Keen to create your very own Wild Space, or add to your existing Wild Space? Here’s how to use peat-free products for all of your planting activities.

Do you need compost?

Your first thought when adding butterfly and moth-friendly plants to your Wild Space might be that you need compost. But before you head out to a garden centre and load up on bags, consider whether you need to. Lots of Wild Spaces already have soils that have the right nutrients and structure to grow a variety of plants, as well as fruits and vegetables. You can check the type of soil you have in your Wild Space using simple home testing kits, and working with your existing growing conditions helps you to get the best results with minimal input. You can also often sow seeds directly into soil without the need for growing in compost, especially for annual flowers like Cornflowers and Poppies, as well as leafy and root vegetables.

If you do decide to use peat-free products in your Wild Space, here’s which are best for each type of job. Happy planting!

Using peat-free for seeds and cuttings

When sowing seeds and rooting cuttings you will need to use compost with certain properties. Most seeds (not all) are sown into compost which is well-drained but holds moisture, and which is low in nutrients. Low-nutrient soil is advised for seeds so that the seedlings do not grow too quickly and experience damage.

If you are using home-made compost or local authority compost you will need to alter it to make it better for seedlings. First, sieve the compost to remove large pieces, so that it has a fine texture. Then add non-organic material, such as fine sand, perlite, or fine grit, that won’t break down and release nutrients. At least 20% of the total compost should be from one of these inorganic sources.

It is important that the compost is relatively airy and light and doesn’t hold too much water, as damp compost can result in plant diseases such as Damping off.

Cuttings also require low nutrient levels and airy soils. For this, mix peat-free compost with sharp sand (50/50 mix).

Using peat-free for flower borders

Growing plants in borders is one of the most sustainable ways to grow. Depending on what types of plants you’d like to grow you will need to treat the soil in different ways. Gardeners often use compost to prepare beds for planting, to mulch existing beds to keep down weeds and retain water, and to add nutrients. For all these purposes, choose home-made compost, local authority compost, peat-free multi-purpose compost, composted bark, or coir.

If you have a new flowerbed which you are preparing for new plants, you can dig any of these composts into the beds. Doing this will help to improve drainage on heavy or compacted soils, while improving the ability of dry and sandy soil to store nutrients and hold water.

Many people will apply a ‘mulch’ to flower borders each year. ‘Mulch’ is a layer of any material applied to the soil surface to suppress the growth of annual weeds and help retain moisture deeper in the soil. A layer of compost at least 5cm deep on the surface is enough to do the job. Invertebrates, like worms, will then break the compost down further, making the nutrients available to plants. Composted bark is ideal for this purpose, but you can use any of the composts we’ve already mentioned.

If planting a new tree or shrub you can add any of these composts to the planting hole to provide more nutritious compost for the roots to grow into while the tree or shrub is becoming established.

Using Peat-free for hanging baskets and containers

Whether you love hanging baskets or containers around your house or garden, adding a splash of colour to a patio or terrace, or on a windowsill or balcony, these will brighten up any Wild Space.

For successful hanging basket or container planting, you will need compost that holds both water and nutrients well. You can use home-made compost, local authority compost or peat-free multi-purpose compost.

Depending on the source and composition of each of these, you can improve water retention by adding 10-20% vermiculite or perlite to the mix. Both vermiculite and perlite can absorb a lot of moisture when you water the plants, releasing it slowly to sustain your plants. Be aware, small containers will dry out more quickly than large ones.

All composts lose their nutrients relatively quickly when in pots or hanging baskets but there are things you can do to help. In larger pots put a layer of rich organic matter like well-rotted farmyard manure or rich home-made compost at the bottom, for the roots to reach. For smaller pots and hanging baskets mix in slow-release fertiliser pellets, which will feed your plants over a period of time. If you are buying bags of peat-free multi-purpose compost, you likely won’t have to add any pellets in the first year, but if you are re-using the compost in subsequent years, you can add the pellets by forking them into the soil in the springtime.

Top tip: Reduce the amount of watering your pots and baskets need by covering the surface of the soil with light-coloured pebbles or grit to reduce the amount of water that evaporates from the surface.

Top tip: Use plants that don’t need as much water in hanging baskets, such as Sedum and Nasturtiums.

Using peat-free for fruit and vegetable growing

Depending on what you are growing and where you are growing it, different peat-free composts are useful.

‘Hungry’ crops like peas, beans, courgettes, pumpkins, and tomatoes all prefer composts which are rich in nutrients and able to hold moisture well, while still being well-drained. If you are growing them in the ground or in raised beds, use a mulch of peat-free multipurpose, home-made or local authority compost. They will still need to be watered regularly in the summer, and fed with high-potash liquid feed when they begin to make flowers (eg tomato feed or home-made comfrey liquid feed for any of these fruiting crops). We don’t advise growing crops like these in small containers, as small pots are prone to drying-out which will stunt the growth of plants and result in low yields. If growing in containers, choose a large one (more than 50cm across) and improve the water and nutrient-retention of the compost by, for example, covering the surface with fresh compost or gravel. Small pots and containers are more suited to growing herbs like Thyme, Rosemary, Chives and Basil.

Vegetables that grow underground such as potatoes, carrots and onions all require different conditions. Potatoes require very rich soil, so digging home-made compost or local authority compost into your soil can improve it. Spreading a mulch of fine peat-free compost over the soil surface can make it more suitable for onions and carrots, which prefer well-drained soil with few stones and solid lumps of compost.

The great news is this almost any Wild Space can accommodate some form of fruit or veg growing, work with what you’ve got and set yourself up for a bountiful harvest by using the right tools (and peat-free compost!) for the job!

For more top tips and advice for your Wild Space, visit Let's Create Wild Spaces - Wild Spaces (