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Peat-Free Compost Trials

Monday 6th November 2023

Over the last four years, I have tested the varieties of the compost and bulbs we sell.  I do this for a couple of reasons: one, it is important we know and are happy with the product we sell; and two, I need to check that the bulbs actually grow.

I started with Taylors Bulb collections to see if they grew and, over the years, I have been delighted with the display as the different bulbs appear and flower.  I thoroughly recommend them.  However, the compost used does also make a difference and my experience of Taylors Peat-Free Bulb Fibre was so bad I have not used bulb fibre since.  Surprisingly, bulbs planted into Melcourt Peat-Free Ericaceous did the best – I only used this compost as I had a spare pot and lots of Ericaceous compost!  The wool compost has consistently grown bulbs well too.

Summer flowering Plants into Peat-free and Peat-reduced compost.

My trials are interesting but, as each batch of compost is different, it is difficult to really judge.

TPMC Levington Tree and Shrub Peat-Reduced Planting Compost proved disappointing in 2023.  I think it is too barky and lacking the food it used to contain.  However, I would use it to plant trees in heavy clay soil to help break up the clay but not for summer bedding.

Wool Compost is peat-free and very good for bulbs.  It does retain the moisture better than others but lacks food.  Used as summer bedding, it tends to start well and then fizzle out.

Ericaceous is surprisingly good with bulbs but also disappointing with summer bedding.

Melcourt Sylvagrow is getting better.  This was the first peat-free compost I ever used and it dried out and starved the plants to start with. However, last summer my plants did well in it, but even when I mixed it with some John Innes No 2 it ran out of steam so I think food needs to be added.

Humax Peat-Reduced is the easiest.  It holds the water and the plants grow away fast but even this runs out of steam by the end.


Planting into peat-free and peat-reduced compost is challenging.  We need to change our approach and routine of adding fertilizer to a more frequent basis and water much more.  At the nursery we now leave plants in water trays during the dry months to help the pots retain water but you still need to regularly water over the top of the roots as some plants are unable to take up water from water trays. It’s important to water little and often as, once a hard crust has formed on the top of the plant, this is very difficult to rehydrate especially if the pots are small. You will also need to water evenly otherwise half the plant will not receive water.

In the nursery this summer we have fed all our plants twice through the year with a slow-release fertilizer.  Traditionally, we only fed plants when we potted them.

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