Peat-Free vs Peat-Based Compost: Which is Better?

To peat or not to peat, that is the question! Discover the pros and cons of peat-based compost and suggestions for alternatives.

It’s no secret that I love compost. For those just getting into gardening, compost is decomposed organic matter that can be used as a soil amendment in garden beds and container gardens. It helps vegetables and herbs retain moisture and prevent pests and diseases. Compost has helped my vegetable garden thrive over the years and is my number one recommendation when someone asks me what they can do to improve their soil quality. Compost can be made from worm castings, leaves, and even kitchen scraps. For decades, peat-based compost was a top choice among gardeners for its moisture and nutrient retention.

Peat-based compost is made from peat, a product naturally found in the bottom of waterlogged bogs. There are benefits and drawbacks to using peat-based compost based on what it does to enhance your soil as well as the environmental factors of harvesting peat. Here are some pros and cons of using peat-free compost vs. peat-based compost, to help you make your gardening decisions.

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Peat-based compost


  • Good at holding in nutrients from other sources (fertilizer, other organic matter).
  • Has a naturally low pH level which can be helpful for more acid-loving herbs, fruits, and vegetables, like blackberries, parsley, potatoes, and raspberries.
  • Holds its shape and doesn’t compact which makes it continue to aerate and drain well for years as compared to other types of compost.
  • Really effective at moisture retention.


  • Oftentimes more expensive than other locally sourced compost.
  • Doesn’t have many nutrients to enhance the growth of herbs and vegetables.
  • Susceptible to drying out and hard to re-moisten once dried.
  • Harvesting practices release harmful levels of carbon into the atmosphere and leave peat bogs dry and prone to wildfires.

Peat-free compost


  • Many types of peat-free composts are available to choose from at every price point.
  • You can make your own compost in your backyard using different methods.
  • Peat-free alternatives like coco coir (made from coconut husks) and sheep’s wool waste (pellets made from leftover sheared wool) offer the same moisture retention as peat.
  • Many composts can serve double duty as mulch as well.
  • Most peat-free composts contain healthy microorganisms that offer nutrition and aeration to vegetables and herbs.


  • The composition of compost can vary in texture and material from one scoop to the next and must be well mixed and incorporated.
  • Compost can contain weed seeds that won’t be killed off if compost is does not reach high enough temperatures.
  • Some composts can contain contaminants if not made with correct organic materials.

Bottom line: read your labels and choose what is best for your garden

It would be easy for me to say avoid peat-based compost at all costs, due to environmental concerns. But there are groups of peat manufacturers doing some interesting work around peat conservation that involve more ethical harvesting practices. With more peat-free compost options becoming more affordable, like coco coir used in container garden potting mix, you may consider reducing your peat use. Ultimately the choice is yours. I encourage you to read your compost labels and do your own research to find the best products for your garden.

Do you use any peat-based or peat-free compost products in your garden? Which ones do you like the best? Let me know in the comments!

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By Amanda MacArthur

Amanda MacArthur is Senior Editor & Producer for Food Gardening Network and GreenPrints. She is responsible for generating all daily content and managing distribution across web, email, and social. In her producer role, she plans, edits, and deploys all video content for guides, magazine issues, and daily tips. As a best-selling cookbook author, Amanda cooks using ingredients from her outdoor gardens in the summer and from her indoor hydroponic garden in the winter.

3 replies on “Peat-Free vs Peat-Based Compost: Which is Better?”

Prior to sowing seeds, I sieve my compost and I find peat based compost is easier to sieve.

When I’m pricking out seedlings, I use a pest free or home made compost and everything grows really well. ????

I bought organic Miracle Gro potting soil with coir this year for the moisture-retaining property in containers, but some of my plants died with what looks like fungus or mildew on them and I am wondering if it retains too much moisture and makes problematic conditions? These containers all have adequate drainage and I’ve not had this problem before with other potting mixes. I use my own homemade compost in the garden beds for flowers and vegetables.

I am using Miracle Grow Multi Purpose compost and it is awful. It is full of large hard lumps and a large amount of tough straw like fibres and woody pieces. It is almost as though it has not been chopped or shredded properly. It really is only a step away from bark mulch! It is definitely NOT multi purpose as you cannot use it for potting on or seeds or cuttings.

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