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Simon Smith Garden & Landscape Design

Should we still be using peat in the garden?

16 March 2024

Each month I will be thinking about all things gardening from a garden designer’s perspective. Expect contemporary views mixed in with my environmental management background. This month I am asking the question, “Should we still be using peat in the garden?”  

Traditionally peat has been used in our gardens as a soil conditioner. For years now we have been alert to the destruction of peatland habitats when it is dug up for sale. We only have 3% of our peatlands left in the UK – it is an endangered habitat. In light of this information we should avoid using peat.

The term 'peatland' refers to the peat soil and the wetland habitat existing on its surface. In these areas, year-round waterlogged conditions slow the process of plant decomposition to such an extent that dead plants accumulate to form what we call peat. It takes a long time to form and so is only semi renewable as a resource.

The world's peat bogs represent an important “carbon sink”—a place where CO2 is stored below ground and can't escape into the atmosphere and exacerbate global warming. When drained or burned, however, peat decomposes and the stored carbon gets released into the atmosphere. The same result occurs when we use peat on our gardens.

Why does CO2 release matter? CO2 is a greenhouse gas and is part responsible for global warming and climate change. We need to reduce our CO2 emissions and so peat use should be stopped.

When put together with the loss of habitat that results from peat extraction you can see that there are cogent reasons not to use it anymore.

DEFRA have set a voluntary target for garden centres to go peat free by 2020. Some plant nurseries do not use peat at all. Neil Lucas’ grasses nursery is an example of this policy in action.  He eliminated peat from their work practices several years ago. Nurseries like this deserve our support. Others include Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants and wholesalers such as Seiont Nurseries. You as a consumer can make a big difference if you buy from the most ethical suppliers.  

Having put together the case for not using peat what should we use instead? The use of peat substitutes in your garden is critical to the future of peatlands. So ask your supplier which peat substitute they sell. If they don’t have one you have the choice to shop somewhere else where they do.

To the question "Should we still be using peat in the garden?", my emphatic answer is no.