Do you know that Peat Moss is one of the oldest soil amendments that many gardens have used since the mid-1990s?
Peat moss is one of the most recommended fertilizers today in many gardening tutorials.
Moreover, peat moss has a remarkable ability to efficiently manage water and hold on to the nutrients that would otherwise leach out of the soil.
Though the dark-brown fibrous material can be very useful for growing plants, however, there is much debate on its environmental safety.
It is important to note that this material provides beneficial bacteria and is a natural fungicide for your garden plants.
This one comes in a number of forms and is used for soil amendments, especially for acid-living plants.
You can also add it to the potting soil to create water retention and aeration.
Keep in reading to learn more about it in detail.
Peat moss is a soil amendment that comes from harvesting the peat bogs.
Many of these bogs can be found in the wetland areas of Canada. Moreover, over the course of a long time, these bogs form as organic materials partially decompose.
Because of the water in these bogs, anaerobic conditions are able to survive.
Such conditions that retard full decomposition and as a result, peat most can be preserved almost indefinitely.
In some cases, you might have heard gardeners using the term “peat” for short “peat moss”, however, both of these are different.
The term “peat” is a broader term. While “peat moss” is just one of the products that come from harvesting the peat bogs.
Other kinds of peat come from the partial decomposition of other organic materials.
The “moss” in “peat moss” refers to sphagnum moss, for instance: Sphagnum cymbifolium.
You can commonly find peat moss as bales that are covered in plastic at home improvement centers.
When you open the bag, the substance you will find resembles a very dark, caked-up soil.
Difference between Peat Moss and Sphagnum Moss
Both peat moss and sphagnum moss are closely related, however, these two terms are not synonymous.
Here is how the two are different:
First, Sphagnum can also refer to a living plant, and are about 120 species of this type of moss plant.
Moreover, Sphagnum moss is native to a number of countries across the globe, however, is especially prevalent in the Northern Hemisphere.
On the other hand, Peat Moss does not refer to something living and is something long dead.
Just like peat moss, sphagnum is harvested for the horticulture trade.
For instance, it is commonly used to line wire baskets for hanging plants.
On the other hand, you can also use sphagnum moss for the same purpose and is used to grow in nature not so long ago.
Moreover, you can tell from its appearance that is a type of moss, whereas, peat moss bears more of a resemblance to the soil.
Using Peat Moss
You can use Sphagnum Peat Moss in soilless potting mixes, just like other gardeners.
Therefore, if you intend to start planting indoor plants from seeds, then you have already used peat moss for them.
A soilless potting mix is better to use when starting from seeds than regular soil.
This is because:
- regular soil is often heavy for plants that are sprouting from seeds and the tender roots often have trouble pushing through it.
- drainage is also poorer in regular soil and the seeds may rot in it before they get a chance to sprout.
- in some cases, regular soil can harbor pathogens that can kill young plants.
However, peat moss has other uses as well.
In your gardens, you can till them into a planting bed where the soil is not sufficiently firable.
Moreover, peat moss will lighten the soil which may have been compacted over the years, which results in inadequate drainage.
In most cases, you do not want the water to pass quickly through the soil.
An ideal soil retains enough moisture to keep your plants irrigated,
It is a delicate balance, and peat moss along with its ability to retain water can help you achieve this balance.
Peat Moss: An Effective Soil Amendment
As a soil amendment, peat moss is a popular one. The advantages of this type are as follows:
Peat moss is inexpensive and lightweight which helps you and your plants as when you fill in the pots with these soilless mixes, they are easy to transport.
Moreover, they promote sufficient drainage that is important for strong root systems.
Additionally, they have the ability to retain the right amount of water.
You can get them after they undergo the process of sterilization to remove pathogens.
Drawbacks of Peat Moss
It is important to note that peat moss has a few of the drawbacks you need to understand before using them.
Peat moss does not add important nutrients to the soil nor do gardeners consider it sustainable.
It takes hundreds of years of peat moss to be created in nature and that is why many gardeners choose to use its alternatives.
One of the most popular alternatives is coir which is a by-product of coconut fiber and is also renewable.
Moreover, peat moss is acidic.
While it is an ideal soil amendment for acid-loving plants, you may want to add garden lime to your planting bed.
This will help to raise the pH of the soil over time if you are growing plants that want a higher pH.
Why is it Bad for the Environment?
Despite its benefits, growing and harvesting practices of peat moss have come under scrutiny as environmentally unsound practices.
Thus, deeming it an unsustainable option for gardeners.
Moreover, peat moss is grown in marshy bogs and wetlands in the Northern Hemisphere, covering about 2% of the land on Earth.
A major portion of peat moss is found in Russia, however, it is also found in the United States by harvesting from the sphagnum bogs of Canada.
Another important thing to understand is that peatlands store about a third of the world’s carbon.
After harvesting, the harmful carbon dioxide goes back into the environment.
Technically, peat moss is renewable, the rate of growth is extremely low, thus, taking centuries to develop fully.
Additionally, peat bogs provide a unique ecosystem that supports different insects, birds, and plants.
Scientists ar,e of the view that peat bogs are as fragile and important as the rainforests.
Alternative to Peat Moss
Some of the alternatives to peat moss are as follows:
Coconut coir is popularly known as coco peat, or coir peat is gaining popularity and is the best alternative to peat moss.
It comes from the fibers between the shell and outer covering of coconuts. It has excellent water-retention capabilities, holding up to 10 times its weight in water.
Thus, adding it to the soil aids in proper drainage and aeration, allowing the roots to get plenty of water and room for oxygen.
Moreover, coconut coir has a 6.0 pH level and is perfect for most types of garden, and has antifungal properties.
Woody materials like wood fiber, sawdust, or composted bark are an alternative to peat moss that offer a number of benefits.
You can add it to the potting mixes to improve water retention and organic matter that opens the soil for better air circulation and water movement.
However, its pH can be low making the soil more acidic, but not the best option for an alkaline environment.
Compost is full of beneficial microbes and nutrients that are commonly referred to as “black gold”.
It consists of the yard and kitchen waste that helps with drainage attracts beneficial earthworms and provides nutritional value.
Moreover, it can help improve soil structure, increase water infiltration and retainment and add beneficial microbes.
Pine needles are a readily available and renewable peat moss alternative and while they can alter the texture of your soil, it does not significantly affect the nutrient levels.
The tannic acid in pine needles makes them acidic but does not necessarily affect the pH of the surrounding soil.
You can use it as top dressing or mulch for plants for teeth that knit together creating a mat that water can penetrate.
Some of the other alternatives to peat moss are as follows:
These are the “skin” from the rice grain that is removed before packing the rice and selling it.
Most often, manufacturers discard them, however, when you preserve them, you can use them as soil additives.
They can help to lighten the soil, improve drainage, and aeration and aid in water absorption.
Non-toxic and biodegradable rice hulls feed the soil as they break down, yet they are sustainable enough to benefit your garden.
For your garden, mix them into the top 6 to 12 inches of the soil and for potting plants, you can add 10 to 50% of rice hulls to the potting soil.
Leaf mold is simply piled-up leaves that are present in your backyard, and when you allow them to decompose, or compost, they turn into mold.
It has a number of advantages to your garden, thus making it an inexpensive, renewable, and locally sourced alternative to peat moss.
When you mix it with the soil, it can help to increase the water hold capacity of the soil and act as a natural soil conditioner.
If you have your own livestock or live near a farm, you can add compost manure to the soil or use it as mulch.
This one is a renewable and organic source that helps to increase soil carbon and improves beneficial microbes in your soil, thus improving plant growth.
Moreover, it is important to make sure to let the manure fully compost before spreading it.
Fresh manure is more acidic and has a higher concentration of nutrients, particularly nitrogen which can damage your plants.
However, you can add fresh manure after the harvest or in the spring at least a month before planting the seeds.
Summing it Up
Peat moss is an age-old soil amendment that is ideal for acid-loving plants like blueberries and camellias. However, for plants that like alkaline soil, you can choose to add compost for their growth and development.
Because of its drawbacks, many gardeners today prefer to use alternatives like coir, rice hulls, compost, etc. for amending the soil. They not only add beneficial nutrients to the soil but also allow proper drainage and aeration beneficial for your plants and soil.