“Trial peat-free substrates as soon as you can,” Hendrik Out urges other growers. “I believe peat-free and peat-reduced are the future.”
Trailblazers since the beginning
Hendrik is speaking after trialing peat-free Jiffy Substrates for Hebe addenda at his family-owned Out Nursery in Holland. Part of the Addenda Group, Out grows more than a million Hebes, Buddleias, and other shrubs every year. Now in its third generation, the nursery was an early adopter of non-chemical fertilizers and plant protection products.
Hendrik realized peat-free was the natural next step after he read about moves to phase out peat in the UK and Germany. While horticulturalists have taken up the challenge to switch to renewables, nurseries have tended to lag behind. Not Hendrik: In 2020, he contacted Dennis Colpa, his long-time Jiffy Account Manager, to get the ball rolling at Out. He wanted to find out: Would peat-free work for shrubs?
Taking peat-free outdoors
“It was good to hear that Jiffy’s peat-free mixes were compatible with our machines and that their Innovation Team was continually working to improve water-holding,” says Hendrik. “But I didn’t foresee the truly challenging circumstances we would face in 2022!”
Out ran a successful indoor trial on 10,000 Hebes in 2021, but everyone knew that the real test for peat-free would be the field Hebes. So Hendrik and Dennis took the trial outdoors this year. It turned out to be the hottest, driest summer on record.
Hendrik used four different Hebe varieties in the outdoor peat-free trial. He decided to place them among the plants growing in a conventional mix and give them exactly the same treatment. Because Hebes are a notoriously thirsty crop, they were all irrigated twice a day as usual, but Out’s fields cannot be flooded as they are at some other nurseries.
The 2022 results
Hendrik monitored the peat-frees carefully, taking photos of the maturing plants and their roots throughout the growing process. Once again, the final results for all the varieties were excellent. “The peat-free plants all passed the test in terms of leaf color, crop-cycle length, flowering, and plant volume,” confirms Hendrik. “In fact, our customers didn’t notice any difference.”
During the trials, Hendrik and his agronomist noted that the peat-free plants needed additional attention from time to time. The substrate’s lower EC levels meant buffering capacities were reduced, and higher pH levels blocked access to some nutrients – levels rose from 5.5 to 6.5 and even 7.
Working side-by-side with Jiffy
“We regularly tested the peat-free substrate and run-off water so we could prevent issues from arising,” says Hendrik. “Dennis stayed right on top of the figures and was involved throughout. In fact, he proactively visited the nursery four or five times during the trials.”
“Jiffy and I have always worked together as partners. I know I can reach out to Dennis if I have questions and any problems are resolved fast. We’re already talking about how to get better buffering next time.”
Luckily, the composition of all Jiffy Substrates – including peat-free – can be optimized for a wide variety of crops. Out’s next trial is planned for 2023, but it won’t involve Hebes. “We’ve proved that we can grow those peat-free,” says Hendrik proudly. “Buddleias are up next.”
Experience peat-free substrates now
“To anyone nervous about renewables, I would say, experience peat-free or peat-reduced substrates for tree nurseries now, before the decision is taken out of your hands. Find out how your crop responds in different weather conditions, on your subsoil, and everything else that makes your nursery unique. Prove to yourself that peat-free can deliver great results.”