What is peat? Types and how to use it

What is peat Types and how to use it
What is peat Types and how to use it

Everyone who is involved in gardening, or at least houseplants, knows that peat is a very necessary and useful thing. Peat is part of various soil mixtures and is almost an obligatory ingredient.

But not every gardener is aware of its use in these mixtures and how it works. Many people think of peat as a fertilizer, and because they think it’s never enough, they always add it everywhere.

But do they really need it? Let’s wait and see.


First, let’s remember where and how this peat is formed. A large number of plants, animals, and microorganisms live in any body of water. Sooner or later their life cycle comes to an end and all of them die.

In rivers, their remains are washed away by the current, but in standing water reservoirs they gradually settle to the bottom year after year, overlapping each other and being held down by the water column. And this process is happening all the time. The bogs are the best variant of it – peat formation in conditions of 100% humidity and absence of air.

But there are various kinds of peat because the process is ongoing: part of the remains was “processed” and decomposed a long time ago, i.e. thousands of years ago, while the remains of the upper part are still in the process of “processing”.

Depending on the degree of decomposition, a distinction was made between.

  1. the peat of the lower layer – the “lowland” – is completely decomposed and has a neutral reaction (pH 4.2-5.5).
  2. top layer of peat – “top” – poorly decomposed, in which there are strong physical and chemical transformations. It is distinguished by its high acidity (pH 2.5-3.2), fibrous structure, and low content of mineral elements.

Of course, there is also transitional peat, which seems to be intermediate, located between high and low peat. The process in it is not fully completed, so it has a weak acid reaction (pH 3.2-4.2), but it already has enough nutrients and various trace elements.

Figuratively speaking, peat is a kind of submerged compost. However, in contrast to real compost, it must be used skillfully, knowing all its characteristics.

Often, inexperienced but wealthy gardeners will buy large quantities of peat and use it exclusively as compost – generously sprinkling it on flower beds and root balls, expecting a good harvest or adding decorative value to their plants. But this is wrong.


While peat is an organic fertilizer – it is basically a mixture of completely or semi-decomposed plant residues. And you shouldn’t expect peat to immediately increase soil fertility. In fact, peat does not contain many nutrients.

Its nitrogen content may range from 0.6 to 2.5% (upland peat), from 1.3 to 3.8% (lowland peat), and trace elements. up to 250 mg/kg of Zn, 0.2-85 mg/kg of Cu, 0.1-10 mg/kg of Co and Mo, and 2-1000 mg/kg of Mn.

This amount cannot significantly saturate the soil of your plot with nutrients. But peat can still improve the structure of the soil considerably, making it lose, or as they say, air – and water.

In such a soil, where air and moisture penetrate quickly to the roots and stay there for a long time, the plants develop better and therefore will have a good crop and look beautiful.

Therefore, the main function of peat as a fertilizer is to improve the quality of the soil itself, not its nutrition. In this case of peat fertilization, the roots of the plants are better able to extract all the necessary nutrients that are already present or that we make in the form of organic or mineral fertilizers. And this is probably the main characteristic of peat application in the garden.

If you have black or yellow soil, a yellow soil rich in nutrients, it does not make sense to apply it. It won’t do anything, and the “you can’t spoil your porridge with butter” argument doesn’t work here. No, it won’t, but knowing the price of peat, why waste money?

That’s a different matter altogether – the soil is clay or sand-poor, i.e. non-structural. Here, peat works very well as a fertilizer. It loosens the clay soils, allows the roots to develop properly, and gives the sandy soil structure that allows it to retain water and nutrients well.

This gives rise to the main rule for applying peat – use it only in combination with other types of fertilizers: organic or mineral fertilizers. Peat is simply a reservoir, a storehouse, an aid in retaining nutrients in the soil, especially in the root zone.


In principle, plants can be grown in pure peat as long as they are regularly fertilized. Incidentally, this is how plants are grown for sale in container production because the cost of transporting plants depends directly on the weight, and pure peat is much lighter than a fully nutritious soil mixture. But, again, this is only possible with conventional artificial plant nutrition.

In practice, in-home gardening, 30-40 kg of peat is spread over an area of 1 m2 and dug out on the bayonet of a spade. This can be done both in autumn and in spring.

If finances allow, this is done. Many gardeners use a more economical option – making peat compost. In principle, it is produced no differently from ordinary compost, but instead of mixing with clean soil, the plant waste layer is mixed with soil to which peat has been added.

In this case, the nitrogen in the peat will be more available to the plants, while the peat will retain all the nutrients.

The result is a friable mixture that is nutritious and economical. What could be better for us and our plants than that? Another option is to mix peat with black soil, sod, or hummus and add this mixture to your poor soil.

By the way, properly prepared peat compost is considered to be even better in value than manure and requires less manure.

Often you can read or hear about options for using peat as a mulching material. For example, spread a 2-3inch (5-8cm) layer of peat in the root circle every year: moisture will be retained, weeds will not germinate, and the peat itself will feed the plant. Not quite so.

In fact, under the influence of hot air, peat quickly dries out, losing nutrients and – most importantly – moisture. Such peat is difficult to dehumidify again, and a gust of wind can blow it into the neighbor’s ground.

Therefore, in order to properly use peat as a ground cover, lay it on the surface during the wet season, and when the heat and drought begin – immediately dig it thoroughly over a depth of half a bayonet and mix peat and soil evenly. Only then can the peat function as a mulch.


All the above methods of amending the soil with peat refer to lowland and midland peat, which is nearly neutral in acidity. But acid peat with a pH of 3-4 is also available on the market.

What is its use? Especially for those plants that need slightly acidic or even acidic soil to thrive. Popular examples: hydrangeas, heathers, blueberries, azaleas, rhododendrons.

When organizing planting sites or flower beds for such plants, it is the acidic permaculture peat that is used as one of the components of the soil mixture. In addition, the same acidic peat regularly covers these plants, supporting acidity at the right level.

Terrestrial peat itself has a fibrous structure (not yet fully decomposed) and a high water capacity (up to 70%). These properties are also usually used when growing “normal” plants, which prefer the neutral response of the soil. How? By neutralizing their excessive acidity beforehand with alkaline garden preparations (quicklime and dolomite).

What are the advantages of this peat? As part of the soil mix, its fibrous structure retains water well and nutrients do not flake off over time, allowing the roots to develop evenly in all directions. The peat does not decompose for a long time, so it “works” for a long time without leaching into the lower layers of the soil.

Mulch made from such peat has good insulating properties, and the roots of plants do not freeze in winter and do not overheat in summer. Such peat is also suitable for growing potted and container plants – in which the root system grows easily and evenly.


So, what do you need to know when using peat on your plot?

  1. Peat itself does not nourish plants, but it helps them to better absorb other fertilizers.
  2. Soil containing peat becomes more structured, consisting of blocks and pores like a sponge. This type of soil holds water, air, and nutrients well.
  3. It only makes sense to use peat on poor, infertile, or depleted soils.
  4. Peat is considered to be a natural preservative that inhibits the development of harmful fungi and bacteria.
  5. Peat (upland) regulates the acidity of the soil and adapts it to the needs of plants.

There is another interesting point. Not long ago, a liquid preparation was developed, which was introduced for production and sale on the basis of extracted peat. There, the peat is treated in a special way, enriching it with nitrogen and retaining all the inherent microelements and nutrients.

However, in this case, peat loses its main quality – the improvement of the soil structure. Therefore, it is up to you to decide.

Fertile soil and good harvests go to you!

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