Growers say gardeners struggle to avoid peat

The Government is urging the phasing out the sale of bags of peat at garden centres, but growers say that gardeners will still find it difficult to avoid buying plants grown in peat due to the lack of viable alternatives for professional growers.

Environment secretary of state Hilary Benn launched a campaign, fronted by TV gardener Diarmuid Gavin, to persuade gardeners not to use peat and for garden centres not to sell it.

Latest Government figures say gardeners only buy growing media with an average of 54% peat in it. But the true figure, if you remove sales of mulches and soil improvers such as bark, is 72%.

Professional growers, particularly bedding and ericaceous plant growers, use 81% peat.

South coast bedding grower and garden centre group Golden Acres Nurseries operations director Simon Edwards said: "As a grower I'm trying to trial reduced/peat free. I want to do that before I'm forced to do it. We have tried growing bedding in coir but it has been a total disaster. Bedding is a fast growing product and because it moves fast it needs certain levels of nutrition."

Surrey-based Millais Nursery owner David Millais said: "What the consumer needs is completely different from what growers need. The Government is tackling what is feasible first-the amateur gardening market.

"Lets be realistic-we're taking something out of the ground and putting it back in. It's not like oil where you are burning it - 95% in Ireland is used in power stations."

He added that he has cut peat use by 40%, making up the difference with 20% bark, 15% humic compost, and 5% coir.

Dorset-based camellia grower Trehane nursery manager Lorraine Keets said: "Peat is the best thing for it. There have been many trials but nothing will do as well as peat unfortunately. Camellia growers have to have peat in their compost. We're going to have to find alternatives but I don't know what. We're still looking - hoping peat still going to be available."

Scottish Rhododendron Society vice president John Hammond said: "I think the compost producing industry has got to sharpen up. A lot of the cheaper varieties grow weeds before the desired seeds germinate. Also the news that someone has caught Legionnaire's Disease from retail compost is disturbing."

Peat-free manufacturer Vital Earth MD Steve Harper said suppliers can meet the target and that he is also keen to talk to growers who want to go peat-free.

William Sinclair MD Danny Adamson said: "What this means for Sinclair is that all the hard work and investment in peat replacement technology will pay off. However, if consumer demand for peat based products remains high and the peat ban is not forced upon retailers, or they chose not to follow this path, we can supply quality peat based growing media. Either way we win."

Devon-based Sherwood Gardens head gardener Vaughan Gallavan, who also grows magnolias and azaleas at Sherwood Cottage nursery, said using leaf mould in the garden has cut the need for using peat. But he said at his small nursery peat substitutes are not good for growing plants on, though they are fine for rooting.

In recognition of the difficulties, Defra recently removed professional growers from peat-reduction campaigns.

Defra will send out a consultation on professional peat use in the summer, but consultant Susie Holmes says this is more likely to be in September.


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