New £1m RHS research project to accelerate transition to peat-free

RHS appoints dedicated researcher to help the horticultural trade move over to sustainable growing media

Young acer plants in peat-free compost

The RHS has appointed a postdoctoral fellow to support the horticultural trade in moving towards peat-free, sustainable growing media.

The £1 million, co-funded, five-year project led by the RHS convenes government, growers and growing media manufacturers, through the Growing Media Association and horticultural product supplier Fargro, to research sustainable alternatives to peat in large-scale commercial settings.
Based in RHS Hilltop – The Home of Gardening Science at RHS Garden Wisley, Dr Raghavendra Prasad is currently working with eight growers. Dr Prasad joined the 120-strong RHS Science team from Poland, where he recently completed his PhD at the University of Life Sciences in Poznan. The eight growers are Allensmore, Hills Plants, Johnsons of Whixley, The Farplants Group, Vitacress, Hillier, Lovania and Volmary, who collectively produce around 143 million plants every year.

“It’s vital that we work collaboratively with industry and government to research new, peat-free growing media technologies.”  

Professor Alistair Griffiths, Director of Science and Collections at the RHS, said: “It’s vital that we work collaboratively with industry and government to research new, peat-free growing media technologies. We know there are already many peat alternatives out there, and even more as yet untapped, so we need to collaborate to develop and share best practice guidance to ensure that peat – which when intact, can store carbon for thousands of years – stays in the ground.”  
 Peat bogs like this one are invaluable in mitigating climate changeAbove: peat bogs store huge amounts of carbon when left intact, and are valuable habitat

Focus areas

Areas of focus for the group include peat-free plant and plug plant production, new growing media technologies to replace the estimated 1.7m m3 of peat used by the UK horticultural industry in 2021, growing protocols, best practice use of the latest products, and developing peat-free solutions for challenging plant groups such as carnivorous and ericaceous species.

Findings will be shared with the wider industry, including specialist nurseries. They will also be shared with the UK’s 30 million home and community gardeners who, armed with a better understanding of sustainable alternatives and best practice advice, can aid the transition to peat-free.

Peat-free plants growing in a nurseryCollaborating with industry

We have committed to being entirely peat-free by 2025, having banned the sale of peat-containing growing media in 2018.

“We are pleased to part-fund this ambitious project, which will develop peat-free alternatives to protect nature and create green jobs.”

Environment Minister Trudy Harrison said: “We are pleased to part-fund this ambitious project which will develop peat-free alternatives to protect nature, and create green jobs. Ahead of our future phase-out of peat, this project will support the Government and society to keep peat healthy and in the ground where it belongs. Healthy peatland will lock up carbon, strengthen our resilience to drought, and serve as a powerful nature-based solution to climate change.”

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