The government has announced it intends to ban the sale of all peat compost in garden centres by 2024 as part of its England Peat Action Plan. This follows increasing pressure from environmental and climate change campaigners, as well as home gardeners.
Which? Gardening magazine has championed the case of peat-free composts for many years. We only use peat-free compost in our own growing trials and we prioritise peat-free composts when choosing which brands to test for our compost trials.
Peat has long been recognised as damaging to the environment and the climate. When peat is harvested, bogs are drained and the top surface of the peat gradually stripped away. Not only does this destroy rare and endangered habitats and the flora and fauna that rely on them, but also allows the peat to react with the air, releasing vast quantities of carbon dioxide.
Recent figures from Natural England show that exposed peat soils can release up to 38 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare every year. By contrast, peat bogs in their natural state soak up around a tonne of carbon dioxide per hectare each year.
In addition, they hold huge quantities of water and are a great defense against flooding as well as helping to filter and naturally clean water.
There are a number of very good peat-free composts already available to buy, whether you are sowing seeds, potting on your plants or filling containers with summer bedding and veg. We have also found a great peat-free .
Which? has been testing compost for more than 30 years and in that time peat-free composts have changed significantly, but especially in the last few years. Only around five years ago most peat-free composts used composted green waste collected from council tips and the quality varied enormously, but new materials are now available and peat-free compost is now far more reliable.
Peat has been a popular compost material as it is free draining, yet moist, giving near-perfect conditions for seeds and young plants to develop. In other words, it's undemanding of gardeners. Peat-free on the other hand can require more care and attention to get the best results.
Which? Gardening has been using peat-free compost to grow our trials for a number of years and we have found it to be a great growing medium, but you need to watch out for a few niggles.