Science Into Practice - Irrigation for alternative peat substrates

The hardy nursery stock (HNS) sector is the largest user of peat in UK horticulture. Around 450,000cu m of growing medium, of which about 80 per cent is peat, is used annually for HNS production in the UK.

Although at present there is little commercial pressure to reduce peat use, targets have been set to completely phase it out in England in the professional sector by 2030.

Most growers acknowledge that irrigation and nutrient management will need to be modified when using reduced-peat and peat-free substrates. To help develop best irrigation practice during the proposed transition to peat-free production, new experimentally-derived information is required on how alternative media differ in their behaviour and how this difference impacts on irrigation management.

HDC project HNS 182 aims to improve understanding of the "optimum" substrate moisture content for each alternative media and to develop practical irrigation management advice.

Initial results identified the optimum range of substrate moisture contents for a selection of reduced-peat, peat-free and industry standard growing media. More frequent irrigation would be needed to maintain reduced-peat and peat-free media within their optimum ranges, compared to the industry standard growing media.

Irrigation threshold "trigger" values to keep substrate water content within the optimum range have been determined.

Dates for your diary

Soft Fruit Panel Meeting, East Malling Research, Kent, 6 December

Hardy Nursery Stock Panel Meeting, Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire, 15 December

Horticultural Development Company

For details on all HDC activity, visit

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