What Is Peat-Free Compost?

Making compost is something millions of people do every year, mostly because they love how great it is at fertilizing the trees and flowers in their yard. Compost is easy to make and inexpensive as well, but why do some people do it without peat moss?

Peat-free compost is a type of compost without peat moss. Peat moss is good for the garden but harvesting it releases carbon dioxide and disrupts precious eco systems and thus more and more people are avoiding the use of peat moss in their garden.

Peat moss is not sustainable and isn’t as eco-friendly as the other items people use in their compost. Compost can be made with or without peat moss, and growers need to learn the pros and cons of each before deciding what to do next.

Other types of compost:

Seedlings growing in peat moss pots
Yay Seedlings growing in peat moss pots

What Is Peat Moss?

When sphagnum moss is taken from bogs and it dies, it will start to decompose. When it starts to decompose, this is what makes peat moss. Lots of people assume peat moss makes a good compost, but in most cases they’re wrong.

Peat moss decomposes, or breaks down too fast, and this causes it to compress and then squeeze air out of the soil. This, in turn, makes the soil much less healthy, especially for the roots of the plants.

Peat Soil
Yay Peat Soil

After peat moss dries, it is nearly impossible to rewet, and therefore it actually repels water. Using it as a surface mulch is not a good idea because of this. If people add something such as perlite to it, it can be good for containers, but it isn’t recommended for regular soil.

Throughout the years, a lot of people have assumed that peat moss is perfect as an amendment to plants and gardens, but this is not the case. While it can possibly be used in containers and pots, it is not recommended for trees and gardens.

The #1 Reason That Peat Moss Isn’t Recommended

While all of this is bad enough, there is actually another reason why so many people consider peat moss an unacceptable option for their gardens – it is not good for the environment. 

There are some good reasons for sphagnum moss to exist in its natural habitat. For one thing, it can mitigate flood damage, and peat bogs even do a great job of purifying the air. But that is only if everything is left alone.

When sphagnum moss is needed for the making of peat moss, it is first “mined,” which means the first layer of the moss is removed while it’s still alive. The bog above the mined moss is great for rare and endangered animals and plants such as sundews and butterwort.

Manufacturers tell people that peat moss is sustainable and that it is easy to restore, but what they don’t tell people is that it can take hundreds and even thousands of years to grow back. It is simply not fast at reestablishing itself.

Peat Moss Sphagnum
Yay Peat Moss (Sphagnum)

The habitat where this type of moss is found is actually a very delicate community, and it is not an easy community to reestablish or restore. In reality, sphagnum moss may sustain itself, but it simply takes too long to do so.

Are There Other Reasons Peat Moss Is Bad?

In addition to the concerns mentioned above, people are also concerned about the archaeological problems associated with mining this moss. It is nearly impossible for archaeological digs to take place once mining has begun, which has some people worried.

One of the reasons this is true is because CO2 is released into the air every time the moss is mined. Until it is mined, it is trapped in the moss itself, but once it’s released, it makes archaeological digs a lot more difficult.

peat bog swamp in Europe
Yay peat bog swamp in Europe

A lot of sphagnum moss is mined in Canada, and about 90% of their crops go to the United States. More than 90% of the bogs in the United Kingdom have been altered because of mining, and about 40,000 acres of sphagnum are harvested right now in Canada.

What all this means is that for the most part, sphagnum moss is mined mostly for the horticulture industry, and this industry has convinced people that using peat moss is a healthy way to fertilize trees and plants. Unfortunately, this isn’t true.

Currently, conservationists and wetlands specialists have called for a boycott of peat moss in many countries, with Ireland being one that has outright banned harvesting peat moss. While officials in Canada and the United States still claim the moss is sustainable, most people have their doubts.

Orange and brown soft sphagnum peat moss
Yay Orange and brown soft sphagnum peat moss

Most experts agree that even if/when the moss regrows, the new habitat won’t be as productive and healthy as the original. In other words, they believe any regrowth or reestablishment will be less pure than the first.

Peat-Free Compost

So, it’s been determined that peat-free compost is best, but is it possible to find this on the market? The answer is a resounding “yes.” Many manufacturers are offering peat-free compost because of the concerns people are starting to have about peat moss.

While free of peat moss, the compost is still filled with other nutrient-filled ingredients, including:

  • Composted garden bark
  • Composted garden waste
  • Composted bracken and wool waste
  • Mixes that contain biochar and which are coir-based

What is coir? Coir is the fiber that is found on the outer husk of a coconut, and it’s a lot easier to find than many people think. While the coconut processing industry used to discard it, they now often sell it to people for the making of compost.

One of the biggest advantages of using coir is that it is shipped dehydrated, making it very lightweight. This means reduced energy requirements for transporting the product, and it’s easier to deal with once gardeners receive it.

If people need other reasons to go peat-free, there are lots of them. Take a look at some of the characteristics of peat moss:

  • It only renews at roughly 1/3” per year.
  • Peat bogs are threatened habitats and should be protected.
  • When it is cut, exposed areas dry out and release carbon.

When people take these things into consideration, it’s easy to understand why peat-free compost is gaining in popularity. It is simply a healthy alternative to products and ingredients that, overall, are not very healthy.

Peat-Free Compost Is the Way to Go

Peat-free compost is sold by a lot of different companies and is actually good for the environment because most of it consists of only sustainable materials. Does this mean there is no peat whatsoever in this compost? Not necessarily, but the amount is minimal.

There’s also nothing to be concerned about regarding how good peat-free compost is. The fact is, compost does not have to have peat moss in it to be healthy and good for plants and trees. People can buy peat-free compost with confidence every time.

While peat moss does have certain benefits, including improving the quality of the soil, more and more people believe this is not enough to use it in their composts. Peat-filled compost can also be expensive, in part because it is only mined in a few countries.

There is yet another thing to consider for people who are trying to decide between peat-filled and peat-free compost: more and more countries are reducing their production of the sphagnum moss that is mined to get the peat moss, meaning it may become harder to get.

No one knows what the future holds for peat moss, but as anyone can see, it is very easy to understand why buying peat-free compost is the smart thing to do.