Peat is often used in houseplant potting soil, usually for its ability to store water, but many do not know it is extremely damaging for our environment, and it might not be all that good for your houseplants, either. In fact, by 2024, the sale of peat to amateur gardeners in England and Wales is to be banned. So, what is wrong with using peat and buying plants that contain peat? Here, we share why choosing peat free houseplants is the healthiest decision for your plants and our planet.
Key Takeaways – Why is peat so important?
- It takes 10 years to form 1cm of peat
- Peat is a hugely important natural resource for tackling climate change.
- Peatlands are huge carbon store’s containing 30% of the globe’s carbon
- The main reason for the extraction of peat in the UK is gardening.
- Nearly three million cubic metres of peat are sold for horticultural use every year in the UK
- There are more sustainable alternatives to peat use in horticulture such as coconut fibres or coconut soil, wood fibres, compost, land soils, peat moss, bark humus.
First of all, what is peat?
Peat is a build-up of organic material or vegetation that is partially decomposed in waterlogged conditions. The conditions that allow peat to form without plant matter being able to completely decompose are found in a few specific locations around the world. For instance, you're likely to find peat in moors, bogs, and fens, as well as some farmed land.
It takes a considerably long time for peat to form - approximately 10 years for just 1cm - so our peatlands have been in the making for thousands of years.
What is so special about peatlands?
Peatlands are among the most valuable ecosystems on earth. Although they cover only 3% of our planet's surface, they are our largest land-based carbon store.
As well as storing carbon, peat bogs act like a sponge, soaking up rainwater, which can help reduce flood risk. Because water that gets filtered through healthy peat bogs is of higher quality than water that goes through degraded or damaged bogs, it is much cheaper to treat as drinking water.
In the UK, around 70% of our tap water comes from the British Uplands, and over half of this passes through peat, so it's really important that our peatlands are healthy to keep water treatment simple and affordable.
Peatlands are home to some of our most threatened wildlife, like the Golden Plover and the Skylark, as well as several plant species and invertebrates. To learn more about peatland animals, visit ulsterwildlife.org.
Unfortunately, only around 20% of British peatlands remain in a near-natural state. This is because of attempts to drain them for agriculture, forestry, or infrastructure development, as well as commercial peat extraction for horticulture.
How is the horticultural industry damaging peatlands?
Raised bogs and other peatlands are often targeted for commercial peat extraction for gardening and the plant sector. However, mechanised peat removal can have major ecological consequences. By stripping away the living layer of the peatland, large quantities of peat beneath become exposed, oxidise and emit carbon into the atmosphere.
This results in larger greenhouse gas emissions as well as habitat degradation. Because of the sheer amount of carbon stored in our peatlands, a loss of only 5% of them in the UK would be equal to our entire annual greenhouse gas emissions.
Furthermore, when the top layer of peat is removed or disturbed, this alters the water levels of the surrounding areas of peatland, which can cause damage even much further away from the targeted location.
As it stands, nearly three million cubic metres of peat are sold for horticultural use every year in the UK, one-third of which comes from UK peatlands - with the main users being amateur gardeners (66%). This, considering that only 1mm of peat forms each year, is causing severe long-term effects on our peatlands and our carbon emissions.
The problem with buying houseplants with peat
Aside from the environmental damage, buying houseplants in peat soils has long-term negative consequences.
- Peat lowers the pH level of the soil, which isn't suitable for plants that don't thrive in acidic soils.
- Peat may store water well, but once the soil has dried out, it actually absorbs moisture very poorly - so you can water your plants, but they'll still dry out.
- Peat doesn't allow much room for oxygen, which increases the risk of waterlogging - meaning your plant could sit in water without the right nutrients and eventually rot.
Buy peat free houseplants
The most important thing to take away from this article is that most peat use in the UK can be easily replaced by more sustainable peat free alternatives, and you can purchase houseplants that are potted peat free.
From composted green waste to healthier peat free soils, our house plants don't need to suffer to go peat free.
The advantages of peat for houseplants are minimal (and often short-lived), and they are definitely not worth the destruction of one of our most important terrains. Luckily, there are several alternatives to peat that work fantastically well in potting soils. For example:
- Coconut fibres or coconut soil
- Wood fibres
- Bark humus (bark compost)
- Land soil
- Peat moss
At Geb & Green, we are leading the peat free revolution, because we believe that enjoying green inside your home shouldn't damage the green outside. That's why all our houseplants are grown in a peat free medium, in our UK glasshouses.
Our aim is to build the branches for a climate positive houseplant industry, protecting the long-term health of your leafy companions and our peatlands. One plant at a time.