Peat-free potting soil: gardening with a clear conscience

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Peat as part of potting soil - this was hardly questioned for a long time. The substrate was regarded as an all-rounder: it is virtually nutrient-free and salt-free, can store a lot of water and is structurally stable, as the humus substances are only decomposed very slowly. It can be arbitrarily mixed with clay, sand, lime and fertilizer and then used as a growing medium in horticulture. For some time, however, scientists and earth manufacturers have been trying to find suitable substitutes that replace peat as a basic component of potting soil. Politicians and environmentally conscious hobby gardeners are pushing for a restriction of peat extraction, because it is becoming increasingly problematic ecologically.

The peat degradation damages the climate

The peat contained in commercially available potting soil forms in raised bogs. The destruction of the ecologically valuable habitats displaces numerous animals and plants and also damages the climate, as the peat - a precursor of the carbonlocated from the global carbon cycle - is slowly decomposed after draining and releases a lot of carbon dioxide. Although the farms have the obligation to restore the bogs after peat extraction, but it takes a long time until there is again a growing bog with the ancient biodiversity. About a thousand years pass before a new layer of peat, about one meter thick, has formed from the decomposed peat mosses. By peat extraction or drainage for agricultural use, almost all raised bogs have been destroyed in Central Europe. In the meantime, no intact bogs are being drained in this country, but still sold nearly ten million cubic meters of flower and planting soil every year. A large proportion of the peat used for this purpose now comes from the Baltic States: in Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, extensive moorland was purchased by the earth producers in the 90s and drained for peat extraction.

Substitutes for peat

Due to the problems presented and the increased sensitivity of consumers, more and more manufacturers are offering peat-free products as well as conventional potting soil. Depending on the product, different substitutes are used in peat-free potting soil, all of which have their advantages and disadvantages.


Compost is a common component of peat-free potting soil

Compost: Quality-assured compost from professional composting plants can be an alternative to peat. Advantage: It is constantly being tested for harmful substances, contains all the important nutrients and improves the soil. It provides important phosphate and potassium. However, as it degrades itself over time, inorganic materials such as nitrogen, which provide the stability of its structure, must be recycled. Experiments have shown that well-matured compost can replace the peat in large parts, but is unsuitable as a major component of soils. In addition, the quality of special compost varies, as over the year various organic wastes with different nutrient content serve as a rotting basis.
Coir: Coconut fibers loosen up the soil, decompose only slowly and are structurally stable. They are offered compressed in brick form. You have to put them in water so that they swell up. The disadvantage: The transport of coconut fibers from tropical areas as a substrate replacement is not very environmentally and climate friendly. Similar to the bark humus, the coconut fibers dry out quickly on the surface, although the root ball is still moist. As a result, the plants are often overpoured. In addition, coconut fibers themselves contain hardly any nutrients and bind by their slow decomposition nitrogen. Therefore, peat-free potting soil with high coco-fiber content must be fertilized abundantly.
Bark humus: The humus, which is mostly made of spruce bark, absorbs nutrients and water well and releases them slowly to the plants. Above all, bark humus balances fluctuating salt and fertilizer levels. The biggest disadvantage is the low buffering capacity. There is therefore a risk of salt damage due to over-fertilization.

bark humus

Bark humus is mainly used as mulch material in the garden. But it is also often contained in peat-free potting soil

Wood fibers: They provide a feinkrĂŒmelige and loose structure of potting soil and a good ventilation. Wood fibers, however, can not store the water as well as peat, so it needs to be watered more often. In addition, they have a low nutrient content - on the one hand a disadvantage, on the other hand can be regulated by the fertilizer similar to the peat well. As with the coconut fibers, however, a higher nitrogen bond must also be considered for wood fibers.
Earth manufacturers usually offer a mixture of the above-mentioned organic materials as peat-free potting soil.Other aggregates such as lava granules, sand or clay regulate important properties such as structural stability, air balance and storage capacity for nutrients.

Peat moss instead of peat

At the Institute of Botany and Landscape Ecology of the Ernst Moritz Arndt University Greifswald, attempts are being made to replace the peat with peat moss. According to previous findings, fresh peat moss has very good properties as a basis for peat-free potting soil. Up to now, however, it has made substrate production much more expensive, since the peat moss would have to be cultivated in sufficient quantities for agricultural purposes.


Fresh peat moss (Sphagnum) can store a lot of water. That makes it interesting as an earth element

Mogel pack xylitol

Another substitute has also made a name for itself in the past: xylitol, a precursor of lignite. The lignite from lignite mining is a substance that is visually reminiscent of wood fibers. Xylitol ensures good aeration and, like peat, has a low pH, so it remains stable in its structure. Like peat, xylitol can be well adjusted to plant needs with lime and fertilizer. However, unlike peat, it can not store much water. To increase the storage capacity for water, more additives must be supplied. In addition, like peat, xylitol is a fossil organic substance with equally unfavorable consequences for the carbon cycle.

Organic soil is not always peat-free

All well-known manufacturers already have peat-free soils on offer. But beware: The terms "torreduced" or "low in peat" mean: There is still a certain amount of peat in it. When buying, you should therefore pay attention to the "RAL quality label" and the term "peat-free" to really potting soil, which is ecologically safe. The term "organic soil" also leads to misunderstandings: due to certain characteristics, these potting soil have been given this name. Therefore, they are not necessarily peat-free, because "organic" is often used as a marketing term by earth manufacturers, as in many areas, in the hope that consumers will not question it further. A hallmark of peat-free substrate is the odor it exudes during degradation. In addition, as peat-free potting soil is more commonly attacked by European Moorfly, some of these earths also contain insecticides - another reason to study the ingredient list closely.

Tips on gardening with peat-free potting soil

Because of the increased nitrogen retention, it's especially important that you provide nutrients to plants that grow in peat-free potting soil. If possible, do not give them all at once, but rather as often as possible and in smaller quantities - for example via a liquid fertilizer, which you administer with the irrigation water.

Potting potting soil

Anyone who garden-free gardens needs a lot of tact in plant care

When casting, it is very important that you first test with your finger if the potting soil still feels moist. The surface of the globe works in the summer often after a few hours as dried out, under it, the earth is still sufficiently moist. If you want to use peat-free potting soil for perennial crops such as pot or house plants, you should mix in a few handfuls of clay granules - it will provide a long-lasting structure for the soil and store well both water and nutrients. The manufacturers usually do without it because this aggregate makes the earth quite expensive.

Video Board: 028: Compost bin.

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