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Peat-free future?

Peat-free future?

Many of our customers will be aware of the government’s intention to ban the sale of bagged peat sold by garden centres and nurseries from 2023/4. This proposal is part of the government’s current consultation with the horticultural industry. Fewer may be aware that the RHS has banned the use of plants potted in any peat at all from its flower shows from 2025 or that the government has stated its intention to impose a total industry ban on the use of peat as a growing medium from 2028.

As is so often the case, the green lobby, and the welcome desire for carbon neutrality, has overlooked a crucial fact. At present there is still no alternative growing medium available (other than peat) in which HEALTHY AND SALEABLE ERICACEOUS PLANTS CAN BE GROWN. Ericaceous, or acid loving trees and shrubs, make up 50-60% of our plant catalogue and include all the rhododendrons, camellias and magnolias for which we are well known.

Why is this?

Peat has a low pH of 5-6 and an excellent capacity to hold air and water to ensure that the plants’ roots will develop and thrive. Peat replicates the soils and growing mediums in which ericaceous plants grow on the mountainsides of China in their wild habitats. Other non-peat composts made from green waste, coir bark (imported from the Far East), pine needles or woodchip demonstrably do not have these same attributes which are essential for growing ericaceous or acid loving plants.

It is notable that our European competitors in Holland and elsewhere are not proposing a similar peat ban. One must assume that growers and nurserymen have been able to explain to their governments the damage to their businesses that a peat ban would bring. If there is a quick peat ban many UK growers will be forced to close while European growers then take over our market.

It is all a complex and difficult problem to explain to our customers who do understand the need to respond to climate change.

So this is what we are now doing in the nursery:

    1. Our ericaceous plants are now being potted in a 60% peat : 40% bark compost mix rather than a pure peat mix

    2. From the autumn 2021 we have begun potting nearly all our herbaceous (NON ericaceous) plants in green waste and non-peat composts. This is being supplied to us by a local Cornish business, The Green Waste Company.

    3. We have greatly increased the range of peat free bagged composts for sale from the nursery and used as soil improvers in gardens

    4. We have conducted a series of our own trials growing a range of ericaceous and non-ericaceous plants in peat free composts. The results for ericaceous plants are disastrous, but pleasantly surprising for herbaceous (non-ericaceous) plants. We are not surprised by these results as they are exactly what growers, compost manufacturers, and scientists have known for decades. You can see the results of our trials as submitted to the government consultation on request.

As growers, Burncoose absolutely supports the UK government’s moves towards becoming peat free. The destruction of peatbogs for fuelling power stations and fireplaces is obviously ridiculous. However peatbogs are self-sustaining and self-regenerating if peat is harvested sustainably for a limited range of horticultural uses.

That is why our plea to the government consultation, and to the RHS, is to allow a derogation for the continued use of peat in growing certain specialist categories of ericaceous (and other) plants. If a peat alternative is developed, which works as well as peat, in the coming years then we would, of course, switch to using it in the nursery.

In the meantime, a blanket ban on peat, as is now proposed, risks the gradual removal from propagation and flower shows of many of the woodland garden plants which we cherish most. The longer term implications for the historic plant collections of ericaceous plants in our great UK gardens merits serious consideration.

Dogma needs to be replaced by a common sense derogation. Otherwise Burncoose Nurseries has a difficult few years ahead.   As part of our need for a discussion on this our Gold Medal winning Chelsea Flower Show Stand this year was all abou this, you can read more here.....

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