Grower tries own peat-free formula as initial industry trials disappoint

Grower Blue Ribbon Plants is using its own-formulation peat-free mixes for plants supplied to Wyevale Garden Centres for the first time.

Blue Ribbon has developed a peat-free bedding formulation - photo: Blue Ribbon
Blue Ribbon has developed a peat-free bedding formulation - photo: Blue Ribbon

The move comes as some growers say they were disappointed with initial findings of a Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP)-funded spring bedding trial in peat-free media, carried out by ADAS, at Roundstone Nurseries.

British Protected Ornamentals Association technical committee chairman Michael Smith said of the WRAP trial: "All the growth was considerably slower. Plants would get to market two weeks later than normal. There were very high conductivity levels, which led to classic examples of stunted growth. They also suffered from yellowing leaves and the issue of nutrition uptake."

He added: "We are concerned about how the trial will be presented to the media."

ADAS consultant Neil Gray agreed that trial plants were smaller and bedding scheduling is a problem. But he said green waste could be included as 20 per cent of the medium and that next spring's report would be both "realistic and practical".

Trials consultant Arnie Rainbow explained: "With hindsight it's a pity that controlled-release fertiliser was incorporated as it led to an excess of nutrients, which held the plants back."

More positively, hardy nursery stock producer Boultons of Moddershall is using a peat-free product from Vital Earth for 10 per cent of its stock and plans to go peat-free by 2010, with good results.

Boultons sales manager Lee Melady said: "There's no difference in the quality of plants grown peat-free compared to the other. We've actually found more benefits, such as less leaching and plants being stronger and more compact.

"If growers approach trials with an open mind there's no problem, but there are probably more issues growing bedding in peat-free soil than with hardy nursery stock."

Vital Earth managing director Steve Harper said: "Lots of growers haven't tried peat-free.

"From a recent 10-week trial we did on Impatiens and Begonia the plants in peat-free were more compact and had less liverwort, and needed no additional feed. The peat-based plants had run out by week eight."

BLUE RIBBON PLANTS: PEAT-FREE BEDDING

Peat-free autumn bedding from Chichester-based Blue Ribbon Plants is now available in Wyevale Garden Centres for the first time as the ornamentals industry steps up its efforts to change growing media before the Government's 2010 deadline.

Blue Ribbon sales manager Philip Sanders said owner Walter Back developed the 99 per cent peat-free formulation himself, without participating in any trials.

Sanders added: "We'd heard a lot of bad reports about peat-frees in the past but after our own trial and error this has been incredibly successful. Customers are asking for it and it's available to all, not just Wyevale. This is the first year. Mr Back decided to grow it because he thinks this is the way forward. Everybody is looking at the environment. This change has to happen by 2010.

"Plants started slightly slower but we now grow them side by side and they crop at the same time. You can't tell the difference."

Wyevale buyer Mark Moir said: "I believe they get one less crop a year. I don't think customers will pay any more, but it is prov- ing popular."


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