Discover How to Use Garden Peat to Best Effect

The Use of Garden Peat


During the last 75 years or so, the production and use of peat in the garden, which started as a trickle, has become a flood and is possibly now at its peak. If the supply was inexhaustible then I would feel some concern about its continued application to soils and by its indiscriminate and uneducated use. However, I am not worried for the simple reason that it is a very finite material and possibly in 50 years time, the new gardener will be asking, ‘What is peat?’

It is very big business at the moment and peat-based composts have now taken the place of soil-based composts (pity the one word compost has to be given to two separate and distinct formulations). In fact my only complaint about the peat supplied today is that it is not available in different grades with regard to size. For the ordinary garden much of it is far too finely ground and has been developed in this way to meet the gigantic appetite of commercial growers who use only fine peat. In the soil 2 lb per square metre is ample for a yearly application.

Garden peat is of vegetable origin and, like compost, the quality is only as good as the materials from which it has been made plus the circumstances and conditions under which it has been laid down. Geologically, peat is not a very old material but curiously very little peat as we know it is found in the New World.

Although there are literally hundreds of different types of peat, as far as the gardener is concerned there are three main types; these are:

  • sedge peat,
  • moss peat, and
  • blended peat.

Sedge peat is easily identified as it is darker, softer and more easily broken down than the moss peats which are light in colour, often drier and coarser in texture. From a practical point of view the main differences are that sedge peat is more readily broken down in the soil and, as a consequence, more quickly available to the plants but it has not the lasting quality of the moss peats.

The third type is the blended peat which either occurs naturally in the bog or is deliberately mixed.  Personally I prefer the natural blended mixture as giving the best of both worlds.

Peats vary enormously in their layer formation and are usually extremely acid and have to be weathered, which entails exposing them to rain, frost and sun to reduce the acidity. The stacking also drains out the surplus acidic water.

Peat or other organic materials generally break up heavy soils, making them warmer and less moisture retentive but on the other hand they bind loose soils and make them moister and cooler. They assist water retention, encourage bacterial action and allow oxygen to be admitted, which is just as vital to the roots as it is to the leaves. On the debit side, too much peat tends to make soils acid and encourages the growth and formation of mosses and liverworts on some soils and lawns. Too much peat can also make the soil too fluffy and loose and can alter the balance of the soil, both mechanically and chemically.

Garden peat should not be regarded as a plant food and must be supplemented by chemical fertilisers or animal manures. Mixed with manure, dried blood, fish meal, bonemeal or mixed in with the compost heap it forms a valuable addition to all soils. In fact an excellent alternative to manure can be made by adding about 15 lb of fertiliser to every 100 lb of peat. This should be well mixed and turned continually and allowed to stand for a week or two and then applied at the rate of 2 lb per square metre where it is required.

Many  of the claims that peat or lignite products break down heavy soils and eliminate digging. This idea is by no means new and has been advocated for over 130 years. Any organic matter encourages the worm population and bacterial and fungal activity. The worms will carry down enormous quantities of it and in doing so they make tunnels and in time they carry the organic matter down to the same position as obtained by digging over with a spade or fork. In this way the soil is enriched and improved. Bacteria are encouraged, drainage is improved and the soil aerated. This can be regarded as a long term exercise but is, nevertheless, effective.

However, all plants need their regular supplies of nitrogen, phosphates and potash, whichever way you apply them either as organic or inorganic material. The organic gardeners can use fish meal, bonemeal and dried blood and those who have no particular prejudice can make use of the chemical fertilisers.

Of recent years peat-based composts have been used as an alternative to natural soils as a basis for potting composts and growing mediums and an extension of this has been the grow-bag. Basically, these are plastic bags of varying sizes filled with a mixture of garden peat, sand and slow-release fertilisers. They are recommended for the growing of a particular crop for one season. However, for various reasons it is not advisable to use these for a second year as it is virtually impossible for the ordinary gardener to replace the fertilisers which have been lost during the growing season.

Therefore, in my opinion, after use the best place for these is the compost heap. Mixed into the other ingredients the contents will supply finely divided organic matter plus the residual chemicals that have not been used or leached out.

04. August 2010 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Manures and Fertilisers | Tags: | Comments Off on Discover How to Use Garden Peat to Best Effect


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