Open Thread: Buying Peat-free Compost – How Easy Are You Finding It?

With fine weather forecast for many areas, this weekend will see many of us out stocking up on earth-friendly peat-free seed, potting and ‘multipurpose’ compost. I want to take a virtual straw poll of how the UK’s garden suppliers are doing this spring in offering gardeners reliable, top-performing peat-free composts – but I need your help.

Blue Zebra primrose growing in a peat-free compost trial.

Primrose ‘Blue Zebra’ growing in some good, bad and ugly peat-free composts.

I recently visited over half a dozen garden centres and DIY stores in a single day to check out their offering of peat-free compost. Considering that the sun is ushering us toward spring at a rate of knots, I must say it was a very mixed and overall quite disappointing picture. Some had a reasonable selection of peat-frees, others none at all.

If you’re out and about on the peat-free trail this weekend, please leave a comment below to let me know how easy or otherwise it’s been to get hold of peat-free compost so far this spring. What I’m interested in hearing about is…

• Whether your local garden centre, DIY store, shop or supermarket is stocking peat-free compost this spring. Have they extended their peat-free range, or stopped it entirely?

• What reaction you’ve been getting when you ask if a garden centre or other outlet will stock a specific peat-free compost you’re asking for: is it engaged enthusiasm or one-day-maybe indifference?

• Are the bags of peat-free compost you’re finding obviously new, fresh stock – or are they faded, sodden and splitting? Does it inspire you to part with your cash?

• How knowledgeable were the staff about peat-free compost in those places where you have bought some (or tried to buy some)? Feel free to name the good, the bad and the ugly.

• Do you think the information given on compost bags is consistent and helpful, or does it make you want to scream and rush out past the checkout?

With peat-reduced composts, is saying 40 % peat-free’ more infuriating than saying 60% peat’?

Is it time that compost containing peat carried an ‘ecological health warning’ similar to that found on tobacco products? Rant away.

• Is there a particular garden centre, nursery, DIY store or local retailer that you feel is a real champion of reliable peat-free compost, offering knowledgeable service delivered in gardening speak? Tell me about them below.

• Perhaps you buy all you peat-free compost by mail order? Please let me know how you find that, and what suppliers you would recommend.

• If you’re someone who sells peat-free compost, I’d like to hear from you too – what’s the level of interest in peat-free products, which brands are gardeners asking for this spring, and what peat-frees sell well year on year?

Please leave any comments below. This is an ‘open thread’ so please feel free to respond directly to any comments and observations (just click on ‘reply’ below the comment you’re replying to).

If you’d like to send any pictures of what you find, email them to john@earthfriendlygardener.net

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16 Responses to Open Thread: Buying Peat-free Compost – How Easy Are You Finding It?

  1. Viki says:

    I always buy my peat free compost from my local independent garden centre (Secrett’s Garden Centre in Milford, Surrey) as they always have plenty in stock and it’s frequently on special offer. Last year, they began stocking more than one brand, which I felt was a major step in the right direction. That said, I still stick to New Horizon as I find it to be the most reliable peat-free compost.
    I’ve always found the compost to be in excellent condition and have never had a problem growing any and all manner of plants in it.
    One of the problems I do find though, is that the staff in most garden centres have a complete lack of product knowledge. You ask any questions and staff just look blankly at you. The best response I had to “why don’t you stock peat-free compost” was “it’s impossible to grow commercially with it so we don’t bother stocking it” I cited several examples of commercial growers whose businesses were thriving without peat and I was told that I didn’t know what I was talking about, so I left.
    Needless to say, I haven’t been back to that nursery since, which is a shame as it’s another local independent.
    I don’t bother looking at any other composts, if it doesn’t say peat-free on it, I’m not interested.

    • John Walker says:

      Thanks Viki. Being told that peat-free doesn’t work commercially shows just how out of touch some parts of the gardening industry are with the commercial sector (and how patronised gardeners are). Only recently I’ve been talking to the technical director of Melcourt Ltd (http://www.melcourt.co.uk/), who make peat-free compost for nurserymen. She told me that they can barely keep up with demand for their peat-free products and are inundated with requests from new customers wanting to trial it. “There’s been a real change in attitude”, as she put it. They’ve been developing peat-free compost for 20 years.

  2. Jon Knight says:

    We tried Vital Earth last year, bought from Charlcotte Garden Centre. It was pretty good and the seed sowing compost gave some pretty good results. We went back for more this year but all they’re stocking now are the VE grow bags and multipurpose – no seed sowing compost. My girlfriend asked about the seed sowing compost and was told that no, they weren’t going to stock that this year, which is a real shame.

    Probably either have to get the growbags/multipurpose VE and then seive it and mix our own seed composts or bite our lips and get New Horizon seed or veg compost (the latter was really nice mind – it was the company’s peat exploitation we objected to).

    • John Walker says:

      Thanks Jon. Frustrating, isn’t it, when outlets stop stocking peat-free that works. Maybe you should be exercise more consumer muscle and ASK them to stock what you want, or you’ll go elsewhere? Us gardeners are key to reshaping the compost market and we’ll be the collective force that turns the UK peat-free.

      It’s a tricky one with the ethics. William Sinclair Horticulture, who make New Horizon composts, obviously have a winning product, but as you say it’s marred by their peat mining activities (which are under some pressure, thankfully). Personally I’d rather not throw the peat-free babies out with the peat-stained bathwater, but I would give the parents’ bottom a very hard slap. Who knows, if more of us buy New Horizon, perhaps WS will find they can respond to market forces by producing even better peat-free composts and get out of destruction of the natural world permanently?

  3. After trying several different composts, including B&Q’s peat free compost which seemed to be stocked rather erratically last year, we have found that New Horizon’s organic peat free compost is great for all of the veg, salads and herbs that we grow. I tried it after seeing it as a Best Buy in a Which report. It’s always stocked in our local Country Gardens Garden Centre in Upminster and I stock up on it of they’ve got special offers on. It always seems fresh and fine. Only problem is that NH do a seed compost as well which I couldn’t find any closer tham Chelmsford last year – I must ask in Country Gardens why they don’t stock it. I wouldn’t be surprised if one reason for peat free compost not being stocked is prices/margins – it is dearer than some of the more well-known brands, and many customers are counting the pennies at the moment.

  4. Helen says:

    I always buy peat free compost, but find it difficult to get good quality as most garden centres around Sheffield only stock one brand of peat free composts and some of the ones that I have tried in previous years have not been very good.

    I was determined to try New Horizon this year and resorted to buying it on line from a company in Dorset (www.selections.com) as there were no local companies stocking it and they were the only people I could find who stocked the full range and were willing to deliver.

  5. Richard B says:

    Peat-free multipurpose compost is always readily available at our local Tunbridge Wells garden centre, as is coarser “garden compost”.
    Other than those, near-impossible.
    Seed compost? Had to resort to mail order, but this new BioChar stuff is lovely.

    Peat-free ericaceous? Not a chance. Tried all sorts of garden centres. Even RHS Wisley couldn’t help (staff there actually told me it was peat-free but on careful reading it wasn’t). So, for the first time in my life I had to buy some with peat in it. It was that or endless driving around just to satisfy some blueberry bushes. Sad, but you have to balance things out.

    • John Walker says:

      Thanks Richard. Yes, the Carbon Gold composts with biochar are showing promise (albeit pricey).

      Vital Earth produce a peat-free compost specifically for ericaceous plants, but you might well have to ask for it. In fact, if we don’t ask for what we want in garden centres and other outlets, we just won’t get it. Gardeners have their hands on the steering wheel of the gardening industry, so if we want to to go in a certain direction, all it takes is a turn in the right direction. We need to remember we’re a market force to be reckoned with.

      Vital Earth Ericaceous Compost: http://www.thegreenergardener.com/products/productguide/ericaceous.html

  6. Rob says:

    I always get New Horizon from my local garden centre (Valleyside, Sheffield – on the A57 Manchester Road going out of Crosspool, Helen). I just sieve it to use as a seed compost, it works perfectly well, germination rates are just fine, just as good as other compost. Haven’t used peat based compost for years, I don’t see the need.

  7. New Horizon has always been readily available in garden centres around Matlock, Derbyshire, but this year we’re trying out organic Growmore for the first time, which we found at one of our local garden centres (Blue Diamond, Chatsworth). So far, so good.
    Peat-free seed composts are harder to come by, though, and I admit I don’t even bother to look any more. Instead, I mix sieved general-purpose peat-free with molehill soil (plenty of that around here!) The only problem I ever have with this is a few stray weeds coming up amongst the seedlings – I just pull ’em out. Have successfully grown veg for the past few years this way – and no peat needed. Anyone who says you need peat to successfully grow veg is wrong.

  8. I use new horizon for mostly everything in my commercial market garden. This year it would appear to be much better, holds water for longer, slightly finer texture and less woody. It also smells delicious! Pretty easy to get hold of all over I think.

  9. I use New Horizon peat-free compost as the base for blends that I make myself – I do this because I’ve never seen any of the peat-free specialist growing media in my local garden centres (seed compost, ericaceous, etc.). I use coir, garden loam, perlite/vermiculite to get the right blend. Sometimes it works, occasionally it doesn’t. I’ve visited a number of garden centres in the area and the levels of knowledge/interest aren’t particularly inspiring. I’m working on some huge ‘hot-heaps’ at the bottom of the garden, so hope to have my own source soon.

  10. beevolution says:

    I’ve really struggled to find peat free seed compost near Shrewsbury. I have resorted to using sieved peat free multi- purpose compost mixed with home made compost and had very pleasing results. I’ve grown from seed with varying results and had success with cuttings if mixed with a little grit as well. Biggest complaint being how much compost is wasted with sieving, so many large bits that get thrown back into my compost bin. Suppose it all gets used in the end though.

  11. Meg Arnold says:

    Have given up the garden centre lottery for peatfree. Went on eBay and found a place advertised there doing New Horizon, peatfree lawn conditioner, organic manure mix and bark chippings. All delivered. Cheap and no hassle. Creative garden products I think they were called.

  12. Louise Doughty says:

    I’ve only just found this blog so I’m a year late!
    I regularly buy New Horizons compost at a local garden centre – Snowdonia Nurseries, Glan Conwy, and had assumed that most places would sell it. However, last spring I needed a bag of compost fairly urgently but wasn’t expecting to go in that direction for a couple of days. Rather than go out of my way I decided to go to a garden centre near Bangor that I was going near. I was quite shocked to find an overwhelming array of composts none of which seemed to be organic or peat free. I asked an assistant and it seemed that had one organic compost that wasn’t peat free or a peat free one that wasn’t organic! In the end I went for the peat free one as the lesser of two evils but it’s really coarse and intended as a soil conditioner not a potting compost. I hadn’t realised it could be so difficult! I’ve bought a carbon gold seed compost to try this year but it is pricey.

  13. David Matthews says:

    My first visit to the site: my word, what an eye-opener?
    Re: peat-free compost availability – via nearest DIY chain [B&Q], gets my vote for helpful, knowledgeable staff member who really knows his plants and composts! [‘Verve’ is the chain’s own brandname for all things horticultural]. *I go for their peat-free – BUT have found on routine 1cm x 1cm riddling quite a few lumps of granite and quartz pebbles up to 3cms, pieces of bark/ woody chips up to 10cms long, angular glass shards and odd bits of assorted coloured plastics!! Less than perfect, but by the time I’ve mixed the ‘seived’ material with equal quantities of my ownmade, similarly riddled compost, the resultant admixture used a builders’ bucket, trough, window box and urn filler is a pretty good growing-on medium – given average care in watering and growing conditions.

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