Why You’d Better Buy Peat-free Soil

Flower or plant soil without peat is actually almost unthinkable to this day. After all, this nutrient soil, which is extracted from the moors, is ideal for growing plants. But the overexploitation of the moors has consequences. There are alternatives, but anyone who wants to garden sustainably should know what they are getting into.

Torffreie Erde | Bild: mauritius-images

Peat is a great substance. Plant residues, deposited over centuries and millennia, unleash incredible power in our beds, pots and borders as a breeding ground for plants. Perfect in structure, peat stores water incredibly well, for example. That is why it was and still is used, mixed with fertilizer, sand, lime or a little clay, as soil in horticulture.

Sustainable is peaty garden soil of course not, after all, it is then missing in the moors, which are so immensely important for the climate. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to substitute substrates.

Why the peat is better left in the bog

Intact moors grow, and they do so through peat growth. The wetlands have their own unique vegetation and, as a result, a special biodiversity. The bog soil remains low in oxygen, preventing the complete decomposition of plant remains. These are then bound as peat and thus, of course, a lot of CO2 is stored. And this over a very long time.

In one meter of cut peat, there are about 1,000 years of growth, says Christine Margraf of the Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz (BUND) in Bavaria: “Worldwide, it is the case that peatlands cover only three percent of the land surface at all, and yet these three percent of the land area store twice as much carbon as all the forests in the world put together.” That means peatlands are extremely powerful carbon stores in an extremely small area.

Why we need peatlands to meet our climate goals

Depending on how water feeds peatlands, they are divided into raised bogs and fens. Because trees also grow on the fens, raised bogs in particular are highly sought after for peat extraction.

Peat-free soil

Peat as a popular additive in potting soil is supposed to promote plant growth – but peatlands are destroyed in order to do so. Peat extraction is at the expense of the climate, rare plants and small animals. The better alternative for your plants is therefore peat-free soil – or do you want to be a “peat fool”?

Due to a constant oversaturation of water and the resulting lack of oxygen, peatlands form the perfect breeding ground for peat. But in order to remove it, the peatlands have to be drained, which means their destruction. They usually cannot recover, because peatlands grow very slowly – just like peat. And only about 1 millimeter per year.

So all of a sudden, nature that has grown for thousands of years is gone as a result of the extraction. And not only that: peat is excellent at storing CO2, which is released when the peat is removed, further damaging the climate. Peat cutting also destroys valuable habitats and endangers biodiversity. Learn more about the importance of peatlands for the climate here.

Fruchtwechsel und Fruchtfolge sind unterschiedliche Anbauprinzipien, werden aber oft verwechselt.

Alternative: Buy only peat-free soil

To protect the peatlands, it is better to do without peaty soil. Your plants will thrive without peat soil. Although peat can absorb a lot of water quickly, it can release it just as quickly. On hot days, there is a high risk that your plants will dry out and die without regular watering.

Its high air void volume is also said to loosen the soil – a misconception, as peat is completely mineralized, or broken down, in the soil within a few years. With its low pH and nutrient content, as well as weak biological activity, it is also less suitable for outdoor soils.

So it’s best to buy peat-free soil for your flowers or vegetables.

Make peat-free soil yourself

You can also simply make peat-free soil yourself. This has the advantage that you can adjust the mixture to the respective purpose. And the homemade potting soil is also cheaper.

For homemade potting soil without peat you need:

  • 30 liters of garden soil
  • 20 liters of compost
  • 5 liters of clay (serves as a water reservoir)
  • approx. 500 grams of rock flour
  • approx. 500 grams of horn shavings or horn meal as natural fertilizer

Mix the components garden soil, compost and clay in a large container. Immediately after that you can use it for your garden or balcony. Before you sow or plant plants, you can additionally mix rock flour and horn shavings into the top layer of the soil. For indoor plants, NABU recommends adding coconut fiber.

Alternative: Use your own compost

If you have your own garden, you should definitely compost it yourself. The peat content of the soil can be well replaced by the organic material with high biological activity. Bark humus and wood fiber are equally good substitutes.

If you don’t have compost, you can buy garden substrates that are peat-free at specialty stores. These often contain green waste, wood and bark chips, but also minerals such as lava granules. And in doing so, the soil improvement properties are often better than peat.

Tips and warnings

On the potting soil bags can often be read “peat-reduced” or “low peat”. Instead of the usual 90%, the peat content here is about 70%, which is not significantly less. Therefore, always read the information carefully and pay attention to the indication “peat-free”.
You should also be careful with so-called “organic soil”: This is not a tested seal and in most cases the high peat content is not dispensed with.
It is best not to buy cheap houseplants and propagation pots, as their soil contains large amounts of peat.
Check out the recycling centers in your area: you can often find guaranteed peat-free regional soil that is made from organic waste from your city.

Peat moss as a new alternative?

In order to be able to do without the limited raw material peat in horticulture in the future, work is being done on the cultivation of peat moss. This substrate has the same properties as peat, but is grown on peat soils that have already been peated and rewetted with the aim of establishing itself as an agricultural crop.

The advantages: A renewable raw material is created that can be used alternatively as a growing medium for horticulture. Peatlands are preserved and less CO2 is released.