All You Need To Know About Peaty Soil


Peaty soil is almost the exact opposite of chalky soil: the soil has an acidic nature and it has a much higher proportion of organic matter as a result. However, this also means that the soil has fewer nutrients than other types of soil.

Keep it regularly fed with fertiliser though and it could transform to a fantastic medium for growing plants.

Peaty soils are good at retaining water like clay-rich soil and may require drainage to prevent waterlogging and drowning your garden plants. On the plus side however, it dries easily during spring unlike clay – good news if you plan to start earlier with your planting.

Peat is a soil material that’s composed primarily of decomposed organic materials. Peaty soils are common in swamps, marshes, and bogs found in various temperate regions. This type of soil started forming millenniums ago, aided by the rapid melting of glaciers. The glacier meltdown drowned and killed many plants, and underwater, the decay takes a very slow process. This led to organic matter adding up in concentrated spots.

Formed in wet climates, peaty soils are formed by the slow decomposition of layers upon layers of aquatic and semi-aquatic plants.Peaty soil

Precisely the reason why peaty soils have much more organic content than other types of soil.

Matter of fact, peat moss – one of the principle types of peat – is used as poultry litters, mulch, and soil conditioner in agriculture. Growers use it and the acidic water it contains to balance the soil’s pH and keep certain plant diseases at bay.

The decomposition of organic materials in peaty soils is blocked, slowed down by the soil’s high acidity.

This is both good and bad for gardening: Good because it helps ensure that the soil is rich in organic matter, but it’s bad for gardening too as the acidity also means peaty soils aren’t as nutrient-rich as other types of soil.

It’s also important to note that peaty soils are prone to water logging like clay soils – saturating those tiny spaces between soil particles with water. This could suffocate plants and lead to root rot, leading to unhealthy and stifled growth.

But all is not lost. While peat-rich soils are easily saturated with water, they can turn to a good growing medium once drained. And don’t forget to regularly apply fertiliser too, ensuring that your garden’s peaty soil isn’t just rich in organic matter but in nutrients too.

Peaty soils are usually black or dark brown in colour. It’s soft and spongy to the touch, unable to take a solid form even when rolled to a ball. This is due to the soil’s high water content – so high that you can force out water by squeezing a handful of peaty soil.

Its excellent water retention properties are particularly helpful during the dry season when garden plants usually require extra watering. Be careful however as peaty soil can still become very dry during summer and even turn to a fire hazard when left unchecked. Remember, peat is coal’s predecessor and it can be combustible too.

Many agricultural spots across eastern England are very peaty – yet the region has some of the best farmlands in the country. While peaty soil has shortcomings (like other soil types), various garden plants will happily grow in it as they can adjust to the acidic conditions. That said, successfully gardening on peaty soil requires time and effort.

Soils rich in peat heat up easily during spring. That is nice, however, it can also dry out especially during long and extremely hot summers – and it can be quite troublesome to get moist again.

Gardeners are advised to keep a close eye on their soil’s moisture especially during the dry season, ensuring that the ground contains enough water for plants to feed on. Picking plants that thrive on acidic, well-drained soil and don’t mind being under the sun will also go a long way.

The wet season, on the other hand, presents its own set of challenges for gardeners with peaty soil. Such soils contain a lot of organic material (from the dead plants) and this gives it a fibrous structure, which endows the soil with enormous water retention capabilities in turn. This allows peaty soils to remain moist for a very long time – but also prone to waterlogging.

READ MORE: Tips On Building Organic Carbon Stock Of Soils

Some gardeners recommend boosting the soil’s drainage by mixing or kneading grit, sand, and other porosity-boosting materials into the ground.

Digging drainage channels in soils with high peat content is also a good idea.

Peaty soils are acidic and contain a lot of organic matter because of this. These soils, however, are usually lacking in the nutrition department. One can improve its nutritional value by adding mineral materials. Reducing the soil’s acidity through soil amendments like glacial rock dust and compost is another way to enhance the soil’s properties.

Mulching is another soil-enriching technique that you should include in your arsenal. This is the process of covering the soil’s surface with permeable material (at least 5cm), preferably of organic nature like bark chippings, manure, etc.

The organic material is slowly absorbed into the soil as it decomposes and eventually converts to humus. Mulching with organic material not only enriches the soil, it also prevents the ground from quickly drying out and compacting with the slightest pressure – both of which are issues with peaty soil gardening.

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What’s Nice About Peaty Soil
Soils high in peat content have the potential to be excellent growing mediums with proper care. Peaty soils are naturally rich in organic matter since dead, decomposed aquatic and semi-aquatic plants make up a good portion of the soil. Regular application of liquid or organic fertiliser will further enhance the soil’s nutritional value.

READ MORE: Benefits Of Using Plastic Mulch Tech

Peaty soils also easily warm and dry during spring – considered a good trait by gardeners and growers who want to start sowing seeds ahead of time. On the other hand, these soils – thanks to their fibrous structure – can retain water and remain moist for a long time.

What’s Not-So-Nice About Peaty Soil
The same water-retaining properties, however, make peaty soils prone to waterlogging and compaction which can suffocate and stifle the growth of plant roots. Extremely hot and long summers also pose problems for gardeners on peaty soil: the ground dries quickly and rehydrating the soil can prove challenging.


The alpine water fern is a low-growing and compact plant that can grow anywhere from 5cm to 25cm in height. It showcases leaves that feel leathery and dark green in colour while its leaf stalks are red-brown. This variety of fern is fond of moist and well-drained soil as well as sheltered areas; but worry not as the plant is quite a toughie and can survive a variety of conditions.

The common bearberry doesn’t mind growing in poor, not-so-fertile soils – and fertilising it is even advised against! It tolerates light shade but it grows best when grown in full sun and planted in acidic, well-drained, gritty soils. Its branches adopt a reddish brown colour when it matures while the older twigs have a papery and peeling bark. The leaves are dark green in colour but turn to bronze during winter.

Most of the deer fern’s closest relatives – those in the genus Blechnum–thrive in tropical regions. The deer fern, however, has a significantly wider distribution and perhaps this is because of the plant’s toughness. It grows best on acidic soils that are moist, contains a lot of humus, and are well-drained. characterised by short and creeping rhizomes, this fern can grow in part- or full-shade and exhibits good winter hardiness.

The Vilmoriniana is a dwarf and slow-growing conifer that forms a dense, globose bush. This hardy plant thrives in the UK and the rest of Europe – and perhaps part of its popularity is that it doesn’t require any formal pruning to look presentable. It loves moist yet well-drained soil in protected locations.