Going Peat-Free In Your Wild Space

Sophie Hall

Peatlands are a precious habitat for butterflies and moths, but they are under threat from commercial extraction of peat for compost. This #PeatFreeApril, we’ve put together a guide to peat-free products and how to use them in your Wild Space.

Brilliant bogs

Peatlands are brilliant carbon stores, holding around 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon in the UK alone. They act as natural flood defences, improve water quality by acting as a filter, and support a unique array of animals and plants that can’t be found anywhere else, including the Large Heath – a rare butterfly which has declined by 58% in the UK since the 1970s.

Peatlands under threat

Sadly, peatlands are under threat. Peat is used in the horticultural industry for compost and other gardening products, but commercial extraction is incredibly damaging. It takes 1,000 years to produce just 1 metre of peat, but commercial extraction can remove hundreds of years of growth in just a few months, damaging the remaining peatland left behind in the process.

However, you can help protect our peatlands by making the switch to using peat-free products in your Wild Space.

Going peat-free in your Wild Space

If you regularly use peat-based compost in your Wild Space, it’s simple to make a switch to peat-free. However, the first thing to consider is – do you need compost at all? Most soils already have the nutrients and structure to grow the plants, fruits, and vegetables that you might want to in your space. Embracing the existing growing conditions of your Wild Space will allow you to work with nature to get the best results with minimal input. However, where you do need extra help, look for peat-free products like:

Peat-free multi-purpose compost – made from assorted organic materials, general peat-free compost can be used in many situations. It can be prone to drying out, so isn’t ideal for smaller containers or hanging baskets on its own but you can help those hold water by mulching them – spreading a layer of coir or light-coloured stones on the surface to prevent water evaporating.

Coir – industrial coconut waste (dust and small fibres separated from the husk). It has great water retention and aeration properties and contains virtually no nutrients. Coir can be used to mulch flower beds, be mixed with peat-free compost to improve water retention for containers and baskets, and used as part of your potting mix for seeds and cuttings. If you are using it for plants require more nutrients you can add a slow-release fertiliser in with it when you are making your mix.

Home-made compost – made from an assortment of household green waste and garden waste, including fallen leaves, woody material, straw, and grass clippings. It may contain weeds and fungi, but making your own compost is a cheap and sustainable choice. Home-made compost can be used for virtually anything in your Wild Space, but it might need to be altered for sowing seeds by sieving it until it has a fine texture and adding a material that won’t release nutrients (like coir, sand, or grit).

Local authority compost – this is household green waste collected and processed in a controlled facility which may screen for weeds and fungi. It can be used in the same way as home-made compost in your Wild Space.

Check the label!

Be aware that if it doesn’t say ‘Peat-free’ on the bag, it’s not ‘Peat-free’! ‘Organic’ and ‘Environmentally Friendly’ are not ‘Peat-free’. ‘Reduced peat’ can still contain up to 80% peat.

Keep peat in the ground

As well as using peat-free products in your Wild Space, there are more ways you can help keep peat in the ground. Consider sharing plant cuttings with friends or growing from seed instead of buying plants, most of which are still commercially grown in peat.

If you want to include shrubs and trees in your Wild Space, try buying them ‘bareroot’ to reduce the use of peat-based compost and plastic pots. You can even take action by writing to your MP or MSP and asking them to help move the horticultural industry away from using peat – the more people who add their voice to the movement to protect our peatlands, the bigger a difference we can have.

For more inspiration and advice for your Wild Space, visit Info Hub – Wild Spaces (wild-spaces.co.uk)