What Is Peat Moss and How to Use It in Your Garden: 6 Tips
If you’re somewhat familiar with the basics of gardening, then you’ve probably already heard of peat moss. That’s because it has multiple uses in the garden, and it’s quite sought after by many people who want to provide their plants with the best of care. If you don’t know what peat moss is and how you can use it in the garden, we’re here to clear that up for you.
What Is Peat Moss?
Peat moss is a compound made of decomposed sphagnum moss (and other living materials). The reason it’s called peat moss is because you can find it in peat bogs. A lot of people confuse it with compost, but there’s one important difference between the two. Since peat moss is made almost entirely of moss, it decomposes without air. This makes the decomposition process slower. Not only that, but it also makes peat moss extremely absorbent, which is why a lot of people use it as a seed starter and soil builder.
What you should know about peat moss is that it isn’t a renewable resource. In fact, it takes millennia for it to form. This is why mining peat moss is oftentimes surrounded by controversy. Even though this is a regulated activity, and only a small percent of the total amount of peat moss is open for harvest, some people are still concerned about it.
How to Use Peat Moss in Your Garden: 6 Tips
1. Start Seeds with It
One of the best uses for peat moss is as a seed starting mix. That’s because it’s homogenous, sterile, and absorbent, which makes it extremely easy to handle. Your seeds will be kept uniformly moist, which will help with their germination. You may have noticed that most of the seed starting mixes you can buy contain peat moss. This is a simpler option, especially for people who don’t have time for DIYs in the garden. But if it sounds tempting, you could also make your own mix of peat moss, soil, fertilizer, vermiculite, and other such ingredients.
There are many recipes for a great seed starting mix. The ingredients you decide to use depend on what you prefer. For example, you could choose not to use soil and replace it with peat moss. Then, you can add equal parts vermiculite or perlite, plus some fertilizer and lime. These last two ingredients will lower the pH and provide your seeds with food.
If you’re going to use soil, mix equal parts of peat moss, vermiculite or perlite, and soil, plus fertilizers (optional). Finding the perfect mix might not be an easy task. You might have to experiment with a couple of them before finding the right one, but this is absolutely normal.
Due to its great qualities as a seed starting mix, you can also use peat moss in container gardening. It keeps the seeds moist and provides them with nutrients. What you must remember is that in the case of container gardening, you’re going to have to pay more attention to how much soil, fertilizer, and compost you add.
2. Amend the Soil with Peat Moss
A second use for peat moss in the garden is as a soil amendment. Especially if the soil is sandy and dry, adding peat moss will help it retain moisture better. Not to mention the fact that the soil will drain better, which will prevent it from becoming too compact and soggy. Applying peat moss as a soil amendment is an extremely simple task. All you have to do is add one part peat moss to two parts soil. The trick is to get a proper mix of moss and soil, which is why you have to make sure the top 12 inches of soil are mixed with the moss. You have to evenly distribute the mixture, and you can also add other soil amendments to it.
3. Use Peat Moss in Vegetable Gardens
Why do you think peat moss is particularly beneficial to vegetable gardens? Well, it’s because they are the ones most likely to suffer due to either extremely wet conditions or extremely hot weather. These environment characteristics can decrease vegetable production and also affect the quality of the vegetables. Adding peat moss to your vegetable garden can successfully prevent that. The only thing you have to keep an eye on is not adding too much of it. This might change the pH of the soil, which can be more bad news for your garden.
4. Add Peat Moss to Compost Piles
Do you usually make your own compost? Adding some peat moss to it might help make it better. That’s because this compound is rich in carbon, and your compost needs carbon. Not to mention the fact that due to its ability to retain moisture, you won’t have to water the compost that often. For people who don’t have that much time to keep a constant eye on their compost, this is the perfect option. Just keep in mind that peat moss can be rather expensive, so adding it to compost might cost you more than you’re willing to invest in this DIY project.
For an effective compost recipe, add 4 parts compost to one part peat moss. Every two weeks, you should toss the pile and add some more peat moss in case it emanates a strong odor. This will tone down the smell.
5. Use It When You Transplant Plants
Let’s say you have shrubs and trees in your garden. There’s no denying that they’re low-maintenance options that can provide any garden with dimension and texture. However, there’s one relatively difficult thing about them, and that is transplanting them. That’s because you need to find an area where the soil promotes healthy plant growing. This is made even more complicated by the size of most shrubs and trees.
This is where peat moss comes in, to serve as an amendment for clay-based or sandy soil. Peat moss tends to be quite fluffy, which means adding it to a sandy soil will create plenty of body. On the other hand, adding it to a clay soil will loosen it up, thanks to its lightweight consistency. This ensures the roots of your shrubs or trees will receive enough air to develop properly.
When you replant something, you need to make sure the plants will get enough moisture in order to establish themselves in the new location. Peat moss can help with that as well. Since it absorbs water and then holds it for quite some time, you won’t have to worry about watering your plants as often. The best recipe for a great transplanting mix involves two parts soil and one part peat moss. Spread the mix around the root balls of the shrubs or trees you’ve just transplanted.
6. Add It to the Lawn
Yes, you heard that right, you can also use peat moss for lawn care. If you’re struggling with an unhealthy lawn, this compound might help it regain its lush and healthy appearance. It serves as a soil conditioner that encourages grass to grow. Like in the case of transplanted shrubs, as well as trees and potted plants, the roots of the grass will receive plenty of air, which will encourage a healthy moisture level.
Peat moss is also full of nutrients. Not only that, but it also has the ability to release said nutrients gradually. By not releasing them all at once, it ensures the plants will have a constant supply of nutrients, which will help the grass grow. If you’re wondering what you have to do to add peat moss to your lawn, you should know that you only need to spread a thin layer over the existing lawn. This will condition the soil slowly. As an extra tip, try to aerate the lawn before doing this. Lawn aeration helps remove soil plugs. It also loosens areas that are more compacted. This will help the peat moss reach the grass roots faster and easier.
Peat Moss Drawbacks
Peat Moss Cost
Peat moss is one of the most expensive soil amendments in the market for those that want to use it in improving their gardens. Most countries do not have peat bogs for extracting peat moss, and the costs tend to be high in areas that do not have peat bogs as the shipping costs are included. It is very expensive to amend an entire bed or garden with peat moss, and that is why only a smaller amount is normally used. This, therefore, means that peat becomes a very costly choice especially when one wants to amend an entire garden.
Peat Moss is not Sustainable
The harvesting of peat comes with a wide range of sustainability issues. There are only a few areas in the world that are conducive for the survival of peat bogs, and this raises a sustainability issue. The conversion of moss into peat takes many years in an environment that is not oxygen-free. Peat bogs that contain sphagnum moss debris are only found beneath water. The decomposition of the sphagnum moss debris requires very special conditions that cannot be found in most parts of the world. In order to minimize depletion and the associated environmental impact, peat mining is done in a very careful manner. The resource is less renewable as compared to other options like coconut coir.
Peat Moss is Nutrient Poor
For a garden to flourish there is need for a substance that is rich in nutrients. Laboratory analysis indicates that peat lacks important nutrients. Nutrient poor soil is more likely to affect plant growth and the overall eco-system. Areas treated with peat are not attractive to earthworms as they lack sufficient nutrients for consumption. Lack of earthworm movement reduces soil aeration as restricted earthworm movement leads to compaction. Soil that is too dense affects plant growth as plant roots remain chocked.
The Need for Additional Soil Additives
There will always be a need to include more additives in your soil amendments; especially when you are not raising acid-loving plants. Peat moss is normally very acidic because of its natural decomposing structure. The PH level of a garden drops significantly due to the acidic nature of peat moss, and this can end up affecting some plants. In order to create an alkaline or neutral environment, one is expected to apply lime on the soil. There is always a need to monitor the soil’s PH on a regular basis which can be very tedious. Too many additives are also not good for the soil because they interfere with its natural attributes. Moreover, the required additives increase the overall cost of amending a garden.
Plant Disease – Peat Bog
The peat bog is a product of numerous decaying plants, and is possible that the decomposing material may still have some diseases from the original plants. Extracting peat moss from a diseased portion means the pathogens will be automatically transferred to your garden. It is easy for pathogens in peat moss to move easily to the roots as the substance retains a lot of water after extraction. The diseases can cause massive damage to the crop without anyone realizing the exact cause of the damage.
The organisms that live in natural bogs are completely destroyed when peat moss is being cultivated or harvested from the bogs. Peat moss harvesting destroys local wildlife populations that live in the natural bogs. The process of draining peat moss from bogs releases carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and this comes with serious environmental implications such as the destruction of the ozone layer. There has always been calls for bogs to be commercially grown to prevent further damage to the environment.
Summing Everything Up
As we hope we’ve managed to show in today’s guide, peat moss has a lot of uses in the garden. From potting soil ingredient to a major component in compost making, to lawn amendment, and so on, this compound is widely used for a large variety of gardening practices.
Even so, there are people who refuse to use it, mostly due to environmental concerns. If you feel like you could do without it, there are other alternatives you can try. For example, compost is the most viable alternative. It’s cheap, it’s renewable, and it mostly serves the same purpose. Not to mention the fact that making compost out of house waste is a great way to ensure no additional material will reach our landfills.
If you’re looking for a compromise, you can simply mix a large amount of compost with a small amount of moss, and you’ll get to enjoy the benefits of both without worrying you’re going to deplete the Earth of its peat moss reserve. You can find peat moss for sale here.