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What organic alternatives to peat moss are available?

As far as growing mediums go, peat moss (aka sphagnum moss) is expensive and extremely harmful to the environment. It can take centuries to replenish itself in nature, which means the rate of replacement is not balanced with the rate at which it is being commercially harvested.

Ecologically minded gardeners and horticulturists alike are keen to find effective, organic alternatives to peat moss. Below, we take a look at some of the choices available to mix with your soil which will help you avoid the use of unsustainable growing materials in the garden.

Leaves or compost manure instead of peat moss

Two popular organic choices are leaves or manure compost, which have been aerobically decomposed. In order to be most effective, compost needs to be at least one or two months into its development and should be tilled down to around one to two feet in depth.

Bark or pine sawdust

Another good organic alternative, bark or pine sawdust can be tilled into the soil to a depth of around 24 inches. You’ll need to get the pH level right for whichever type of plant you’re intending to grow in your soil/sawdust/bark mixture, which you can check with a pH testing kit. If you find it’s too alkaline or acidic, you can add an agent to your soil mix which addresses the imbalance.

Coconut coir: the ideal organic peat moss alternative

Perhaps the most versatile of all the organic growing mediums available is coco coir, also known as coco or coco peat. A natural waste product of the coconut-growing industry, coco coir is also an excellent gardening material with superb water-retaining capability.

Despite being cheaper than sphagnum peat moss, high-quality coco peat is a better growing medium. Its typical pH level is 6.0, which puts it within the ideal growing range of 5.5 to 7. Peat moss, on the other hand, has a pH of around 4.5, meaning it’s slightly acidic.

Coco coir can also be easily recycled for use in a new gardening project, reducing the need to dispose of the product and create an environmental hazard.

Coco coir: the beginning of an organic horticulture revolution

At Coco & Coir, we are on a mission to reduce the widespread use of peat moss in gardening across the UK. The creation of peat moss causes lasting damage to the environment, whereas every one of our products is created using only sustainable farming and crafting methods.

If you would like to discover more, please head over to our website. Alternatively, if you need guidance or advice on using our high-quality coco peat briquettes, call us on 0207 1756786 for a chat with our friendly, knowledgeable team.

Peat Moss Alternative

A 32 litre bag of peat moss alternative SEA SOIL essential soils

Why use an alternative to Peat Moss? This is a very common question when I tell people that we make a coconut coir option in our mixes. Both our Potting Mix with SEA SOIL and our Container Gardening mix are available with either peat moss or coconut coir. Peat Moss has been used in the garden industry for a long time; it is harvested out of peat bogs and used as a PH balanced additive to increase moisture content and prevent soil compaction.

Peat harvesting is not a sustainable industry as it takes thousands of years to form peat that can be harvested in just one week. Harvesting also alters a necessary eco-system and releases large amounts of stored carbon into the atmosphere.

When taking the leap from making SEA SOIL original to creating mixes, we researched the benefits of other similar products that would parallel our company’s values and decided upon coir. SEA SOIL is a value added soil that is made from cannery leftovers and forest fines (bark left-over from the logging industry). We do not harvest anything to make our peat moss alternative product. Therefore, it does seem redundant to add a product that is not sustainable.

Coir is a natural product extracted from the husk of the coconut leftover from processing. Unlike peat moss, it is free of bacteria, fungal spores, and weeds (SEA SOIL is also weed-free). Coir is odourless, pleasant to handle, has a high water holding capacity, is lightweight and holds nutrients well. Coir also has an acceptable PH and EC making it the best alternative to peat moss.

Chances are that if you’re a gardener, you’ve used peat moss before, maybe without knowing it. I’ll be the first to admit, I used peat multiple times before having an inkling of what it was, where it came from, and why it’s useful. When I started out as a gardener, I did what the online articles and books said to do.

Over time, I’d pick and choose the things that worked best for my situation and area. When I started with gardening, I read about the ideal soil mix (equal parts peat moss, compost, and vermiculite) and asked few questions about what I was doing. Now, older and (maybe) wiser, I’m more skeptical and careful about what I’m using in and around my garden. I learn from my mistakes and question conventional wisdom when it doesn’t work for me.

Peat moss is one of those things that I’ve learned to be careful with, and I’ll lay out all the reasons why I avoid using it in my garden.

Be a Skeptical Consumer

I’ll try to cover as much as possible regarding peat moss, but I urge you to have the same skepticism and questioning nature as I do. Peat moss has its advantages, but as you’ll soon discover, it has plenty of significant drawbacks.

Gardening is all about making mistakes and embracing trial and error. More than that, it’s about experimentation. If by the end of this article you decide to find a substitute for peat, embrace the experiment ahead.

What is Peat Moss?

Peat is a byproduct of the moss decomposition process in peat bogs. The largest and most significant peat bogs are in North America and Russia. Basically, peat moss is the bottom layer of dead stuff under living moss. It takes a long time for this layer to form and decompose.

Wait. Is Peat the same as Spaghnum moss?

They’re two different things. But it’s so easy to get them confused, especially since a lot of peat products are mislabeled as something else. Garden centers also label some peat moss products as sphagnum peat moss, which adds to the confusion. Spaghnum moss is the actual living plant material, while peat moss is dead, dead, and deader.

Spaghnum moss is neutral in pH and is very fibrous. You can use it as a decorative enhancement or bedding in flower arrangements. Peat moss, on the other hand, consists of the dead and decaying material underneath living sphagnum moss. It has an acidic pH and retains water exceptionally well.

Why use peat in the garden?

Peat moss is a useful amendment for gardeners because it helps the soil to retain moisture. It’s often used in potting mixes for this reason. Because it doesn’t break down quickly, a single application is all that’s required to last for a good chunk of time.

The fact that it doesn’t need to be replaced each year is another advantage that gardeners appreciate. A long-lasting medium that you only need to add once every few years? When I first started, that was an attractive proposition, and it still is.

Peat is also a sterile amendment that doesn’t contain diseases or other hitchhikers ready to destroy your garden. If you’ve ever added a product to your garden only to find a new pest or disease claiming your plants, you know this is a hugely beneficial characteristic.

In addition, peat moss prevents soil compaction by increasing airflow. It has a fluffy texture that doesn’t compact, and when you add it to your soil, it keeps it aerated.

It’s a popular growing medium because it retains water and helps get oxygen to the roots of plants.

At least, that’s what conventional wisdom will tell you. I have never had much luck with peat moss, and I’m hesitant to rely on it much because it’s not at all eco-friendly.

Sure, it’s derived from the earth, but the valuable sources of this amendment are limited. I find it doesn’t retain moisture as well as I’d like it to, either. Read on for more information on the drawbacks of peat.

Drawbacks and Negatives of Choosing Peat Moss

Certain companies and interest groups are keen to suggest that peat moss is a renewable and sustainable resource. That’s not quite the truth. It’s derived from the earth and eventually does get replenished, but it takes an incredibly long time. The decomposition process that results in peat takes millennia.

Another downside of peat moss is that harvesting from peat bogs releases excess carbon into the air. Peat bogs are carbon sinks. That is, instead of releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and contributing to climate change, they store carbon. In fact, these bogs are more important than heavily forested areas when it comes to storing carbon. Without these natural areas, climate change would occur even more rapidly.

The bogs from which peat is harvested are also critical to surrounding eco-systems and fiddling around in them can damage insect, bird, and other animal habitats. Harvesting peat also affects nearby water quality and has an impact on aquatic life.

Draining bogs for harvest affects water pH, as well. In some areas of the world, farmers drain peat bogs to use the space for farming. This practice contributes to significant greenhouse gas emissions.

Peat bogs represent a not so insignificant part of the earth’s real-estate – they make up 3% of the earth’s land surface area. But they are not only threatened by mining for horticultural use. Fires and climate change also pose a real threat to this precious resource.

The gardening and agricultural industries are not the only consumers of peat. In Europe, some countries utilize peat harvests for energy. In fact, fuel peat represents a significant threat to peat bog reserves.

Downsides to Using Peat Moss as Mulch

In my personal experience, while some people hail peat as an excellent mulch, I’d suggest staying away from it. Applied to the surface of the soil, it’s a poor moisture retainer. It does much better as an amendment mixed into the earth.

Note also that peat moss doesn’t provide any nutrients. If that’s your goal, rely on compost or other amendments to do the job.

Gardeners hail peat moss for its water retention capabilities, too. Sure, peat moss is a thirsty medium, but once it’s completely dry, it takes A LOT of water to get it wet and hydrated again. The process of rewetting completely dried-out peat is a colossal pain and wastes a lot of water.

Should You Use Peat Moss for Gardening, Then?

It’s entirely up to you if you want to use peat moss in the garden. But it’s certainly important to consider the environmental impact involved in harvesting peat moss. If you find the medium to be an invaluable tool in your arsenal, it might be worth it to limit your use to specific tasks instead.

Instead of using it each year as a potting mix for seed starts, choose instead to use it once when you add your soil mixture to gardening beds. Or if you find it impossible to go without peat for potting purposes, use it only in that instance.

Then there’s the fact that peat is a natural product, and who doesn’t love that? As gardeners, it’s easy to think that because we are working with Mother Nature and playing in the dirt that we are doing something inherently good. But even as we nurture and nourish the plants we grow, we also have to stay informed and tread carefully as we garden.

The bottom line is this: if you can’t live without peat moss, keep using it. Just treat it like the precious resource it is. On the other hand, if you love what peat does for your garden, but you want to limit your environmental impact, there are some alternatives out there for you.

Peat Moss Alternatives

There are a variety of alternatives to peat moss in the garden. If you’re looking for a lightweight medium that retains moisture and nutrients, look no further. We’ve got a list of recommendations.

Keep in mind, however, that no other medium features all the properties of peat moss (moisture retention, hospitable pH, porous nature, long-lasting, encourages air flow, no potential to spread diseases or pests). But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t suitable alternatives for gardeners. The choice you make depends mostly on what you intend to do with it.

Make your own or buy it at your local garden center. Compost is miles more eco-friendly than peat moss and does something peat cannot; deliver nutrients to your plants.

Coconut coir

A great alternative to peat moss, I’ve used coco coir as a mulch successfully in my garden. It’s an environmentally-friendly option, and it provides much better airflow than peat moss. It’s also an excellent moisture retainer and makes a good surface mulch, unlike peat. Its pH is neutral, so it’s safe to use on any and all plants in your garden. The downside is that it’s a bit pricier than other options.

Biochar

Biochar is an agricultural by-product. It’s a useful soil amendment and has the ability to retain water.

Wood (bark or chips)

Wood bark is a useful mulch that you can find in a variety of peat-free or low-peat products.

Straw, paper, and cardboard

Shredded straw, paper, and cardboard are suitable mulch materials. I am a huge fan of using straw in my garden.

When choosing an alternative to peat, make sure to select an option that’s clearly labeled as peat-free. If you have trouble finding a peat-free product, look for options labeled low or reduced-peat. Low-peat mixes are designed to mimic peat moss by maximizing airflow and water retention. If you can, look at user reviews for products or ask around for recommendations since quality varies greatly with this type of eco-friendly product.

Do you use peat moss in the garden? If not, what’s your favorite alternative. Let us know in the comments below.

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Coco coir is an increasingly popular type of hydroponic growing medium — and for good reason. There are a whole host of benefits to growing with coconut coir that you can and should take advantage of if you’re new to hydroponics.

There isn’t a good, comprehensive guide to coconut coir out there…until now. In this guide you’ll get just about everything you need to know about coco coir: what it is, its pros and cons, and the best brands to use.

If you just want to skip to the best brands, here they are:

Top Choices:

  • CANNA Coco 40L bricks
  • Canna Coco 50L bags
  • Fox Farms 2cu. ft. bags

Other Good Options

  • General Hydroponics 5kg CocoTek Bale
  • B’Cuzz Coco 50L bag
  • Plant!T Coco Croutons
  • Grow!T Coco Chips

Recommended Nutrients for Coco

  • General Hydroponics Flora Series + Calimagic
  • Canna Coco A + B + Calimagic
  • Fox Farms Nutrient Trio + Calimagic

* All of these recommendations are explained in more depth below.

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What is Coconut Coir?

First, we need to understand what coconut coir actually is.

In the past, when coconuts were harvested for their delicious meat and juice, the coconut husk was considered a waste product. All of the material from the husk to the inner shell of the coconut was a discard product…until people realized it had many applications in gardening and home products.

The interior structure of a coconut.source

Everything in between the shell and the outer coating of the coconut seed is considered coco coir. There are two types of fibers that make up coir — brown and white. Brown coir comes from mature, ripe coconuts and is a lot stronger, but less flexible. White fibers come from pre-ripe coconuts and are far more flexible, but much less strong.

Almost all of the coconut coir used for hydroponics is brown coir, as it’s processed even more after initial harvesting.

How is Coco Coir Made?

To get coconut coir ready for hydroponic and gardening uses, it needs to go through extensive processing.

First, they need to remove the coir from the coconuts. This is done by soaking the husks in water to loosen and soften them. This is either done in tidal waters or freshwater. If done in tidal waters, the coconut coir will take up a large amount of salt, which will need to be flushed out by the manufacturer at a later stage.

Then, they’re removed from the water bath and dried for over a year. After the drying process, which is quite extensive, the coir is organized into bales. These bales are then chopped and processed into various formats, from chips, to “croutons”, to classic ground coconut coir.

There’s a whole lot more that goes into the process of making coco coir safe and optimal for horticultural use, but we’ll get into that a bit lower in the article.​

Check out this video on the post-processing from completed coir into a shippable product:​

Pros and Cons to Coconut Coir

There are amazing benefits to using coconut coir in your garden. But just like any other kind of growing media, there are also some downsides to consider before you buy

Benefits of Coco Coir

Good transition from soil gardening – growing in coco coir feels like growing in soil, because the two media look so similar. You can have a completely hydroponic garden that looks almost the same as a soil garden. The only difference is instead of watering with only water, you’d water your coconut coir garden with nutrient-enriched water.

Retains moisture and provides a good environment – coco coir is one of the most effective growing media for water retention out there. It can absorb up to 10x its weight in water, meaning the roots of your plants will never get dehydrated. There’s also a lot of growing media for roots to work through, promoting healthy root development.

Environmentally safe – although I am a fan of using sphagnum peat moss in the garden, there’s no denying the environmental concerns that peat moss poses. Coconut coir doesn’t have the same problems. It can be used more than once unlike peat moss, which breaks down over time. It’s also a repurposed waste product from a renewable resource, unlike the peat bogs where we get our peat moss.

Insect-neutral – most garden pests do not enjoy settling in coconut coir, making it yet another line of defense in your integrated pest management system for your garden.

Can be less complex than “traditional hydroponics” – if growing hydroponically is new to you, coconut coir is a good first step. You can practice the basics of hydroponic gardening without having to buy or build a hydroponic system and perform all of the maintenance that it requires.

Downsides to Coco Coir

Inert – coconut coir is inert, meaning that it has no nutrients within it. It may look like soil, but it is not soil. This means you will need to add hydroponic nutrients and control the pH when using coco coir. Growing in soil isn’t too different though, as many gardeners amend their soil constantly throughout the growing season anyways.

May need additional supplementation – you may find your plants short on calcium and magnesium when using coconut coir, so supplementing with “Cal-Mag” may be necessary.

Needs rehydration – most coco coir products are shipped in dry, compressed bricks. While this saves on shipping cost, it adds labor to your growing process as you’ll need to rehydrate them before you can use them in the garden. This isn’t too hard though!

Mixes can be expensive – garden suppliers know that coco coir can be annoying to work with sometimes, so they’ve started to offer coconut coir mixes. This saves a lot of time, but is pretty expensive — and making your own mix isn’t too difficult.

Types of Coco Coir

When you buy a coconut coir product, you’re really buying three types of coconut coir: the fiber, the pith (or coconut peat), or the coco chips.

Together, they provide a powerful growing medium. Apart, they have very specific benefits. Here’s a look at what each of them are.

Coco Pith or Coco Peat

A handful of coco peat.

The “peat” of coconut coir, this basically looks like finely ground coconut or peat moss. It’s so small and absorbent that if you were to use coco peat as your only growing medium, you might drown out the roots of your plants. It must be aged properly to be used as a growing media, as it can let out salts that will kill your plant if you’re not careful. Choosing a coconut coir manufacturer that ages properly is thus crucial for good growing.

Coco Fiber

Unprocessed coconut fibers.

Coconut fiber adds air pockets into your medium. It’s not very absorbent, which is good because your growing media needs air pockets in order to provide oxygen to the root zone. Coconut fibers do break down rather quickly though, meaning the air pockets they create will also decrease over time.

Coco Chips

Coconut chips.

Coconut chips are basically an natural type of expanded clay pellet. They’re just made from plant matter instead of clay! They are best thought of as a hybrid between coco peat and coco fiber. They’re large enough to create air pockets, but also absorb water so your plants won’t dehydrate completely.

When using coconut coir in the garden, it is vital that you use the right mixture of these three types for the best results.

How to Choose High Quality Coco Coir

The most important factors in high quality coco coir is how it is harvested, prepared, and processed. Because none of these factors are directly in your control, you have to pick suppliers that follow all of the best practices for coco coir production.

After the coir is separated from the coconuts, it’s stored in piles for a few years. This puts it at risk for pathogens due to the natural pH of coco coir. Most producers that experience this will chemically sterilize the coir so it’s ready for use in your garden. This has its risks as well — it can prematurely break down the fibers and peat.

The absolute best manufacturers of coconut coir will have an iron-grip on their product from harvest to shipping.

They will:

  • Avoid situations that are conducive to pathogen growth
  • Have a dedicated system to control how the coconut coir ages
  • Rinse and wash the coir to flush out salts
  • Create the right blend of pith, fibers, and chips
  • Package and store their product correctly

If that sounds like a lot to look out for…IT IS! Fortunately, you don’t have to do any of that. All you have to do is make sure that it was done, either by asking your local garden shop about the supplier’s practices, or by reading on below where I’ve answered most of these questions for you for each type of coconut coir product I review.

The Best Coco Coir For Your Garden

Now that you have an understanding of what coco coir is, how it’s processed and made, and what to look for when buying it, you’re armed with the info you need to make a good buying decision.

We’ve tested a lot of different brands and learned a lot simply through trial and error. Here are our findings, which you can take with a grain of salt (pun intended).

Top Pick: CANNA Coco or FoxFarm Coco Loco

CANNA Coco Brick 40l Expandable Natural Plant Medium Soil Substrate, 40 Liter Expanded – 8 Liter…

  • Natural plant medium
  • Organic
  • 40l expanded, 8l dry

Both CANNA and Fox Farm are top coconut coir providers.

Both of these brands are known for their quality across their entire product range. Both CANNA and FoxFarm tightly monitor the production of the coconut coir they use in their products, so you can be sure that it’s been properly aged, dried, and flushed of salts.

CANNA sells theirs in 40L expandable bricks, or 50L expanded bags. Which you choose depends on if you want to save a bit of money on shipping and have to rehydrate the medium after receiving it.

Fox Farm sells a 2cu ft. expanded bag that is my personal choice when using an expanded coconut coir medium.

Other Options for Compressed Coconut Coir Bricks

General Hydroponics CocoTek Bale Coco Growing Media, 5kg

  • Consists of three different types of compressed…
  • Low sodium content
  • Alternative to sphagnum peat moss

Many first-time growers will opt for the cheaper compressed bricks, which is totally OK as long as it is properly rehydrated and prepared before use in the garden.

If you want to go with a compressed brick and can’t find the CANNA bricks, go with the General Hydroponics CocoTek Bale. It’s 5kg and contains a decent mix of coco pith and coco fibers. You don’t need to flush too much salt out of this product either, which is fantastic for first time growers.

Other Options for Expanded Coconut Coir Bags

B’Cuzz CocoFiber – 50 Liter Bag

  • B’Cuzz CocoFiber

B’Cuzz Coco 50L bags are another good option if you can’t find CANNA or Fox Farm products in your area. They have a partnership with a Sri Lankan coir producer, meaning they have full control over the production process as well. It’s another great coir option.

If You Want Coco Chips…

Roots Organics Coco Chips Block, 4.5-Kilogram

  • Has A Near Perfect Natural Ph Level For Optimum…
  • Premium Aged And Composted For 24 Months And…
  • Specifically Designed With Increased Fiber Content…

Go with this 4.5kg block of coco chips, or Coco Croutons in a 28-liter bag. These are a great addition to your garden if you need to add more aeration to your growing media and want to keep it in the coco coir family.

What Nutrients Do You Need for Coconut Coir?

Because coconut coir is an inert growing media, you will need to supplement your plants with additional nutrition. Remember — this is still hydroponic growing if you are only using coconut coir.

While many people say you need coco coir-specific nutrients, this isn’t absolutely necessary. You can get away with the standard General Hydroponics Flora series, a pH testing kit, and some Calimagic calcium + magnesium supplement.

If you want to mix it up and try something more coco coir specific, there are two options for you to try. These may be good options to pair with the matching coconut coir brand you’ve purchased:

  • ​CANNA Coco A + B + Calimagic
  • Fox Farms Nutrient Trio + Calimagic

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5 Good Alternatives for Peat Moss and Why They are Necessary

Peat moss is a staple for any garden. However, overuse of these slow-growing garden aids has brought in a dire need to find peat moss alternatives.

What Not to Use as a Substitute

Scientists consider peat bogs to be as fragile and important as the rainforests. Thus, exploiting this valuable flora possesses a valid concern.

You have probably seen a large bag of fluffy brown stuff that gardeners use in the gardens. This is known as peat moss.

Would you like to write for us? Well, we’re looking for good writers who want to spread the word. Get in touch with us and we’ll talk…

Let’s Work Together!

Peat moss takes centuries to form and is harvested from the wetland bogs damaging the environment. In its natural environment, peat heavily contributes by acting as a global cooler, flood preventive method, and as a water purifier. It also absorbs carbon dioxide, locking it up in the plant and turning it into peat. In the process of making natural peat into the packaged product, it is uprooted, distributed, and allowed to decompose.

During the decomposition process, it releases the stored carbon dioxide leading to potent greenhouse gas. Thus, many gardeners are choosing to use cheap peat moss substitutes to take care of their gardening needs.

Coconut Fiber/Coir

Coir is the outer fibrous husk of the coconut, which is often used to make mats and ropes. During this process, these fibers are stripped out of their pulp. This waste matter can then be used as a replacement for peat moss. You will find coir compressed in small bricks and blocks; these are generally compressed and will expand once moistened. They are ideal for almost any type of plants including heavy feeders such as tomatoes and roses.

Composted Manure

Compost is also called black gold as it boosts the tilth of the soil. It supplies the soil with most of the nutrients it needs, while attracting earthworms and other microorganisms that are beneficial to the soil, enriching it along the way. You can easily find packaged bags of compost at any nursery.

Food By-products

Food by-products are the leftover materials from different ingredients. They come from different ingredients, viz., coco peat, cottonseed, rice, peanut, or corn. They make ideal cottonseed meal, rice hulls, peanut, or ground corn cobs, which can be used as alternatives to peat moss.

Rice hulls, for example, are the thin skin off the rice grain, which is extracted during the hull process. They are used on their own or added to potting mixes to lighten the soil. They aid to drain away excess water, while allowing adequate water retention. These too can be found at your local nursery. Mix the rice husks along with compressed coir to get good results.

Garden Waste

Why let garden waste such as leaves of pine needles, barks of old trees, branches, etc. go to waste when you can make a very good peat moss replacement out of them? The best part about this substitute is that you can make it at home. All you’ve got to do is shred the leaves by running a lawnmower over them. Tearing the leaves into bits helps them breakdown into humus faster.

Pine needle mulch too helps in amending the soil, while feeding it with beneficial acids that flowering plants such as lilies, marigolds, and rhododendrons thrive on.

Dairy Manure

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Let’s Work Together!

Horse and dairy manure work miracles on plants when mixed with the bedding. Manure is rich in nitrogen and infused with the fodder, such as alfalfa and salts, that is fed to the animals, further enriching and amending the soil.

While you are buying your substitutes, make sure they are organic and chemical-free. This will boost the longevity and health of the soil, thus giving you a lush-green garden.

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Consider easy, more sustainable alternatives to peat moss

This undated photo shows a handful of peat moss in New Paltz, N.Y. Although peat moss is a useful soil amendment, such as in potting mixes, it is not indispensible. (Lee Reich via AP) This undated photo shows a handful of peat moss in New Paltz, N.Y. Although peat moss is a useful soil amendment, such as in potting mixes, it is not indispensible. (Lee Reich via AP)

It may be time to say goodbye to Pete in the garden. Peat Moss, that is.

Peat has been a great helper for years, especially with seedlings. It’s made our potting mixes better able to hold both water and air, so important for confined roots, and it’s helped grab onto some nutrients that would have otherwise washed out the bottom of pots.

Out in the garden, peat has been similarly helpful. It’s helped acidify the soil for plants that need it. I credit peat, in part, with the luscious success of my blueberry bushes. (I mixed a bucketful into the planting hole for each bush, and then, for more dramatic acidification, when needed, added sulfur, a naturally occurring mineral.)

But Mr. Moss has to go, or at least be curbed. It has to do with where he comes from. Peat moss is unsustainable.

A DARK SIDE OF PEAT

Peat moss comes from bogs, those dank environments home to such unique creatures as insect-eating pitcher plants, red-capped and long-necked sandhill cranes, and large heath butterflies. Peat was formed as plants died and were swallowed up in water to partially decompose. What was left, after thousands of years, was a thick layer of almost pure humus, valuable also for being relatively sterile and relatively stable to further decomposition.

Peat grew very, very slowly, about a yard deep every thousand years.

Now, so much peat moss has been harvested for use in gardens and landscapes that in many places there’s not much left. Ninety-five percent of England’s bogs have been lost in the last hundred years, much of it burned for fuel.

A peat bog is a unique ecosystem, valuable in and of itself as well as for purifying water flowing through it. Harvesting peat moss destroys that ecosystem, and the supply will be depleted given the slow regeneration rate.

MORE SUSTAINABLE APPROACHES

We can temper, to some degree, the bleakness of the above scenario. Researchers have found ways to reclaim a bog ecosystem if only part of the peat layer has been stripped away.

And much of the Earth’s peat remains intact. Canada has over 200 million acres left, or about a quarter of the world’s supply.

On the other hand, is peat so indispensable in the garden and landscape? No, it is not!

Are there other materials that could serve as well? Yes, there are!

Compost and leaf mold, for instance, can both be made in your own backyard. Or there’s sawdust, shredded bark or wood chips — all renewable resources.

The main contender stepping into peat’s shoes is a material called coir dust, or cocopeat. This waste product from the processing of coir, a fiber from coconut husks that finds its way into ropes, baskets, mats, packaging and other products, can now have a useful afterlife making gardens more colorful and productive. Its characteristics and even appearance are very similar to peat moss. Keep an eye out and ask for products with coir; it’s available, as is peat moss, as part of potting mixes, and also straight-up in a bag or bale.

Neither coir nor the other substitutes for peat moss can necessarily be substituted 1 to 1 for peat; tweaking of potting mixes is needed. Then again, coconuts do grow a lot faster than peat.

Alternatives to Peat in gardening

home or Selection menu at foot of page

Why use peat alternatives ?

Over the last century or so, the vast majority of the UK’s peatbogs have been damaged or destroyed just to provide commercial and amateur gardeners with cheap peat for use around the garden.

The peatbogs around the UK provide low-nutrient environments for a large variety of unique wildlife, plants and invertebrates and these have been endangered due to peat extraction.

Peat takes hundred or thousands of years to build up and cannot be considered as a sustainable resource.

Peat has been used around the garden as:

  • A soil improver.
  • A growing medium (including potting compost).
  • A mulch.

But there are available sustainable alternatives for all of these purposes and in recent years, as the supply industries have moved away from extracting peat, the apparent cost advantage of peat has diminished.

Whether you are looking for a purchased or ‘home made’ alternative to using peat, there are an increasing number of options available. Even modern ‘peat based’ compost and other peat based products tend to include a percentage of peat-alternatives so the actual peat used will be less than in the past. If you are purchasing a ‘peat-based’ product, check that:

  • It includes a reduced level of real peat.
  • That any peat used is not from a UK lowland peatbog nor a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) – if the peat originates from outside the UK, the packing should normally state ‘…SSSI or original country’s equivalent..’.

If the packing does not clearly state the level of peat alternative used or the origin of any peat used, the only way to have a clear conscience is not to buy it.

The UK government has set a target for 90% of ‘soil conditioners and growing media’ to be peat free by 2010, and there is currently no reason why the ordinary gardener cannot help this by now using peat-free alternatives.

What are the alternatives to using peat?

One thing to watch for is that some peat-alternatives are not as sterile as peat, they may contain weed seeds or fungal spores (especially bark/wood products), however, in purchased products, these tend not to be a problem other than possibly looking untidy – with home-produced products, one can never be too sure what was included in it.

To look at the alternatives to peat, we will break it down into the different uses for which peat has been used:

A soil improver.

Despite its use as a soil improver, peat does not actually help much in most soils as it is low in nutrients and hard to work into the soil.

Alternatives can be any organic material in a suitable condition (i.e. normally rotted down), these include:

  • Garden compost.
  • Composed bark/wood chippings.
  • Farmyard manure – see our page on organic manures.
  • Leafmould – by keeping a heap of fallen leaves (not evergreens) separate from the normal garden compost heap, the leaves will rot down so that after two years, the leafmould can be sieved and added to the soil as an improver.

Any of these organic materials is, in fact, better in most soils than peat as they introduce nutrients as well as improving the soil structure (which affects the drainage/water retention).

A growing medium (including potting compost and growbags).

Most peat based growing media have historically use peat as part of a mix (for example, using peat with loam and sharp sand), rather than peat on its own. The peat mainly helps create the structure of the medium which helps root growth, drainage etc., peat does not contribute any ‘plant foods’ to the mixture and this encourages the roots of the plants to grow searching for those ‘foods’.

Alternatives to peat as a growing medium include:

  • Garden compost – sieved, well rotted garden compost provides a suitable alternative to peat in most growing media, although the fact the compost adds nutrients will mean that the mix ratio will need to be adjusted (i.e., compost is not a straight replacement for peat).
  • Composted bark – actually it is usually ‘composted forest products’ i.e. it includes wood chips, sawdust etc. Providing that it is well composted, this provides a structure very similar to peat, although it does contain nutrients thus necessitating ‘re-balancing’ of the mixture.
  • Coir – made from the waste of coconut fibre production, disposal of this waste was, in fact, causing its own environmental problems before it was introduced as a peat substitute. Left to rot down, Coir ends up as a crumbly substance which when used in mixes for potting compost improves porosity and moisture retention in a very similar manner to peat.
    Coir is also available as small blocks for growing individual plants which can be planted out without disturbing the roots.

Ericaceous compost.

Peat is often used to increase the acidity of ericaceous compost, however composted heather, bracken or pine needles will have the same affect.

Growing pots.

Peat growing pots are popular as they can be planted directly into the soil without disturbing the roots once the plant has become established in the peat pot.

The same results can be achieved by using paper or cardboard pots (not waxed). In fact, alternative pots can be simply made using old newspapers formed around a hollow pipe and the ends ‘tucked up’ to close one end of the paper tube – there is at least one special tool on the market for making your own paper pots from newspapers.

A mulch.

There are so many alternative mulch materials, that there is no excuse for using peat and, anyway, peat is a poor mulch material as it tends to dry out and is then carried away by winds. A ‘new’ alternatives mulch material is Cocoa-shell (a waste product from the production of chocolate), so again its use is very environmentally friendly.

Other mulch materials can be either organic or non-organic, such as:

  • organic materials – manure, grass clippings, leafmould, bark, straw or stalky material etc.
  • non-organic materials – black polythene, stone chippings or crushed slate etc.

See our page on mulching for more information.

Clover Irish Moss Peat

Product Information

High quality sphagnum moss peat for compost making, soil improvement, mulching and lawn dressing. – See more at: http://www.cloverpeat.co.uk/retail-compost/view/9/irish-moss-peat#sthash.5tksfmb8.dpuf High quality sphagnum moss peat for compost making, soil improvement, mulching and lawn dressing. – See more at: http://www.cloverpeat.co.uk/retail-compost/view/9/irish-moss-peat#sthash.5tksfmb8.dpuf

A high quality peat, suitable for a wide range of horticultural purposes.

Clover Peat

  • 100% natural Irish Sphagnum Moss Peat
  • For sandy soils – gives body and moisture to ‘light’ or sandy soils
  • For clay soils – enhances drainage and ‘breathing’
  • Garden Mulching – apply a layer of Clover Peat in Spring and Autumn to beds and borders – a two inch later is sufficient to retain moisture and suppress weeds
  • Seed Sowing – fork in a one inch layer into the top layer of soil
  • Planting – for Roses, Trees and Shrubs: mix one part peat with one part soil, together with a suitable fertiliser and fill around planting holes prior to watering thoroughly
  • New Lawns – a two inch layer of Clover Irish Moss Peat should be mixed with soil and workied to a depth of six inches, water well, then sow lawn seed
  • Establised Lawns – rake a quarter inch of layer of peat into grass in early Spring or Autumn
  • Dahlias – store tubers anc corms in dry peat – preferably indoors during Winter
  • For Rhododendrons, Heathers, Azaleas and similar plants: check pH / acidic balance for perfect results

Pack Size

  • 100 litre pack
Environmental Information

Clover Irish Moss Peat is not harvested from areas of scientific interest.

Coir is sustainable alternative to peat moss in the garden

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Generations of gardeners have recognized the benefits of adding peat moss to garden and potting soil. Although it has little nutrient value, it’s a good soil amendment. It lightens the soil, allows air to enter, holds moisture without being soggy and generally improves soil structure.

But most gardeners probably don’t realize that peat takes hundreds of years to form, explained Linda McMahan, horticulturist with the Oregon State University Extension Service.

Wetland ecologists say that peat is being harvested at non-sustainable rates. While the peat industry argues that peatlands can be managed at sustainable levels, it recognizes that alternatives to peat must be developed in order to meet environmental concerns of consumers and contend with increased regulation of peatland exploitation.

As useful as peat is for horticulture, there are good alternatives, said McMahan. One substitute is coir, or coconut dust. When coconuts are harvested and husked, the long fibers are removed and used for such things as upholstery stuffing, rope, doormats, and brushes. The short fibers are left over and have found use in horticulture as coconut “peat.”

In the past, this fine material was considered waste and left to accumulate in enormous piles. In Southeast Asian countries where coconuts are harvested commercially, some of these piles are thought to be as much as a century old.

Not only is coir a renewable resource, its horticultural use helps solve a waste disposal problem in these parts of the world, said McMahan.

Researchers at Auburn University and University of Arkansas compared peat and coir as soil amendments for horticulture. They found that coir performed on par with peat.

Coir has proven to hold moisture well, wet more easily than peat, drain well, decompose more slowly and withstand compression better than peat. Plus coir dust does not have the small sticks and possible seeds that peat has.

Peat bogs are a special kind of wetland, many of which are thousands of years of accumulated plant material. They receive most of their water as rain or snowmelt rather than from runoff or streams. Peat mosses (genus Sphagnum) thrive, and acidify the soggy environment, making it difficult for many kinds of plants to grow. Only those that can cope under acid conditions survive. The acidity, low temperatures and lack of oxygen discourage bacterial decomposition, so over centuries and millennia, layers of peat moss and other bog plants become compressed, forming peat.

The wet, acidic and low-nutrient environment in peat bogs foster plant and animal communities highly adapted to these conditions, including insectivorous plants such as sundews, Venus fly-trap, pitcher plants and Oregon’s cobra plants, also known as Darlingtonia. These fascinating plants trap insects, “digesting” them for nitrogen, which is a limiting factor for plants in their wet, acidic environment.

Built up layers of peat can preserve organic material that usually deteriorates quickly – wool, hair, skin, bone, wood, plant parts and pollen – providing an invaluable historic record. Peat bogs in Europe have turned up human artifacts as old as 12,000 years and preserved human remains from about 2,000 years ago.

Use coir as you would peat to amend heavy soils and in potting mixes, recommended McMahan. Not as acidic as peat, coir is similarly low in nutrients.

Available in bales at garden centers ready for use, coir, is also sold in compressed “bricks,” that expand into several times their volume when moistened. The price of coir is usually comparable to peat.

Peat Moss Substitutes

exotic nuts image by Igor Groshev from Fotolia.com

Peat moss is a popular organic material used to lighten heavy soils and help sandy ones hold moisture and nutrients. It is, however, somewhat expensive, acidic, difficult to wet when dry and produced from bogs that are damaged in the process. Alternatives to peat moss include locally abundant organics such as ground bark and imported substances such as coir, produced from coconut fibers.

Compost

Use homemade or bagged compost, the partially decayed remains of vegetables, leaves, straw and other materials, to improve the soil. It decays more quickly than peat moss, but the end product, a sticky substance called humus, can bind clay particles together and hold both water and nutrients. Bagged compost may be somewhat expensive, but homemade compost costs little besides your labor.

Ground Bark

Finely ground bark is often used in potting mixes for plants such as orchids that need a fast draining soil. It is a good all-purpose soil amendment, slow to decay and also suitable for applying as mulch. If you dig it into the soil, add a light dose of nitrogen fertilizer to avoid nitrogen deficiency as it decays.

Steer Manure

Bagged, sterilized manure is suitable for digging into soil as an amendment. It contains small amounts of nitrogen that will give your new plants a boost to get them started. Chicken manure is also suitable, but can be so high in nitrogen that it burns small roots on contact and is best used as a fertilizer with an organic matter component.

Coir

Coir is the short fibers and dust produced as a by-product of producing materials from coconut fiber. It is shipped from India, the Philippines, Central America and other tropical areas. Its water holding capacity is excellent, is has some natural minerals to contribute to the soil, potassium in particular, and it is resistant to decay. It is also more expensive than peat, primarily due to shipping costs. One advantage coir has over peat is that it is much easier to wet when dry, making it more suitable as a mulch.

Sawdust

Sawdust is often cheap and readily available and can be used as a substitute for peat if several factors are considered. First, some woods, cedar, walnut and redwood among them, are toxic to plants and must be avoided. Second, sawdust is very low in nitrogen and the microorganisms that break it down will take nitrogen from the soil to do this, resulting in temporary nitrogen deficiency. If you add extra nitrogen when you incorporate sawdust into your soil you should have no problem with this.

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