Do You Recommend Peat Moss to Improve Soil?


Tags: peat moss, garden, soil,

Recently I started a square-foot type garden, and many of the books I’ve read recommend using peat moss to improve the soil. I’ve heard that there are issues regarding peat moss being a nonrenewable resource, plus it’s expensive. The less I spend, the more I save by growing my own vegetables. What do you recommend?

Over 10 million cubic yards of peat moss are harvested each year from bogs in Canada, plus another million or so from bogs in the northern United States. Those are big numbers, but because less than 1 percent of North American peat lands are currently being harvested, peat bogs remain more plentiful here than in the British Isles, where harvesting has reduced peat acreage by nearly 80 percent. However, peat comes from such very slow-growing, slow rotting plants that it typically takes 1,000 years for a bog to add 1 yard to its depth. Once harvested, peat bogs are changed forever.

Of equal concern are the environmental costs of the fuels required to dig drainage ditches, harrow and dry the peat, vacuum it up and bale it, and then ship it long distances, which in your case is about 1,500 miles. That’s a lot of greenhouse gas emissions produced to provide organic matter for outdoor beds. Compost would be less expensive and do as well, or you can use shredded leaves or grass clippings for your beds.

Peat moss does have special characteristics that make it a better choice when used in small amounts as part of seed starting mixtures. It absorbs and holds 10 to 20 times its dry weight in water, and it is a very poor medium for various soil-borne fungi, including those that cause seedling damping off. Beneficial bacteria can live in peat moss, so using small amounts of peat moss to start seeds indoors is a sound decision. A half-and-half mixture of peat moss and sand or perlite works well, or you can go with a three-way mixture of peat moss, sand and heat-pasteurized soil. Once seedlings grow big enough to transplant outdoors, compost makes a better soil amendment than peat because it contains a wealth of biological life forms and a huge range of major and minor plant nutrients.

 Barbara Pleasant, contributing editor

2/19/2018 11:05:17 AM

Please note that Mel Bartholomew says that you can substitute coco coir for peat moss in his 2nd edition of the All New Square Foot Gardening book.

2/19/2018 11:05:16 AM

Please note that Mel Bartholomew says that peat moss can be replaced by coco coir in his All New Square Foot Gardening 2nd edition book.

2/24/2011 3:20:09 AM

Good Compost made from agriculture / horticulture waste,that has been " pasteurised " could be an alternative to peat moss, given its high organic matter content which has water retention properties.

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters