Peat-free 2L luxury Poinsettias with zero wastage | Bridge Farm

4 mins

Last year Bridge Farm Horticulture trialled ICL’s Levington Advance Sustain Poinsettia mix in its premium 2L range – this year it plans to grow all 100,000 in this peat-free mix.

Delivering over 70million plants and cut flowers to UK retailers and consumers annually, from October to December the company dedicates its three state-of-the-art Lincolnshire production sites to Poinsettias. The production team, led by head grower Antonio Rodrigues, produce 1.3million Poinsettias annually – making Bridge Farm the UK’s largest producer.

While trialling over 150 varieties, each year, four traditional red varieties are selected and supplied to leading UK supermarkets M&S, Waitrose, Sainsburys, Tesco and Morrison – as well as B&Q. While the crops are grown in peat-reduced growing media, over 20% of production has already transitioned into peat-free.


Providing solutions

“We grow the plants very dry to keep them within the size specification while avoiding the need for growth regulators,” explains Pawel Jacewicz, head grower at the Horseshoe site, near Spalding.  “When we first experimented with peat-free mixes we found them too dry and light. Flooding the benches made the pots float – we needed to change how we grew them.”

As advised by ICL Technical Area Sales Manager Carl Mason, Pawel incorporated ICL’s H2Gro wetting agent into his existing peat-free mix.  “It proved successful – improving the water management of the crop and resolved the floating issues,” says Pawel.

“Following Carl’s advice, we began using the Peters Professional water solubles range to fix occasional nutrient deficiency problems – again, it worked very well. However, we still weren’t 100% happy with the peat-free Poinsettia crop quality – the 2L plants were slightly too compact, with some varieties performed better than others.

“That’s when we decided to carry out further peat-free trials. We wanted a mix that would improve rooting, to help secure these large plants, and ultimately optimise their shelf life.”

Pawel Jacewicz – head grower at the Horseshoe site.


First impressions

In 2023 Bridge Farm took delivery of its first 7m3 of Levington Advance Sustain peat-free Poinsettia mix and potted up 6,800 plugs in 2litre pots.

“When the ICL peat-free growing medium arrived on the nursery it looked very different to our existing mix,” says Antonio.  “Containing coir, bark, perlite and high amounts of Fibagro woodfibre, it felt different to the ‘fluffier’ peat-free medium we were using – it felt noticeably heavier.”

“As peat alternatives tend to be less hydrophilic than peat, to aid water management our mix contains H2Gro liquid,” says Carl Mason. “To supplement the water-soluble feeding regime, the mix contains a low rate of PG base fertiliser, Osmoform – our slow release Nitrogen fertiliser which releases over a period of 10 weeks helping to minimise leaching, Osmocote controlled release fertiliser and lime.

“This Poinsettia mix also contains our new biostimulant – Vitalnova Triboost,” explains Carl. “A microbial inoculant, it promotes a healthy microbiome in sustainable growing media mixes, helping boost plant vitality – optimising plant quality while minimising losses.

“Compared to peat-based mixes, peat-reduced growing media mixes contain fewer beneficial microbes due to how they are processed. Conveniently added to mixes during manufacture, Vitalnova TriBoost greatly amplifies the microbial content of sustainable mixes delivering a raft of benefits.” 


Performance in trial

“The Levington Advance Sustain performed well through our planting lines – it flowed really well, better than the other media,” says Antonio.  “Our rooted plugs are planted directly into the final 2litre pot.  Rooting in peat-free is slightly slower than in peat media and the mix needs slightly lower nutrients levels, in particular Nitrogen at the start.”

During the trial, the plants potted into the ICL peat-free Poinsettia mix had the same watering regime as the rest of the crop.

“We noticed the Levington Advance Sustain held the water better and dried out more evenly – we didn’t get sudden drop in moisture content,” says Antonio. “This is particularly important when flowers/bracts are opening in weeks 48-49 through to 51.   It is crucial the growing media holds the water otherwise the bracts burn.  We also observed the plant growth was under better control, slightly slower than the other peat-free mixes, but resulted in sturdier plants with stronger stems.  These stood up well to our ‘drop test’ – with all bracts remaining attached.”

When it came to marketing the crop, all the 2L Poinsettias grown in the Levington Advance Sustain were sold. “There was zero wastage,” says Pawel “The trial was so successful we’re moving are entire 2litre production, 100,000 plants, into this peat-free mix. This year we’re also going to trial ICL’s mix in our smaller pot sizes.”

On the strength of these results, Bridge Farm is also working closely with ICL on peat-free mix for its Cyclamen, vegetable plants and its latest diversification – foliage plants.

“While the ICL peat-free growing media performs really well, Carl also provides us with good support – he comes with solutions to problems,” says Antonio.

Left – grown in peat-free Levington Advance Sustain.  Right – grown in peat-reduced Levington Advance.