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What should I do differently with peat free compost (as opposed to peat-based)

Many years ago I tried peat-free compost and failed miserably so went back to peat based compost. I've now tried using the forum to see what I should be doing differently. The answers seem to range from "it's rubbish, don't use it" to "no problems, my plants grow great". There seem to be a few possible get rounds, e.g. mix with other things, but no simple answers.

Can the Gardeners World team (or any forum user) give some pointers to convince me to try peat-free again please? Why don't seeds grow as well as in peat-based? With potted on seedlings and in containers do I need to water more often? N.B. In containers I usually mix bought compost with garden compost. Can I solve the container watering by adding more water retaining gel than I do with my current mix? Are any changes to feeding needed (I currently use a slow release fertilizer in containers. Plus an occasional liquid feed IF they're really lucky)? Any other tips for making peat-free compost work as well as peat-based?

Thanks to everybody who helps!


  • Hostafan1Hostafan1 Posts: 29,537
    I'm still in the "it's rubbish, don't use it" camp.
    I'd not waste my money on " water retaining gel " either, as it's , IMHO, as useless as peat free compost.
  • JennyJJennyJ DoncasterPosts: 4,643
    The main point to take on board is that peat-free compost is very variable, both between brands and sometimes between different batches of the same brand. Some will hold moisture better than others, some tend to form a hard crust which isn't good for seed sowing, some are coarser or finer textured. That means it needs more attention paid to how your plants are growing, to check when plants need watering and feeding than with more consistent peat-based products.
  • Pete.8Pete.8 Billericay, EssexPosts: 7,658
    Hostafan1 said:
    I'm still in the "it's rubbish, don't use it" camp.
    I'd not waste my money on " water retaining gel " either, as it's , IMHO, as useless as peat free compost.
    Me too
    Peat-free often also includes 'green waste' which I find means it'll have bits of plastic/glass/metal etc in it - none of which I want in my garden.
    Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit.
    Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  • CamelliadCamelliad SussexPosts: 400
    edited 15 May
    There's no doubt that it's got a way to go until the quality matches that of peat (not surprising I guess when you consider how peatlands are made), but I'd rather try to be part of the solution than the problem, so I'm happy to keep trying stuff. I'm not sure I could listen to myself talking about growing bee-friendly plants on the one hand whilst knowingly using compost with such a high environmental price on the other.

    Most recently I've been using Miracle Gro peat free for pretty much all my pots - it's holding the water well, not quite as "peaty" as Jacks Magic for example, but my plants seem happy enough and nothing that I'm doing is so important that it requires the decimation of peat bog habitats to sustain.

    I just wish more garden centres would offer a wider variety for people to try.

    Similar to @JennyJ I've found that even within brands the bags can be variable in quality, but I've found that the same with peat-containing brands too. Some I mix with homemade compost, some I mix with perlite, some I feed more regularly, depending on what I've planted in it - I guess it's just learning to use what you have, which I'm still doing.
  • FireFire LondonPosts: 11,201
    New Horizon and Melcourt peat-free are excellent.
  • JennyJJennyJ DoncasterPosts: 4,643
    My point was that each new bag/batch has it's own learning curve. I find that's the case even with the brands like New Horizon and Melcourt. Part of it will be natural variation in the raw materials (we all put different sorts of things in our green bins depending on the time of year for example), part might be weather etc during the composting process, part might be trying to hurry along the process to meet high demand. I hope the quality will improve but I'm not holding my breath, although I will keep trying to do the best I can with them.
  • Pete.8Pete.8 Billericay, EssexPosts: 7,658
    Very true @JennyJ

    There's a good nursery just down the road from me and they raise all of the 000's bedding plants etc they sell from seed in glasshouses with lighting and heating.
    The plants are very good.
    They sell Bulrush peat free compost and it's also what they use themselves for all sowing and potting.
    I tried it one year, it's coir based and I had failure after failure with it. A very disappointing year.
    But it's obviously not the compost - it's the user :)
    Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit.
    Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  • edhelkaedhelka GwyneddPosts: 1,996
    I am using peat-free for the first time this year (Miracle gro). It feels like a decent compost - no rubbish in it, lightweight and airy, looks ok. Plants grow normally in it. But it doesn't hold moisture well - when I water, most of the water goes immediately through and drains out, while parts of the compost are still dry. It also needs watering more often. I think it would benefit from mixing with topsoil or garden soil to retain water better. I don't use saucers, so the water loss is a concern too.
  • didywdidyw East SuffolkPosts: 922
    I'm disappointed with the peat-free compost bag I recently got from the garden centre too - its very open and fibrous and not really suitable for pricked out seedlings.  I've mixed it with seed compost (with added John Innes), so we'll see how that works out.  The GC was selling a compost that had a high seaweed content in it that I loved but they've stopped doing it.  But I shall persevere as @Camelliad says, I'd rather be part of the solution.  Especially after seeing Arit's segment on peat bogs on GW yesterday.  (But who didn't look at all those mountains of extracted peat in the 'naughty' peat bog and think, mm, that looks nice!).
  • Thanks for your information folks. Seems like peat-free needs more care and attention than I'm likely to give it.

    However, I think it's time for a very tentative (and probably hopeless experiment). I've 20+ pots so I'll probably use 4 of them, in 2 pairs, to see if I can make a brand of peat-free work for me. Pair 1 will be one new peat-free and one new peat-based compost. The other pair will be one new peat-free and one used peat-based compost. All 4 pots to be mixed with some garden compost, slow release fertilizer and some water retaining gel (only cos I've got some left from last year Hostafan1 ). Each pair will have the same combination of plants in it. Not sure what yet except that one pair will include pansies as they keel over quickly if they dry out).

    You never know - maybe Monty will give some advice on how to make peat-free compost work on Gardeners World!
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