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Guide to peat-free gardening

Green cuttings sprouting in natural plastic-free pots and peat-free compost
Cuttings in peat-free pots | © National Trust Images/Stephen Robson

Peatlands store carbon, control flooding and create homes for wildlife. When peat is extracted from these special landscapes, they’re damaged forever. Read our top tips for gardening with peat-free compost – and why we’re working hard to stop using peat, especially at the gardens in our care.

Why is peat so important?

Peatlands act as a carbon store, provide a great habitat for wildlife, play their part in water management and can even preserve archaeological items. They’re being damaged by drainage, over-grazing, burning and extraction for use as a fuel – and in garden compost.

We’re working hard to reverse the negative impacts on the peatlands in our care, but much of the peat in compost sold in the UK comes from peatlands elsewhere in Europe. We have a responsibility to protect these precious habitats too.

Peat-free gardening

We’re one of the first organisations to commit to going peat free. All the plants we grow, buy and sell are potted in peat-free compost, and we never use peat for mulching or soil improvement.

You can make a big difference by going peat free in your own garden, allotment or balcony planters. You can also encourage retailers and the Government in their efforts to phase out the use of peat in gardening products.

A woman holds and inspects a potted shrub in a garden centre
Everything stocked in our plant sales is potted in peat-free compost | © National Trust Images/John Millar

Top tips for peat-free gardening

  1. Buy peat-free potting compost for raising plants in pots. Mix it with garden soil for plants that will be in their pots for more than a year.
  2. Try to buy plants that have been grown in peat-free compost. You may need to ask the nursery or garden centre about this.
  3. Sow seeds of hardy plants directly into the soil to reduce the need for pots or compost.
  4. Order shrubs, trees and even perennials ‘bareroot’ in winter to cut down on plastic pots and peat-based compost.
  5. Collect fallen leaves and let them rot down into leaf-mould, which makes a great base for your own homemade potting compost.
  6. Mulch bare soil between plants or under shrubs to lock in moisture, stop weeds and enrich the soil. Use homemade garden compost or composted green waste rather than expensive, bagged multipurpose or potting compost.
  7. Peat-free composts will be clearly labelled on their packaging. If in doubt, speak to a sales assistant who can help you make the right choice.
Two wooden compost bins filled with straw and plant waste, surrounded by a wicker fence
The compost area at Quebec House, Kent | © National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Peat-free propagation

All the plants propagated at the Plant Conservation Centre in Devon are grown without peat – even the trickiest of specimens.

Originally the team at the centre mixed their own potting compost by hand, using a blend of coir, loam, leaf mould and potting grit. Now, they use some of the excellent ready-made peat-free mixes available, which contain a mix of fine-grade bark, coir and loam.

With expert care, even ericaceous (acid-loving) plants like rhododendrons, heather and camellias can grow and thrive without peat.

Gardener working in the walled garden at Mottisfont, Hampshire

Get gardening

Our gardeners are on hand with ideas for your garden, plot or window box. From planting veg to tackling weeds, they’ve got all the important topics covered.

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