UK gardeners: No peat for you!

Peat bog in Scotland (Shutterstock)

“If you love your garden, you really can’t just abstain.”

That’s what the delightfully named Brit celeb gardener Bob Flowerdew says about a life without peat moss. As reported in the New York Times yesterday, the public, private, and industrial use of peat in Great Britain could completely disappear by 2030. The government is acting according to the advice of a task force of experts, who—along with environmentalists worldwide—feel that peat bogs are too important as habitat and carbon storage to be emptied out for the sake of potting media and soil additives. The task force issued a long and—occasionally—strangely worded report that could probably be boiled down to this 4-word excerpt: Sustainability is not easy.

And I’d have to agree. But not because of any need for peat moss, at least as far as my gardening requirements are concerned. I, like most home gardeners, can get along without peat moss just fine. The larger horticulture industry is another matter, as the task force admits. It proposes a lengthy step-by-step phase-out (this is the one with the 2030 target) that includes funding the research and development of sustainable growing media.

What I like about all this is how seriously the Brits are treating the issue. The task force included every possible element of the hort industry (not just wild-eyed environmentalists). There were nurseries, flower growers, food growers, and—of course—growing media producers, such as our friends at Scotts Miracle-Gro, and others.

Despite all the careful deliberation, and despite the 29-page report, however, the British reaction was tumultuous enough to warrant a front-page news story over here. Is there really no other media capable of nurturing seeds and hard-to-grow plants? Hard to believe.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I used to work at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London a good 15 years ago, in both the alpine and tropical nurseries. They had already moved from peat based products into Coir media. Though there were some problems for some of the collections, they were easily overcome. The Royal Horticultural Society has done extensive testing on peat alternatives, too. It’s funny to read that it made front page news as many UK institutions moved away from peat all those years ago. However, I guess here in the states, the peat industry has too much of a lobbying hold on our politicians to let this happen.

    • Every kind of Big Business Lobbying interest has a hold of politicians over there. Look at the GMO industry and the ideologically driven bad science that has resulted in undisciplined move to push them despite not knowing totally the consequences of such dangerous gene pollution technology.

  2. “Is there really no other media capable of nurturing seeds and hard-to-grow plants?”

    Sure there is. Nature does it all the time. I have always grown seed without the help of peat. But then I’m from the southwest. I actually try hard to look for something that doesn’t have peat in it over here in Sweden and they don’t appear to have much of anything without. They’ve been stuck to long in a certain mindset and let’s face it, folks just don’t like change.

  3. The previous owner left a big bag of peat moss in the garage. I saw it and thought “Okay, it’s already bought, might as well use it and get it out of the way.”

    Four years and hundreds of plants later, I still haven’t used more than a handful. It’s just not a function of my gardening life. (And I should really just drag it back into the garage, so it doesn’t sit there, staring at me accusingly with little peaty eyes…)

  4. Fact remains that Canadian peat bogs replenish themselves far faster than anything harvesting removes. That being said peat has past it’s time as a growing medium. In the Southeast United States bark is the min substrate instead of peat. I love coir. The portability is so much easier.

    But alas truly sustainable planting soils should/must include compost. While coir is imported from Madagascar compost comes from your back yard or your local Resource Recovery Agency.

    The TROLL

    • Hey Mr. Troll:
      The Times says this — “because even a healthy bog adds less than half an inch in a century, they are not renewable from a practical standpoint” — and you say this — “peat bogs replenish themselves far faster than anything harvesting removes.” You can’t both be right so I’m going with the Times. Since you work in an educational situation (at least I think of garden center employees as educators) you might want to do a bit of research before you advise your customers about peat.

      • The sales of peat in our stores is next to nil………………..except for potting mixes which are gradually switching to coir or compost based. So your point is moot. Our customers are getting to the point of hating peat and have been for a long time.

        I agree peat is worthless in the garden. You totally overlooked the point I made about compost being the best alternative even to coir because of it’s eco footprint (eco-nomic) A high carbon footprint = high eco-nomic footprint)

        Looking at the carbon (a senseless measure IMHO) foorprint coir comes at a higher carbon/economic cost when transportation is factored in. I am several hundred miles from the peat beds yet several thousand miles from the coir source.

        Here once again I agree with a concept but since it is not for the same reason as the enviro-nazis I am being told I am wrong.

        I guess there is no arguing with the politically/environ-MENTAL-ly correct……………..

        The TROLL

        • If you are talking about UK bogs fine…………I am talking about Canadian bogs:

          Sungro horticulture: “Each year, 70 million tons of Canadian peat moss accumulate, while only 1.3 million tons are harvested industry-wide.) Sun Gro sustainably harvests only a very small amount of land, fewer than 10,000 acres, an area roughly the size of 24 typical farms. Much of the extensive surrounding acreage remains untouched, leaving hundreds of thousands of acres undisturbed for native plants and wildlife”.

          The TROLL

  5. Its great that peat is being phased out in the UK. Can’t help thinking that it might be a good idea to try and persuade the Irish government to close their three peat fired power stations, I would have thought horticultural use pales into insignificance compared to burning it for electricity 24/7.

  6. Coir has its own share of environmental cost: the resources needed to bring it to distant countries where it does not grow, many of which are not sustainable themselves (fuel for the aircraft).

    I will say that I was always a little confused as to why I should use sphagnum, or any other kind of peat, in my garden, when compost seemed so much easier.

    However, if all the peat bogs go away, where will we find ancient wood preserved in it with which to make any number of objects? (some sarcasm intended, but I love the stuff).

  7. I still use mostly peat-based mixes for my containers – frankly, it’s difficult to find stuff that isn’t mostly made of peat. I’d be happy to buy alternatives, though.

  8. In the Pacific Northwest, we’re lucky to have pretty acidic soils, so adding peat as an amendment to garden soil isn’t really necessary most of the time. I do use it with blueberries and heaths when I’ve brought in a garden soil mix. I’m not sold on coir in potting mixes as my experience has been that my plants don’t do as well or I get a lot of rot. Here’s a study by Utah State University on comparing plant performance between peat mixes and coir mixes.

    I prefer compost anyway when acidity isn’t a factor.

    • Sungro Horticulture says:

      “Each year, 70 million tons of Canadian peat moss accumulate, while only 1.3 million tons are harvested industry-wide.) Sun Gro sustainably harvests only a very small amount of land, fewer than 10,000 acres, an area roughly the size of 24 typical farms. Much of the extensive surrounding acreage remains untouched, leaving hundreds of thousands of acres undisturbed for native plants and wildlife”.

  9. Most potting mix manufacturers in Australia use coir ‘peat’ to increase water-holding capacity in general-purpose mixes but sphagnum peat from Canada is still used in specialty mixes, like for African violets and bulbs. Peat is not used here as a soil improver, partly from environmental concerns & cost, but also as our soils dry out quickly & it’s too hard to rewet, unlike coir/coco peat.

  10. If people have the time and want to know more, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to click on the link to the report. There’s a lot there that I could not possibly summarize in a post. One thing is that this is not as much about home gardeners using peat as a soil amendment as the prevalence of peat in commercial growing media .

  11. I would like to comment that although wide-eyed environmentalists have a lot to answer for, the real winners from this type of controversy are the big businesses which have moved in on the back of the environmental lobby who are going to exploit every possible avenue to promote all things supposedly detrimental to our ecology and not necessarily the people who are producing peat.

    Despite the fact that peat, on a global basis, is a massively renewable resource its vilification has become part of the on going ‘green trends’ about things like ‘Global Warming’ which has now conveniently become ‘Climate Change’ ‘cos it ain’t warming up any more, or the lack of alternative power resources in the UK other than plastering the UK and its coastline, where this is not a lot of space, with inefficient ugly wind-farms.

    The latest reports from the Royal Horticultural Society published in their magazine seem to pretty well admit that in the vast majority of cases peat based products are superior to any substitute and I would like to point out peat certainly wins hands down on price, hence the use by the horticultural industry. The R.H.S is now obviously governed by financial considerations of membership, and, as in the UK, they seem to pander in their content to the environmentalists, one can only assume it comes down to pounds sterling which are more easily accumulated by following the trend.

    If you really want the facts about the way things have got completely out of control in the UK please go to a comment made by one of the most respected nurserymen in the UK who in actual fact, because of their location, do not have to use peat in the nursery and therefore have no real axe to grind. Look and learn!

    As a gardener I class peat as the number one soil conditioner and will continue to use it, which will be pretty much forever as it would appear that most of the proposed legislation is not mandatory anyway.

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