Our Compost for Nature guide is now available! Download for FREE here: Compost for Nature

For years, the garden and landscape industry has been selling us peat moss as “compost.” In reality, this is an inaccurate use of the term “compost.” Peat moss and compost are very different. Peat is produced over thousands of years in a waterlogged bog without air. On the other hand, compost is made in less than a year from the decomposition of plant material in the presence of oxygen.

Find more information and resources about composting below.

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What are bogs/peatlands?

Peatlands or bogs are wild and open wetlands containing 90% water and 10% dead and decaying plants. Healthy peatlands have a water table within 20cm of the surface throughout the year. Peat is the result of the accumulation of partially decayed plants over thousands of years. The dead plants don’t decompose because they grow in waterlogged, slightly acidic conditions where there is little oxygen which prevents bacteria and fungi, the agents of decay, from working. This lack of decomposition results in the peat being a nutrient poor soil type.

Why are bogs so important?

As intact ecosystems, peatlands can collect and store carbon, absorb and purify water, protect against floods and support a wide range of biodiversity. Peatlands have been described as the ‘Cinderella’ habitat of Ireland - overworked and valued only for the peat beneath the living surface of the bog. Today, both peatland research and public awareness initiatives highlight how valuable peatland ecosystems are.

Some of these benefits include:
• A rich and diverse habitat for biodiversity

• Water retention for flood control

• Carbon storage or sequestration to combat climate change

• A food source for wildlife, including endangered species

• Recreation opportunities such as hiking and bird watching

• An inspiration to artists and poets

• A repository of Irish history

Did you know that peatlands have been called ‘climate change champions’? They store more carbon than any other terrestrial habitat in the world, including the Amazon rainforest!

The good news is that there is another more sustainable way to nurture soil health which is underpinning the emerging organic farming and gardening movements. There is now a recognition that soil is alive with an ecosystem that needs to be supported. This helps raise vibrant plants and produce more nutritious food without relying on toxic chemical inputs. For this to happen, the ecosystem in the soil needs to be fed organic matter to sustain itself and thrive.

By using peat-free compost, animal manures, winter cover crops and/or natural, mineral and organic fertilisers, you can build healthy soils for growing productive gardens and beautiful landscapes.

How to garden without peat

Hobby gardeners, professional landscapers and horticulturalists all have an opportunity to protect our remaining peatlands by:

  • Avoiding the purchase of plants grown in potting mixes containing peat and using peat-free soil additives, potting soils and “compost” which mostly come from industrially harvested bogs.

  • Asking your garden centre to supply plants grown in peat-free potting mixes and to stock peat-free compost.

  • Propagating the plants you need from seed at home using a seed starting mix of 1/2 peat-free sieved compost and 1/2 sand; and by making your own potting mix of 1/3 sieved peat-free compost and 2/3 garden soil.

  • Composting at home. It’s really easy once you know how. To get started with composting today continue reading our guide to find out more!

This publication was produced with the assistance of the Peatlands Community
Engagement Scheme, administered by the Department of Housing, Local Government
and Heritage. The views expressed herein are entirely those of An Taisce.

Did you miss our Composting 101 webinar with Dr. Compost, Craig Benton for Biodiversity Week 2022?
Watch back here.

Webinar Slides Part 1
Webinar Slides Part 2
Wormery Info Sheet

Help us to preserve Ireland's rich heritage, protect
 our beautiful nature, and slow climate change. 

Now more than ever we need to act to protect nature and create a better future for us all.

To join An Taisce or gift someone a membership click below.