Peat alternatives: 11 substitutes for peat in the soil

Kati
Kati
Kati
Kati

I am a qualified gardener and horticulturalist and love everything that grows! Whether it's a shrub, a tree, a useful plant or a supposed weed: for me, every plant is a little miracle.
In the garden I look after my 13 chickens, grow fruit & vegetables and otherwise observe how nature manages and shapes itself.

Favourite fruit: Blueberry, apple
Favourite vegetables: Braised cucumber, kale, green pepper

Almost all garden soils contain peat. Here, we outline environmentally friendly alternatives to peat and give tips on peat-free gardening.

person filling basket with soil
Peat alternatives are becoming increasingly popular, and rightly so [Photo: Revel Pix LLC/ Shutterstock.com]

Peat substitution is an important issue in climate protection. Let us explain which properties made peat so successful in substrates and point out good peat alternatives. If you are still wondering “what is peat?” find out in our dedicated article on the subject.

Why is peat found in garden soil?

Peat is a good base for garden potting soil. This is due to the fact that it retains water well, without it, the roots suffer from lack of air and thus begin to rot. In addition, its pH and nutrient content can be flexibly adjusted depending on which plant is to be cultivated. Last but not least, it is nice and light when dry, so it is easy to transport.
But unfortunately, peat also has disadvantages: Peat is a finite resource and its extraction and use release CO2, which should actually remain stored in the soil. Further extraction of peat prevents former peatlands from being rewetted and resuming their work as CO2 reservoirs.
Because of its advantages and disadvantages, both professionals and amateur gardeners should use peat substitutes within their means.

seedlings in individual pots
Peat is often used in horticulture but is now gradually being replaced by alternatives [Photo: DedMityay/ Shutterstock.com]

Peat alternatives

Environmental protection is close to the heart of every gardening enthusiast. But of course, our green thumb should not have to suffer. Alternatives to peat soils are mixtures of various materials that make gardening without peat possible. We would like to introduce you common peat substitutes.

Wood fibre, wood chips

Both are made from untreated wood scraps. They provide loose, airy substrate, but hardly store water. Wood fibre is not very structurally stable. Wood chips are coarser and thus have little waterretention capacity, but have good drainage properties. Wood materials cannot store nutrients.

Compost

Compost brings the advantage that it has a high pH and hardly sinks down. Compost can effectively store and release nutrients and water, which is why it is included in all of our Plantura Organic Potting Composts. Quality assured substrate compost is free from plant pathogens and weeds.

Sand

Sand can act as a source of iron in substrates, but otherwise stores very few nutrients. It has a lot of weight, so mixtures with sand are particularly suitable for tubs, to prevent them from being blown away so quickly. Mixed in sufficient quantities, it ensures good water drainage and adequate root aeration.

spiral design in sand
As a stable raw material that adds iron to the substrate, sand can be used as a peat moss alternative [Photo: vetre/ Shutterstock.com]

Bentonite

Bentonite is a natural clay mixture of various clay minerals. These can swell due to water absorption. Used in substrates, they therefore increase water retention enormously. The clay minerals can absorb nutrients, store them and release them when needed.

Expanded clay

Expanded clay is formed by the intense heating of clays. Compared with the starting material, expanded clay allows very low water and nutrient retention. Added in sufficiently large quantities, expanded clay improves water permeability and thus root aeration.

Coconut-based materials: coco pulp, coco fibre, coco chips

Coconut pulp is scraped from the inside of coconut shells. The fibers are completely detached from the coconut and cut into small pieces. Coconut chips are the same fibres, but in cube form. All three are structurally stable and store hardly any nutrients. Coconut fibre and chips hold less water, but aerate the substrate well. Coconut pulp is included in all our Plantura Organic Potting Composts because it has similar properties to white peat.

half of a coconut husk
Coconut coir is made from the thick husks of coconuts [Photo: a-creations/ Shutterstock.com]

Rice husks

Rice husks are produced when rice is threshed. They are very light and provide a loose, air-permeable substrate. They cannot store large amounts of water or nutrients.

Perlite

Perlite is a volcanic glass that expands and becomes porous under high heat. It is pH neutral and does not hold nutrients. It retains small amounts of water but, when mixed in sufficiently, loosens substrates so that roots are well aerated. This is especially important for young plants, which is why we include perlite in our Plantura Organic Herb & Seeding Soil.

bulbs in soil with perlite
Perlite is another peat substitute that helps to make substrates loose and permeable [Photo: Christina Siow/ Shutterstock.com]

Pine bark

Pine bark is obtained from the Mediterranean pine. It is structurally stable and provides good aeration in the substrate. It contains hardly any nutrients and can be easily adapted to the needs of each plant with fertiliser and lime.

Xylitol

Xylitol is a precursor of lignite, i.e. incomplete incarbonated plant parts. It is a by-product of lignite mining. It is very structurally stable and provides an airy substrate while retaining water well.

In addition to the alternatives mentioned, bark humus, brick rubble and vermiculite, for example, are also used in peat-free and peat-reduced potting soils. Compost soils are especially popular. Plantura Organic Potting Composts also contain valuable compost. We explain how compost is made in our dedicated article. Do you prefer to plant your plants directly into the ground? Then let us show you how to improve your garden soil.

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