9th April 2023
Peat usage in gardening is “problematic” for the environment, according to environmental scientists.
When used in pot-based gardening, peat can improve the soil’s water retention while also increasing the drainage capacity, creating an ideal condition for plants to thrive.
Peat is also lightweight and does not lose much volume inside the pots.
However, the extraction of peat has devastating consequences for the environment.
Peat bogs play an incredibly important role in storing carbon – and scientists have said that peatlands’ carbon reserve is twice as much as that of the worlds forest.
The ability to store carbon is critical in the global fight against climate change. Georgia Tech researcher Caitlin Petro said it took millennia for a small volume of peat to form.
Its extraction for use in gardening robs the ability of peatlands to store carbon and takes away a significant portion of their carbon reserve, causing irrevocable damage.
Authorities in several countries, like the U.K., plan to ban peat sales for commercial uses in the coming years, but potential delays have infuriated environmental campaigners.
With scientists struggling to come up with effective alternatives, the commercial demands for peat remains sky high.
And, as of now, the U.S. government has still not prohibited the commercial uses of peat.
Composting as alternative to peat use
Above: Peat blogs like the one above store vast amounts of carbon.
Home composting can be an alternative to using peat in soil-based home gardening, say some experts.
Wild Ridge Plants co-owner Jared Rosenbaum suggested people compost kitchen scraps, fallen leaves, grass clippings and other organic remnants that could easily be found around the house.
Rosenbaum stressed that composting benefits home gardens and diverts these organic wastes from landfills.
Studies have suggested that organic waste contaminates landfills by creating methane gas through anaerobic decomposition.
Eliminating these wastes from landfills can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Some researchers believe that compost instead of peat in soil-based gardening may even be more beneficial for the plants.
Petro said compost contains nutrients that can improve plants’ health.
On the other hand, peat contains few nutrients, although commercial composting companies often add additional nutrients to make it a suitable growing medium.
People who do not plan to make their own compost can purchase it at local garden centers. Certain municipalities even offer compost for free.
However, experts reminded consumers to check the compost ingredients as some products on the market still contain peat.
Peat-free container gardening ‘absolutely possible’
Royal Horticultural Society director of science and collections Alistair Griffiths said peat-free container gardening is “absolutely possible.”
He explained that while getting used to peat-free alternatives took some time, plants could still thrive without peat.
Coir is one of the most popular peat-free growing media among gardeners nowadays. This coconut-fiber material has similar characteristics to peat but takes less time to form.
However, many U.S.-based gardeners reported mixed results in coir use due to variance in quality and durability.
Griffiths said coco-based medium is a high-quality alternative to peat, but its availability in the U.S. is limited. He also suggested gardeners mix coir and wood scraps to get better results.
According to Griffiths, more high-quality peat-free media will be produced in the future as stricter government regulations make it imperative for manufacturers to find alternatives.
For now, experts encourage people to mix their own potting soil.
Old World Garden Farms co-founders Mary and Jim Competti recommended mixing equal parts compost, crushed topsoil and a blend of perlite, worm castings and coffee pomace.
Griffiths said plants only required a finer mix during the seedling stage since their nutrient needs were small.
Gardeners can make the potting soil mix finer by sifting it through a compost sieve.
Later as the plants grow, they will need denser nutrients and gardeners can add additional soil amendments to the containers.
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