Embracing peat reduction while retaining some traditional approaches

3 May 2022
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One of two recent recruits to our Technical Area Sales Manager team, Stephen Briggs*, belongs to the Millennial generation. Keen to adopt and take advantage of new technologies, he still advocates taking a traditional approach where appropriate.  In 2018, on graduating from University with a degree in Horticulture, Stephen worked for Joseph Rochfords. At this leading Hertfordshire nursery, he oversaw production of a wide range of CNS in peat-reduced and peat-free Levington Advance growing media.  Here Stephen talks about his experiences. 

We are very much in the middle of a transitional period for professional and retail growing media in the UK and Ireland.  Here in England, a ban on peat-based retail growing media is coming in to force in 2024, with professional mixes currently due to follow suit at the end of 2028.  Understanding how to achieve the best results in more sustainable mixes will be a key factor in the ongoing success of the industry. 

While the gardening public is becoming more aware and interested in their own peat usage, commercial growers and garden centres still reliant on peat are being pushed or pulled to adopt peat-reduced, and ultimately peat-free mixes. With Government deadlines fast approaching, this trend is only set to increase. For growers, it is important to understand how these new professional growing media can promote excellent growth in a more sustainable way. 

Practical experience  

On a personal level - both commercially and in my own garden – I’ve always favoured peat-reduced growing medias.  Products I’ve used range from Garden Centre own brand retail bags for my pots and containers at home, to professional mixes containing the latest technologies - Fibagro Advance, Osmocote controlled release fertiliser and H2Gro - to grow high quality CNS.  

I’ve seen at first hand excellent plant growth in Levington Advance mixes - from bedding and herbaceous crops in peat-reduced mixes with overhead and flood bed irrigation, right up to 200L plus rootball trees in a peat-free Levington Advance Sustain mix using drip irrigation - and everything in between.  

Overcoming irrigation concerns  

With newer sustainable mixes, water management remains a concern for some growers.  Whether regarding the initial wetting up, or for maintaining water or rewetting growing media during the height of summer.  In my experience, employing H2Gro water management granules and/or liquid, growers have little to worry about.  

The first watering of a freshly potted crop is vitally important, as the plants needs to be thoroughly wetted.  The water activates the H2Gro granules helping to disperse it around the entire pot and then stays in situ, continuing to aid water management throughout the growing season. 

It is obviously important to monitor the crop throughout the season. In my experience, the top of peat-reduced/free growing media can often look dry. However, the root ball often remains moist - so there is no need to irrigate.   

When using sustainable growing media, it is therefore important to return to more traditional methods to ascertain a crop’s water needs before irrigating - such as feeling the weight of pots and inspecting the root ball for moisture levels. This not only helps reduce water usage, but also minimises the risk of nutrient leaching.  

When changing a growing media mix, it may be necessary to change the length, or frequency, of irrigation cycles. It is good practice to make production staff on the nursery aware of any changes to the mix so they can best monitor the crop. 

Osmocote 5 designed for new mixes 

In terms of plant nutrition, our new Osmocote 5 controlled release fertilizer is perfectly matched to work with peat-reduced and peat-free growing media.  

Its S-Shaped release curve matches plants requirements.  Nutrient release starts off more slowly, encouraging excellent rooting, and then increases – matching the plant’s needs – providing excellent growth and promoting healthy green leaves.    

Meanwhile the chelated trace elements mean that minor nutrients, which are still a vital part of the overall nutrition programme, are made available to plants as and when they are needed.  

As I settle into my new role in the ICL team, I’m looking forward to working with growers in my territory - helping them transition to more sustainable growing media as appropriate, while taking advantage of the many benefits offered by Osmocote 5 and other ICL technologies.