Peat moss – an excellent soil amendment (and why I do not use it anymore)

Peat moss, also known as sphagnum moss, is a type of organic matter often used as a soil amendment in gardening and horticulture. It is derived from the partially decomposed remains of sphagnum moss, a wetland plant, and is commonly found in peat bogs.

Peat moss – to use or not to use? That is the question.

Peat moss is a popular choice for home gardeners due to its ability to improve soil structure and moisture retention.

We have entered 2023, and after emptying my last bag, I have decided to stop using peat moss.

Still, many of my guides refer to using peat moss, and they will not be changed.

Why?

Well, peat moss is not bad in itself. And I firmly believe that each person needs to understand and own their decisions.

Soil amendments we use include compost, vermiculite, perlite, and up until now peat moss.
Compost, perlite, vermiculite, and peat moss.

Each guide and article will be linked to this page, where home gardeners can learn about peat moss and make their own decisions.

In this article, I will list the advantages and disadvantages of using peat moss.

I will also list sustainable and renewable alternatives and explain why I chose to stop using peat moss as a soil amendment.

4 benefits of using peat moss as a soil amendment

Peat moss offers home gardeners superb qualities and is widely used by commercial gardeners and horticulturists.

And it is essential to understand that the debate about peat moss is centered on its environmental impact. Not whether it is suitable for gardening.

Peat moss block with its layered or flaky structure
Our last remaining block of peat moss with its characteristic layered structure.

Here are some of the main benefits and reasons gardeners use peat moss.

1. Peat moss improves soil structure:

Peat moss is known for improving soil structure. When mixed with other soil types, it helps to create a well-draining, airy mixture that is ideal for plants that prefer well-draining soil.

This is especially useful for plants prone to root rot, as the porous structure of peat moss allows excess water to drain away from the roots.

2. Peat moss helps retain soil moisture

Despite its ability to improve drainage, peat moss is also known for retaining moisture.

Peat moss has a high water-holding capacity, which can benefit plants that require consistent moisture levels. This can be especially useful in hot, dry climates, as peat moss can help prevent soil from becoming too dry or compacted, leading to poor plant growth.

3. Peat moss is pH neutral

Peat moss is pH neutral, which means it will not alter the pH or nutrient levels of the soil. This makes it a good choice for plants sensitive to pH changes or gardeners who want to maintain a consistent pH in their soil.

4. Lightweight and easy to use

Peat moss is a light, easy-to-handle soil amendment that is convenient for home gardening.

Peat moss can be mixed with other soil types or used as a growing medium for hydroponic systems.

It is also easy to store and transport, making it an excellent alternative for gardeners with limited space.

3 disadvantages to using peat moss as a soil amendment

While peat moss has many benefits, there are also some apparent drawbacks and disadvantages.

1. Environmental concerns

Peat moss extraction from peat bogs can negatively impact the environment, as peat bogs are important habitats for various plant and animal species.

Additionally, peat moss extraction releases carbon dioxide stored in the peat bogs, which can contribute to climate change. [1]

2. Limited nutrient content

While peat moss is a good choice for improving soil structure and moisture retention, it contains few nutrients. This means it will not provide any additional nutrients to the soil or plants.

Gardeners who use peat moss as a soil amendment will need to supplement it with other nutrients, such as compost or fertilizers.

3. Limited availability

Peat moss is a finite resource that can take thousands of years to form. As a result, it is not always readily available and could be more expensive than other soil amendments.

And more importantly, we are depleting an important environmental material that is not renewable.

5 soil amendment alternatives to peat moss

Peat moss is a popular soil amendment in gardening and horticulture. Still, it has some limitations, such as limited availability, nutrient content, as well as environmental concerns.

If you are looking for alternatives to peat moss, there are several options to consider:

1. Coconut coir

Coconut coir is a byproduct of the coconut industry and is made from the fibrous husks of coconuts. It has a similar structure to peat moss and can be used as a soil amendment to improve drainage and moisture retention.

Coconut coir is a sustainable and renewable resource, making it a more environmentally friendly alternative to peat moss. Additionally, it is more readily available and may be less expensive than peat moss in some areas.

2. Compost

Compost is a type of organic matter made by breaking down yard waste, food scraps, and other organic materials. Composting is also easy to learn for all gardeners with access to a garden.

Compost from composting bin
You can buy or make compost from garden waste.

Compost is nutrient-rich and ideal for improving both soil structure and fertility. Compost is easy to make at home or can be purchased from a local supplier.

Compost is a sustainable and renewable resource that can help reduce waste and the need for synthetic fertilizers.

3. Mulch

Mulch is a layer of organic or inorganic material placed on top of the soil to protect and enrich it. Mulch can be made from various materials, including wood chips, leaves, grass clippings, and straw.

Wood chips are great for mulching
Wood chips are great for mulching.

Mulch helps to regulate soil temperature, reduce weed growth, and improve soil structure. Mulch is a sustainable and renewable resource; using it can help reduce waste and the need for synthetic fertilizers.

4. Vermiculite

Vermiculite is a naturally occurring and porous mineral often used as a soil amendment. It is mined from mica deposits, a clay mineral, and is typically light-brown to golden. When heated to a high temperature, vermiculite expands and becomes more porous, forming a lightweight, spongy material.

Vermiculite is light with an almost golden brown color.
Vermiculite is light with an almost golden brown color.

Vermiculite is a good choice for improving soil structure and moisture retention. It is pH neutral, which means it will not alter the pH or nutrient levels of the soil. It is also lightweight and easy to use, making it a convenient alternative to peat moss.

5. Perlite

Perlite is a porous, lightweight volcanic rock often used as a soil amendment. It is formed when volcanic glass is heated to a high temperature, causing it to expand and create a sponge-like structure.

Perlite is light and bright white in color.
Perlite is lightweight and bright white.

Perlite is a good choice for improving soil structure and moisture retention. It is sterile and has a neutral pH, making it a good choice for seedlings and sensitive plants. It is also lightweight and easy to use, making it a convenient alternative to peat moss.

Summary or why I stopped using peat moss as a soil amendment

I chose to stop using peat moss as a soil amendment as there are more sustainable and renewable alternatives.

There is a slight learning curve when introducing new soil amendments to your gardening. But overall, the process has been easy, and I have purchased most of the soil amendment in bulk at attractive prices.

And these alternatives offer similar benefits in improving soil structure and moisture retention. They are also more readily available and are even less expensive than peat moss in my area.

I have always used mulch and compost, but my new favorites are perlite and vermiculite. I will write separate articles about both at some point.

But for you, the best alternative to peat moss will depend on your specific gardening needs and preferences. The decision is yours.

And remember, no one can do everything, but we can all do something.

Helpful resources:

[1] https://phys.org/news/2022-12-harvesting-peat-moss-contributes-climate.html

Meet the author: Mattias is an experienced gardener spending most of his free time on his knees among herbs, plants, and garden vegetables. For the past two years, he has been sharing gardening projects and how-to tutorials on the NordicLavender website and YouTube channel.