Agricultural 101

What is Peat Moss? What is it used for?

Peat moss is dead fibrous material that forms when mosses and other living material decompose in peat bogs.

The difference between peat moss and the compost gardeners make in their backyard is that peat moss is composed mostly of moss, and the decomposition happens without the presence of air, slowing the rate of decomposition.

It takes several millennia for peat moss to form, and peat bogs gain less than a millimeter in depth every year.

Since the process is so slow, peat moss isn’t considered a renewable resource. Most of the peat moss used in the United States comes from remote bogs in Canada.

There is considerable controversy surrounding the mining of peat moss. Even though the mining is regulated, and only 0.02 percent of the reserves are available for harvest, groups such as the International Peat Society point out that the mining process releases massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, and the bogs continue to exhale carbon long after the mining concludes.

Peat moss first became available to gardeners in the mid-1900s, and since then it has revolutionized the way we grow plants. It has a remarkable ability to manage water efficiently and hold on to nutrients that would otherwise leach out of the soil. While performing these amazing tasks, it also improves the texture and consistency of the soil

History of Peat Moss

Peat was dried and was used as a source of fuel in some countries for centuries. Because, like any fossil fuels, it is rich in carbon. It was only till the 1940s that peat has a place in horticulture.

Today, peat moss is fairly popular used as soil amendment, soilless mix, seed starting, mushroom casting, etc.


Peat mosses are commonly found in bogs and wetlands of the northern hemisphere of the earth.

Almost all of the peat moss sold in the US come from the vast sphagnum moss area in Canada.

But Russia has the largest amounts of peatland around the world.

Canada is the area containing the second-biggest amounts of peat moss in the world with 25% of the world moss. This is followed by lots of countries, including Finland,Sweden, etc.

About 3% of the earth’s surface is contained with peat bogs that have been developed over a period of thousands of years.

Today, peat moss is fairly popular used as soil amendment, soilless mix, seed starting, mushroom casting, etc.

Benefits of Peat Moss


You will love this characteristic the most if you know that lots of growing materials, especially organic ones are not really clean. With peat moss, you’ll find it easy to work with. And if you happen to drop some wet mosses, just pick it up, get it dried, or sweep it up.


One of the best features of peat moss is its sterility. It doesn’t have any bacteria, fungus, harmful chemicals, and no weed seeds. This makes the material perfect for seedlings, which are quite vulnerable to the surrounding environment.

Moisture retention

Peat moss can absorb and retain water very well. This makes a great place for seed starting and as the mixes with other growing materials.


It is handy to find peat moss in most of the garden stores or nurseries in the US.


Most of peat moss low in pH from 3.5 to 6 on average depending on the source of the peat moss is mined. It is very suitable for acid-craving plants such as strawberries, blueberries.

Does not compact

Even though peat moss absorbs water well, it does not compact, unlike soil. The problem with compaction is that it makes it hard to create any space for the water and the air to pass through. By introducing peat moss to any compact material, the compaction problem is solved and makes the growing mix drain better.

Downsides of Peat Moss

Virtually devoid of nutrients.

Unlike other organic materials such as manure compost, peat moss is very poor in nutrients. It also doesn’t contain any helpful microbes. So that means you can use peat moss as an amendment to the soil and other materials, but you cannot use it alone and expect the plants will grow strongly and properly.

Dryness issue

Even thought peat moss can hold water well up to 10 times of its weight and is a great supplement to the soil. But when it becomes completely dry, it takes a long time to get the moisture.
So when starting seeds with peat moss alone, be sure to get it moisture enough. Or it’s a good idea to mix it with soils and some other soilless media.

Watch the pH of your mixture

Though strictly acid-hungry plants love peat moss with its low pH level, that does not mean others will do. You will need to add some pH-high materials like lime to create a neutral or alkaline environment. And be ready to monitor the pH level of the growing environment to ensure it does not drift too much. Another issue with soil pH is that with too many amendments added to change pH level, the soil can suffer. When it comes to growing, the natural soil is ideal.

Non-renewable resource.

As explained, the process of decomposing the peat moss take even thousands of years. So it’s really considered as non-renewable and not eco-friendly. That’s the main reasons that many environmental-aware growers are going away from it, and finding an alternative.


Even though peat moss is not most expensive growing material, it is also not cheap. Especially if you use peat moss in bulk and price is an issue, a better alternative is compost.

How to use Peat Moss

Now that you have learned about the benefits and downsides of Peat Moss, you may
have had some vague ideas about what peat moss is used for. But I’ll explore into greater details.

Despite coming with lots of nice characteristics for planting plants, peat moss is not commonly used as a standalone product, and in fact, it is not a good growing medium to grow alone. It is often mixed with other ingredients in one-third to two-thirds of the total amounts to improve the mixture quality.

Soil amendment

Peat moss has been used as a soil amendment for so long because it has a lot to offer.

For clay and heavy soils that get compact easily, it softens the soil structure and improves the drainage.
For sandy soil, peat moss helps retain moisture and nutrients for plant roots.

It is often applied with the ratio 2:1. 2 parts of soil per 1 part of peat moss.

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