Gardening With Peat Moss
Excerpted from: Peat Moss in the Garden – Sphagnum Peat Moss Uses
The dark brown, compact matter that we recognize as peat moss is a far cry from the organic
material’s origins. Peat moss is the decomposed remains of sphagnum moss and other living
things that forms a dead, fibrous material over the course millennia in peat bogs around the world.
Unlike compost, peat moss forms in the absence of air. This slows the decomposition process
and creates a homogeneous material that is highly absorbent, which makes it very useful in the
garden as a soil builder and a seed starter.
Peat moss is a unique organic material that provides gardeners with several benefits, including
absorbency, compaction prevention, a sterile planting medium, and its acidic pH.
The most important benefit of peat moss is the material’s absorbency. Peat moss retains water
much better than average soils, which increases the absorbency of any potting mixes and garden
soils that use peat moss.
Not only is peat moss absorbent, it also does not compact, unlike other organic materials. Soil
compaction is damaging to gardens and reduces water absorption and plant growth. Peat moss
remains springy when it is wet and rehydrates easily, plus one application of peat moss can last
Peat moss is also a sterile planting medium, which means that it does not contain harmful
pathogens or weed seeds. This, combined with its absorbency, makes it ideal for starting
seedlings and is why peat moss is an essential component in most seed starting mixes.
The pH of peat moss is slightly acidic. Acid loving plants like blueberries and camellias
benefit greatly from peat moss applications, although plants that require neutral or basic
pHs may not benefit from too much peat moss in the soil without additional, more alkaline
As with most products, there are downsides associated with peat moss. The biggest is expense.
While prices vary, peat moss is relatively expensive, especially if you plan on using large amounts.
On the other hand, mixing your own potting soil can be cheaper than buying pre-mixed potting
soil in the long run.
Another downside is fertility. Peat moss has a relatively low nutrient content profile. It does contain
some beneficial microorganisms naturally, and more can be introduced. As far as nutrient value,
peat moss isn’t high, but it isn’t absolutely zero like many people believe. There is good evidence
that there are both microorganisms in peat moss, as well as some level of nutrition, depending on
the geographical origin and depth the peat moss was harvested from. For more info, click here.
The acidic pH of peat moss is beneficial to some plants but not beneficial to plants that prefer
alkaline soils. For these plants, compost is a better peat moss alternative, as it has a more
neutral or even alkaline pH, depending on the compost composition.
Having a green thumb does not always translate to using environmentally green methods. Peat
moss is a nonrenewable resource. Some gardeners have environmental concerns about peat
moss that make it a poor choice for their gardens and is certainly an important factor to consider.
Peat moss is a great seed starting medium. It is sterile, absorbent, and the homogeneous material
is easy to work with. This keeps the seed bed uniformly moist, aiding in germination. Most seed
starting mixes contain peat moss, and you can make your own seed starting mix by mixing peat
moss with other soils or by making a peat moss based potting soil and adding fertilizer and
Application: There are several ways to prepare a seed starting mix from peat moss.
The mix you use will vary, depending on your preferences. Soilless seed mixes use peat moss
as the base with equal parts horticultural grade perlite or vermiculite, and add small amounts
of lime and fertilizer to lower the PH and give your seeds some plant food. Potting mixes with
soil use equal parts soil, peat moss, and perlite or vermiculite, along with any other fertilizers
or amendments the gardener wishes to add.
You can also use peat moss as a soil amendment. Dry, sandy soils benefit from adding peat
moss to retain moisture, and peat moss improves drainage and prevents compaction in dry and
wet soils alike. These qualities make peat moss particularly useful in vegetable gardens, where
extremes of dry and wet can negatively impact the growth and production of vegetables.
Application: You can apply peat moss in a 2:1 ratio as a soil amendment, with two parts
soil to one part peat moss. Mix the peat moss into the top 12 inches of the soil along with any
other amendments until the mixture is evenly distributed and plant into the freshly prepared
Peat moss is a carbon rich material, which makes it a good source of carbon in compost piles.
The moisture retaining quality of peat moss also reduces the need for frequent watering, which
makes it doubly valuable. The only downsides of using peat moss in compost are the expense
and the environmental concerns associated with sphagnum peat moss.
Peat moss is also useful for container gardening, as it preserves moisture and gives your
containers a good organic material to grow in. For containers, make sure you mix peat moss
with adequate amounts of soil, compost, and fertilizers to keep your container gardens happy.
There are peat moss alternatives if you have concerns about the price of peat moss or its
environmental impact. Compost offers similar benefits to peat moss in the garden and is a
completely renewable resource. It also has the added benefit of reducing waste around your
home and cutting down on the amount of material that goes into our landfills.
Compost is a viable alternative to peat moss for gardeners who want to add organic material
to their gardens. Compost improves the soil’s water holding capacity and aeration while adding
important nutrients and microorganisms to the soil, and is usually free. As a compromise, some
gardeners opt to use small amounts of peat moss in their seed starting soil mixes, as compost
can contain weed seeds and pathogens if the pile does not reach the correct temperature.
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