Peat-free compost – the no-nonsense guide

Want to buy sustainable peat-free compost for your garden but baffled by all the alternatives out there? Here’s all you need to know...

Bags of peat free compost on sunny deck and patio

by Jill Morgan |

Sales of bagged peat-free compost are set to soar this year, as more and more of us choose to shop for eco-friendly garden products to make our plots more planet-friendly. Peat has long been used to make compost, the dark and crumbly material providing moisture and goodness to legions of British gardens.

But as the world wakes up to the environmental impact of harvesting it, we’re learning to live without it. With the UK government due to ban the sale of peat in mid-2024, manufacturers have spent plenty of time and money coming up with good alternatives, experimenting with more sustain-able materials, and mixing them for optimum results.

So there are all sorts of new products on the market, which is fantastic, but also rather baffling to negotiate! But don’t worry, we’re here to help...

Why should we stop using peat?

Peat covers around 3% of the world’s surface, amassing steadily at a rate of around 1-2mm a year as plant matter slowly decays. It’s been used for centuries to grow crops and as fuel but the problem is that, when the peat beds are disturbed, they release dangerous amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing significantly to climate change.

The peatlands are also rich with life, supporting a rare and diverse mix of plants and wildlife. And there’s also the environmental cost of transport to consider since Ireland, once the main source of peat, banned its extraction, and imports now come mainly from the Baltic region.

Lettuce planted in peat-free compost
©Getty Images

Which composts are peat-free?

Peat-free composts are mostly formulated with industry by-products such as wood fibres, coir, sheep wool and bark, as well as more traditional green waste. These all offer great drainage and a crumbly, air-rich texture, perfect for supporting strong root growth, but the by-product materials tend to lack nutrients.

Manufacturers have made huge strides to counter this, mixing in other materials and adding plant fertilisers, many naturally occurring, to create a blend that’ll offer healthy plant growth. But when it comes to choosing which peat-free product is best for you and your plot, it pays to know what these different compost base materials are good – and not so good – at.

Shop our pick of the best peat-free composts below

Wood fibre peat-free compost

Wood fibres create a light and fluffy compost and it’s made mainly from waste wood shavings from the timber industry, sawdust, wastepaper and offcuts from planks. Locally available in large quantities, the wood is moistened, pressurised and heated to break the individual fibres apart, making a friable mix that’s perfect for trapping air in-between the strands while letting water drain through easily.

It’s low in nutrients, though, and tends to lock in nitrogen, withholding it from plants, so most manufacturers add extra fertilisers into the compost to encourage stronger plant growth. Thanks to its light but bulky nature, wood fibre compost is often mixed with other peat-free compost materials to create a multipurpose medium that’s good for growing flowers, fruit and veg.

RHS SylvaGrow Organic Growing Medium

RHS SylvaGrow Organic Growing Medium on sunny patio

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RHS SylvaGrow Organic Growing Medium contains seaweed for a nutrient boost and a unique blend of fine bark, green compost, and coir, all sustainably sourced. The seaweed meal and organic fertilisers also help with disease resistance, always welcome for our gardens! 50 litres.

Miracle-Gro Peat-Free Premium All Purpose Compost

Miracle-Gro Peat-Free Premium All Purpose Compost

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Miracle-Gro Peat-Free Premium All Purpose Compost feeds plants for three months so itu2019s perfect for growing fruit and veg. With its patented Fibre Smart Technology, it's made up of 100% natural hollow wood fibres for an optimal balance of air and water for strong roots and healthier growth. 40 litres.

Westland New Horizon All Plant Compost 100% Peat Free

Westland New Horizon All Plant Compost 100% Peat Free

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Westland New Horizon All Plant Compost 100% Peat Free contains added BIO3 granules for lots of blooms but has been specially blended for all types of plants. Whether you're growing seeds, fruit, veg, or containers, with a base fertiliser this compost will feed your plant for up to six weeks. 60 litres.

Green plant-based peat-free compost

All sorts of plants can be broken down to make compost, from fast-growing bracken to green garden waste and spent hops from the brewing industry. The leafy waste matter usually makes up no more than 30% of the total mix of green compost, with other materials such as sand, coir or finely ground bark added.

The quality can vary, and the bagged compost made from local authority green waste collections often has larger, woodier pieces. There’s also a big difference in the balance of nutrients between brands. But it’s cheap, usually nutrient-rich, widely available and locally made. And there is a British industry standard rating to ensure some con-sistency and regulation – look out for PAS100 on packaging and you should get a great product.

If you’re striving to garden organically or in line with vegan values, bear in mind that some green-based compost products may have faint traces of chemicals leftover from when the waste garden products and clippings were gathered, so look for a tailored product.

BlackGold Multipurpose

BlackGold Multipurpose

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BlackGold Multipurpose has a three-month supply of natural plant food that's nutrient-rich and perfect for your pots, containers, window boxes, and everything in between! 100% organic, it has a fine balance of nutrients, water-retaining fibre added, and optimum air pockets for your plant roots. 50 litres.

Vegro Multipurpose

Vegro Multipurpose

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Vegro Multipurpose is vegan approved and has all the nutrients needed for a healthy start for your little sprouts. Made from vegetable matter and specially blended to enhance the insulation properties of coir, it's a great choice for water retention, fast root growth, and quick germination. 35 litres.

Levington Peat Free Multi Purpose with John Innes

Levington Peat Free Multi Purpose with John Innes

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Levington Peat Free Multi Purpose with John Innes encourages more blooms and will feed your plant for up to six weeks. The balanced combination of nutrients includes green compost for added minerals, grit and phosphate for strong and healthy roots, and is an ideal compost for all sorts of planting projects. 50 litres.

Wool-based peat-free compost

Great for thirsty plants, containers and hanging baskets, wool fibre based composts have high water retention, thanks to all the intermeshing strands that make up the product.

Made from surplus sheep fleece, including the dirtier but organically rich daggings (the stained fleece around a sheep’s rear), this compost is naturally rich in slow-release nitrogen which aids pho-tosynthesis, essential for plant growth.

It has other useful ingredients too including potassium and phosphorous, which are both commonly used in many commercially made fertilisers to en-courage speedy plant growth.

Although waste wool can be used as a growing medium on its own, the most widely available product, Dalefoot, is mixed with bracken.

As all these ingredients are locally sourced in the UK, so wool-based compost comes with zero air miles.

Dalefoot Wool Compost for Potting

Dalefoot Wool Compost for Potting

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Dalefoot Wool Compost for Potting is rich in potash, this addition provides added essential minerals, making this a great choice for young and mature plants. Fertile and strong, the sheep's wool ensures fantastic water retention whilst the slow release proteins in the wool acts as a fertiliser. 30 litres.

Composted bark peat-free compost

With similar qualities to wood fibre based compost, products made from composted bark are also great for raising seeds and growing on young plants, and for digging into beds to improve soil.

Mostly conifer bark is used, a waste product from sustainable timber production and mainly sourced from the UK.

Finely chipped, milled and screened to remove large chunks, bark-based compost is more acidic than that made from wood fibre so it’s a better choice for acid-loving plants like rhododendrons, blueberries and hydrangeas. It’s better at retaining moisture so is ideal for pots and raised beds, too.

Heart Of Eden Fine Composted Bark

Heart Of Eden Fine Composted Bark

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Heart Of Eden Fine Composted Bark slowly releases nutrients into the soil, as well as being a great choice for weed suppression. It's durable, low-maintenance, and long-lasting, great for new gardeners or those looking for less hassle. Not only that, but the rich, dark colour makes for an inviting appearance for gorgeous beds of flowers or foliage. 60 litres.

Melcourt Composted Fine Bark

Melcourt Composted Fine Bark

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Melcourt Composted Fine Bark is made from ingredients sourced in the UK for a rich, organic, bark-based soil conditioner that's free-flowing and easy to incorporate in with existing soil. RHS endorsed, it's suitable for all sorts of garden projects, helping to improve soil quality and water holding capacity. 50 litres.

Coir peat-free compost

The hairy husk of a coconut, coir is a waste product in the coconut-processing industry. The coarse fibre is milled down to make a light, free-draining compost similar in texture to peat. Sold either bagged or in compressed blocks, which you soak in water, coir forms a fluffy, light-weight compost that has plenty of air pockets. These help to insulate roots and retain heat, so strong roots form quickly, resulting in plenty of blooms.

However, coir’s open structure means it’s low in nutrients, so look for products where these have been added, and check to see how long the fertiliser will feed the plants for – usually 4-8 weeks. After this period, you’ll need to feed the plants.

Usually imported from Sri Lanka, southern India and sometimes South America, there are envi-ronmental costs of transport to consider, and processing coir uses lots of water too. Many companies use carbon-neutral shipping and recycled water, so do check the eco credentials of the brands if this is important to you.

Coco Boost All Purpose Compost

Coco Boost All Purpose Compost

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Coco Boost All Purpose Compost holds onto moisture well and is lightweight and compact to store. With balance-controlled release fertiliser, it can feed plants for up to six months helping to give them healthy foliage, strong roots, and fantastic flowers and fruits. 75 litres.

Verve Container & Basket Peat-Free Compost

Verve Container & Basket Peat-Free Compost

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Verve Container & Basket Peat-Free Compost has been formulated with a crumbly structure for fast-growing roots in pots, made from 100% coir, wood fibre, biofibre, and loam. It can feed plants for up to four months after planting and can be used all year round, a fab pick for hanging baskets, containers, and window boxes. 50 litres.

GoodHome Peat-Free Multi-purpose Compost

GoodHome Peat-Free Multi-purpose Compost

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GoodHome Peat-Free Multi-purpose Compost is packed with eight weeks of plant food at a good price-point, ideal for pots and planters. It helps to reduce maintenance by retaining moisture and locking in all the essential nutrients your plants need to thrive. 50 litres.

Carbon Gold Biochar All Purpose Compost

Carbon Gold Biochar All Purpose Compost

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Carbon Gold Biochar All Purpose Compost is peat-free and includes mycorrhizal fungi to improve soil and plant health. This compost promises to bring physical and permanent change to your soil, improving moisture retention, root growth, structure, and aeration. 10 litres.

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