Garden peat: Use peat in garden and vegetable patch - yes or no?

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Garden peat: Use peat in garden and vegetable patch - yes or no?: patch

Torf has lost his impeccable reputation as the perfect garden soil. Today, the substrate classic is criticized as environmentally harmful and destructive. In the organically managed garden and vegetable patch, gardeners are questioning the use of peat with growing skepticism. This guide will familiarize you with all the important pros and cons, so that you can make an informed choice about your private green realm.

What is peat?

The exact knowledge of origin and composition paves the way to a mature judgment, whether peat is used as substrate in the garden or not. Most recreational gardeners are unaware that they are holding a valuable piece of bog with a sack of garden peat or potting soil. Peat is the stuff of our picturesque moor landscapes.
Moors are constantly wet habitats where low, frugal plants thrive. Continuous excess of water provides a low-oxygen soil and blocks the complete degradation of dead plants. While in humid soil plant remains transform into humus, they deposit themselves in the moor as peat. Layer by layer, peat in raised bogs grows above the groundwater level at a leisurely speed of 1 mm to a maximum of 10 mm per year. The well-known Teufelsmoor near Worpswede, for example, took 8,000 years to develop into its present glory. In contrast, fens are formed in river valleys and depressions or are the result of silting up on lakes. Here peat grows less strongly in the height and is more species-rich overgrown, than in raised bogs.

Moor - peat

The world's largest bog areas stretch across the taiga belt along the northern hemisphere. Russia, Alaska and Canada also have huge moors. In Germany there are well-known moorlands in the north and in the foothills of the Alps. Not only is rainfall plentiful in these regions. In addition, there is a high humidity, which contributes as an essential factor for the emergence of the unique high and low moor.

What does peat do as a growing medium? - Advantages and disadvantages

Traditionally, peat is still used as a heating material in a variety of areas, because compressed, dried peat soil has a similar calorific value, such as lignite. From power generation via whiskey distillation to the heating of greenhouses, the spectrum extends. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the interest of commercial and private gardeners has been focused on peat as a growing medium. The following properties catapulted peat to the top of the most popular potting soil:
  • Stores a multiple of your own weight in water
  • Lowers the pH in the soil
  • Loosens compacted soil and optimizes permeability
The positive features make peat indispensable for commercial nurseries and nurseries for the cultivation of rhododendrons, azaleas, hydrangeas and other plants that rely on an acidic soil. However, when propagating garden peat for the private ornamental garden and kitchen garden, the trade dropped important negative effects of the substrate:
  • Once dried out, the water storage capacity is lost
  • Low rewettability results in increasing soil compaction
  • Acidification of the soil with simultaneous release of heavy metals
  • Minimal nutrient content requires additional administration of artificial fertilizer
Garden peat is only recommended if you limit yourself in the garden and vegetable patch on the cultivation of plants that prefer an acidic soil with a pH of 4 to 5. The vast majority of woody plants, perennials and vegetables thrives magnificently in neutral to light Alkaline soil with a balanced pH of 6 to 7. If peat comes into play, diseases and growths are inevitable.
Tip: In order to determine the pH of your garden soil, no previous chemical knowledge is required. In garden centers and hardware stores, you can purchase test sets that you can use to determine how the acid value in the soil is.

Peat abandonment protects climate and nature

Garden and vegetable patch benefit only in exceptional cases of peat. Not only in the cultivation of ornamental and crop plants outweigh the negative effects. Excessive peat mining has irretrievably destroyed huge moorland around the world and on our doorstep. In this context, valuable habitat was lost to rare animals and plants.
A frequently underestimated consequence of the rigorous degradation of peat is the release of carbon dioxide. The numbers are alarming. Every year, peatlands destroyed in Germany alone release more than 40 million tonnes of greenhouse gases. This value is on par with the CO2 emissions of all German aviation.The deliberate renunciation of peat and peat-containing potting soil in the home garden makes a valuable contribution to the preservation of unique moorland landscapes and reduction of emissions.

Useful alternatives for garden and vegetable patch

The abandonment of the use of garden peat in the home garden is associated with no restrictions in plant care. On the contrary, there is a colorful array of eco-friendly alternatives available that do without a crumb of peat. Incidentally, gardening without peat is not an invention of the modern age, but a return to a traditional and well-proven practice. Proven options for your garden and vegetable patch are highlighted below:



In the ecologically managed garden, the compost pile is part of the basic equipment. Vegetable waste from the garden and kitchen are converted into a valuable natural fertilizer with substrate quality in the course of several months of rotting with temperatures of up to 70 degrees. Hard-working soil organisms make an important contribution to the formation of humus. Additions of autumn leaves, woodcut and rock flour promote the decomposition process. The result is a hygienically perfect peat substitute with good rewettability, a high nutrient content and a proven defense against pathogenic agents. Strong-eaters in the vegetable patch, like all types of cabbage, thrive splendidly when cultivated with pure compost. Less sophisticated ornamental plants prefer a mixture of compost, bark humus and wood fibers of one third each. For use as a tub substrate mineral aggregates are recommended, such as sand, expanded clay or grit. There is no room for peat in this balanced combination of environmentally friendly components.

bark humus

Crushed softwood bark is composted into bark humus and results in a commonly used peat substitute. As one of the most heavily forested countries in Europe, tree bark is also available in Germany as an almost inexhaustible source for a continuous supply as a peat alternative. Growth-inhibiting substances in fresh softwood bark, such as resin, tannin or tannins, are almost completely decomposed during the course of several years of fermentation. Bark compost has a reliable structural stability and has a stable pH. Furthermore, the rewettability is better than with garden peat. In commercially available, peat-free soils, the proportion of bark humus is up to 50 percent. A disadvantage is the rising price. Tree bark, as a renewable resource, is rapidly gaining in importance for energy production, driving up prices. For this reason, southern countries have already begun to favor pine bark as a substitute for peat-free substrates.

wood fibers

Chemically untreated wood provides the raw material for a high-quality peat substitute. Saw logs, such as peeling chips or wood chips, are processed by means of a thermo-mechanical process, which optimizes their properties and makes them a perfect substrate. Wood fibers score with a high air capacity, first-class drainage effect and good rewettability. Also advantageous are the low nutrient and salt content, a low bulk density and reliable weed freedom. If garden soil or compost mix up to 50 percent wood fibers, waterlogging has no chance. Substrate with wood fibers dries faster on the surface, so that moss and weed seeds are not able to find a basis for germination and growth.
Tip: If you have banished peat from the garden and the vegetable patch, the view turns to culture substrates for indoor plants. Coconut fibers or Cocopeat consist of the fibers of ropes, carpets or mats. As an aggregate in compost and garden soil, the fiber material is able to completely replace peat.


Research and development in the cultivation of peat moss as peat substitute are still in their infancy. The first results in 2016 are promising. Peat mosses of the genus Sphagnum are cultivated on gravelly, rewetted moor areas in order to extract biomass as raw material for the production of growing media for garden, balcony and windowsill. Pilot projects have shown that ornamental and crop plants thrive excellently in soils with an 80% share of peat moss.

Peat bog

Not only in Germany, but in Europe and worldwide great efforts are being made to produce peat moss a full and socially recognized peat substitute. Time is short, because the peat extraction areas are declining sharply. As a result of social ostracism, countries are struggling to issue new permits, which would destroy more bogs. In the state of Lower Saxony alone, it is predicted that the area under construction will halve from nearly 12,000 hectares in 2012 to 6,000 hectares in 2022 and reduce to under 1,000 hectares by 2037.

Video Board: Grow vegetables in compost and sand and see these results....

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