Many people feel that using peat in the garden is environmentally irresponsible, and are looking for alternatives. This article describes coir and leaf mould as alternatives to peat.
Coir is now widely available locally. It comes from coconut husks (a by-product of coconut processing for food) and you can get it in various textures ranging from coarse chunks to quite fine fibres. It soaks up and holds water well. One big advantage over peat when used in potting soil is that it doesn’t shrink and pull away from the side of the pot if it dries out. The biggest downside to coir for us in Canada is that it has to be transported long distances from its source in India, Sri Lanka and the Pacific.
Leaf mould is not something you buy, it’s something you make in your own garden from local leaves. As such, it’s free in terms of dollars, but it takes time – a little of your time to gather the leaves and store them in a way that will allow them to transform themselves, and several years for the transformation to happen. It’s a long term project but one which can become part of your garden schedule.
Leaf mould contains a range of micronutrients for plants, and is normally about pH neutral. It holds water very well. You make it by stacking leaves in a big pile and leaving it to rot, or by filling plastic garbage bags with leaves and letting them rot. Because leaves are decomposed mostly by fungi, oxygen isn’t needed as much as with a compost pile, but moisture definitely is. Some kind of enclosure is useful to keep the leaves from blowing away. Shredding them before storing will speed up decomposition, but unshredded leaves will work fine, just take longer. A mix of leaves will rot better than all one kind, and adding a bit of compost or soil to the pile will get things started more quickly.