New £1million RHS research project to accelerate horticulture’s transition to peat-free

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has appointed a peat-free postdoctoral fellow to help the horticultural trade transition to sustainable growing media.

A £1million, co-funded, five-year project led by the charity will convene 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.

Five growers initially will work alongside Dr Raghavendra Prasad who has joined the RHS’ 120-strong Science team at RHS Hilltop: Home of Gardening Science this month. They are: Allensmore, Hills Plants, Johnsons of Whixley, The Farplants Group and Vitacress who collectively produce more than 46 million plants every year.

Areas of focus for the group will 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 also be shared ongoing with the wider industry, including specialist nurseries, as well as 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.

The RHS has committed to being entirely peat free by 2025, having banned the sale of peat containing growing media in 2018.

Dr Raghavendra Prasad joins the RHS from Poland where he recently completed his PhD at the University of Life Sciences in Poznan. 

Professor Alistair Griffiths, Director of Science and Collections at the RHS, said: “It’s vital that the RHS works 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 year - stays in the ground.” 

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.”

Dr Gracie Barrett, The Farplants Group: “This is a fantastic opportunity for the horticulture industry to work together to address some of the challenges arising as we move forward into peat-free growing. This collaboration brings together a wealth of technical experience and knowledge from across the whole industry. It is also an ideal forum from which to communicate with gardeners and help them achieve the best possible outcomes in their own gardens.”

David Walmsley, MD of Vitacress Herbs: “Vitacress Herbs is excited to be partnering with the RHS and other partners from across our industry to accelerate progress towards growing peat-free.

“We grow and sell over 16 million pots of culinary and horticulture herbs each year and have made great progress in this area to date. In 2023, all of our horticulture range available in selected garden centres and RHS stores, will be grown peat-free. Through this collaboration, we aim to identify a sustainable growing media which delivers quality plant growth, is safe for food, cost-effective and has a viable long-term supply chain.”

Dr Joshua Burnstone, Fargro's Technical Director: "Fargro are delighted to be involved in this research project with the RHS, the government and some of Britain’s top growers and horticultural experts.

Our technical specialists have been running peat-free trials with a wide variety of growers for several years and in doing so have gained considerable insight and knowledge on how to successfully grow in peat-free media. We are excited to work as part of this project to deliver significant and meaningful progress towards a more sustainable future for all."

Helping gardeners make the switch to peat-free

Q&A with Fargro's Growing Media and Fertiliser Specialist, Sean Whitworth