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sphagnum moss

Peat moss for houseplants

What is peat moss?

Peat moss is a soil remedy that comes from peat bogs. It is a dead fibrous material that forms over long periods of time when mosses and other organic material decompose in peat bogs.

Peat moss is mostly made of moss and it does not involve air to decompose, like compost. This means that it takes even longer for it to decompose. It can take thousands of years for peat moss to form. Since it takes so long, peat moss is not considered a renewable resource.

While peat moss takes thousands of years to form, it is being mined at a higher rate than it can assemble. Mining peat unethically for commercial use can cause many forms of wildlife to lose their habitat. Most of the peat moss is found in bogs in Canada. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the mining of peat moss, and less than 0.05% of the reserves are available for harvest. Mining peat moss releases substantial amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, and the bogs will still exhale the carbon even after the mining process has finished.

sphagnum moss

How and why is peat moss used?

It is used as a soil amendment and in soil mixes because:

  • It is inexpensive.
  • Allows for sufficient drainage.
  • Is able to retain water and releases it into the plants when needed.
  • It is lightweight, which is good for plants just starting from the seed.
  • It has an acidic pH which is good for acid loving plants like blueberries and azaleas.
  • It doesn’t break down quickly, allowing for one application of peat moss to last for years.
Houseplants on table

Negative aspects of peat moss

  • It provides no nutrients to the soil. Unlike compost, peat moss does not provide any advantages to your soil.
  • It is not sustainable and the mining process is not good for the environment.
  • It is very acidic which is good for acid loving plants, but for your other plants, you may have to add garden lime to raise the pH levels.
  • Peat moss increases the risk of waterlogging in the plant pot as the roots will sit in water and rot.

Alternatives to peat moss

  1. Coir, which is a by-product of coconut fibres, and is a renewable alternative which is good for soil mixes.
  2. Compost made from organic scraps. This is a good alternative in soil amendments.
  3. Wood fibres which is made of wood waste and is defibrated under high heat, but using food fibres for your plants mean it needs to be fertilized more often because it doesn’t contain many nutrients

There are many advantages and disadvantages to using peat moss. You can decide whether or not you choose to use it in your garden. However, it is important to be aware of the environmental concerns and sustainable alternatives if you choose to practice sustainable gardening.

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