The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) set 2020 as the deadline for peat to be phased out in products sold to amateur gardeners. However, this target was voluntary, agreed between compost manufacturers and Defra, and appears to have failed.
When went shopping for peat-free composts for our annual compost trials, we found a very limited range in garden centres and many that we tested still underperform peat-base composts, although some peat-free brands do a brilliant job.
Peat bogs cover a tiny proportion of the world's land mass, but hold 10 times more carbon than all other ecosystems, including forests, and are the world's second largest carbon store. When drained, this carbon is released back into the atmosphere.
More than 95% of the UK's peat bogs have now been destroyed or degraded, taking with them rare species of flora and fauna. Many were drained for farmland decades ago, although some still exist and are protected. Most of the peat used in this country is now imported from Ireland and the Baltic States.
There are quite a lot of peat-free materials used in both peat composts as a bulking agent to reduce the percentage of peat in the mix and in peat-free composts. The most common are treated wood fibre, often marketed under proprietary names such as West+, composted bark, and coir. However, we've found the best results come from a careful blending of these materials, rather than using them on their own.
As a gardener it's also important to carefully adjust your feeding and watering regime to ensure ideal conditions for your seeds and young plants. Often peat-free composts hold more water so need watering less frequently than you would peat products, and sometimes they will need to be potted-on or fed using a liquid feed sooner than those grown in peat composts. We've found in our tests that it's vital to use fresh batches of this compost as it deteriorates in the bag over time, especially when stored outdoors.