’s absorbent and an excellent open growing medium for sowing seeds and growing plants.
Buy coir blocks from Amazon, Suttons, Thompson and Morgan and Fertile Fibre.
This Product Guide was last updated in February 2022. We apologise if anything has changed in price or availability.