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With the country’s carbon emissions in dire need of a reduction, the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) announced a consultation to ban domestic use of peat compost by 2024. However, the removal of this somewhat cheap commodity will likely impact gardeners’ crops and pockets, as its replacement won’t be an equal exchange.
The good stuff will cost more, and the cheaper stuff is likely to negatively impact crops. So Express.co.uk spoke to experts to find the happy medium.
If you buy compost for your garden, it’s likely you’re buying peat compost – the brown crumbly stuff in huge bags often sold cheaply in garden centres as ‘three bag’ deals for £12-15.
But, in around 18 months’ time, peat-based compost is due to be entirely phased out, meaning gardeners will have to use the peat-free alternatives instead.
This might not seem like a big deal, but in reality, the current alternatives on offer are not as effective as peat; meaning your garden might suffer if you’re unsure of what makes up peat-free compost and how exactly to use it.
The peat-based compost ban comes as part of the UK Government’s bid to tackle the climate emergency, with plans to also restore 35,000 hectares of peatland.
Peat-based compost is made by digging up peatlands, which are said to store around three times as much carbon as forests.
Gary Coward, editor of Amateur Gardening said: “This is the right thing to do for the environment, but peat-free compost is not a like-for-like replacement, so you need to be very careful about what you buy and how you use it.”
“Having bought peat compost for years, consumers just think of it as bags of ‘dark brown crumbly stuff’ that they use for everything from growing seeds, planting containers, baskets, and for soil regeneration.
He continued: “But, they have never had to think about what is actually in that ‘stuff’ and how its composition needs to be treated to get the best result.
“This ignorance is due to the magic of peat – it retains water evenly and it slowly releases nutrients — you don’t really have to do much to it and people have got used to that.”
This means when future bans take shape, gardeners will need to understand their compost a whole lot more in order to maintain and sustain thriving gardens.
Express.co.uk spoke to Mr Coward to find out how to choose and use peat-free compost correctly, to get the best out of your plants.
Don’t buy cheap peat-free
Mr Coward said: “It will be a complete waste of time and your plants and crops will not flourish.
Currently, there is no set standard for the contents of peat-free compost. This means it can contain pretty much anything except peat.
The peat-free options currently on offer consist of anything from green waste (council-processed garden waste from households), fibrous coir (coconut husk, imported from the Indian subcontinent), wood fibre, bracken or sheep’s wool.
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Mr Coward said: “Most of these materials have benefits, but none of these alternatives directly replicate the core beneficial properties of peat. And these various recipes need to be treated differently.
“A couple of the brands have had good reports and should be tried first, but expect to pay twice what you used to as the better stuff is double the £5.
He continued: “The days of cheap but effective compost are over – accept it.”
Choose one brand and stick to it
Mr Coward said: “Learn how to get the best out of your peat-free compost and use that brand consistently.
“Not all peat-free compost is the same, there are many different recipes of material and it is wise to stick to one.”
Be careful with watering
Mr Coward said: “Most peat-free mixes do not hold water evenly like peat compost.
“The top of your container may appear to be bone dry, but the water may have leached to the bottom. This can lead to waterlogging and plant loss. If in doubt, push your fingers into the soil and check.”
Feed your plants more regularly
Mr Coward said: “Most peat-free will need extra feeding with liquid plant food because it does not have the same nutrient-holding abilities as peat.
“All quality compost has plant food included but because of peat-free’s water-leaching tendencies, the nutrients get washed through with watering quicker, meaning they don’t last as long.”
Make your own
This is a great way of recycling garden waste (not weeds) and fruit and vegetable kitchen waste such as root vegetable peelings, tea and coffee grounds etc.
Mr Coward said: “This works really well as mulch or soil improver as it’s high in nutrients, but is less useful as seed compost.”
Environmental issues with coir
Mr Coward said: “You may wish to avoid any peat-free compost that contains coir, as this has to be shipped from the Indian subcontinent, and there are issues about scarce water resources used to process it and its environmental impact on its place of origin.”
On recommendations, Mr Coward believe there are currently two brands that, in his opinion, are best in class.
Mr Coward said: “Sylva Grow, which is RHS recognised and recently gained warrants from The Queen and The Prince of Wales, and Dalefoot, which is a wool-based compost.”
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