Peat moss, or sphagnum peat moss as many refer to it, is the decomposed contents of peat bogs. Technically it’s not a moss although it may consist of some mosses, sedges and other swamp plants. However, sphagnum is a moss. Confused? Yes, the whole notion of “sphagnum peat moss” can be quite perplexing. Let’s agree that it’s semantics and press on.

Using Sphagnum Peat Moss

Depending which articles you read the use of peat moss can be a good/bad thing. Ecologists are fighting for the survival of many of the mires and peat bogs found throughout Britain, Ireland and Finland as peat farmers continue to harvest these. Their continual harvest has bought about irreversible changes that will affect these peat bogs for hundreds of years and has devastated many specialized organisms.

On the other side of the globe Canada peat moss harvesters appear to self-regulate their consumption and exploitation of these areas. They’ve set aside vast areas for conservation and preservation of their peat bogs and have found ways to increase the rejuvenation rate of harvested bogs. It would normally take 20 years to re-establish a harvested peat bog for further farming of sphagnum moss but leaps in technology have enabled these to be replenished within 5 – 8 years.

Why do we use sphagnum peat moss?

So, if there are some concerns about the use sphagnum peat moss, why do we use it? Primarily, it’s a fantastic soil conditioner. It can hold up to 20 times its own weight in water and release it when needed. Peat moss has very few nutrients available for plant nutrition but it can absorb and retain soluble nutrients also releasing them when they are needed.

Adding peat moss to clay soils can help break down clay by aerating it and applying peat moss to sandy soils will help bind it and retain nutrients rather than leach them. Peat moss is a main ingredient in the production of many of our potting mixes.

Sphagnum peat moss is also a great compost innoculant that speeds the process of composting.
One use for sphagnum moss which is widely practiced is their use in mounting staghorn ferns. The benefit of using sphagnum is that it becomes the food and water source for these ferns without being washed off the board that it resides upon.

Are there any alternatives to peat moss?

Coconut fibre is now being harvested as a valid substitute for peat moss. It has many of the same qualities inherent in the moss yet is more environmentally friendly. Coconut fibre is sourced from the husk fibres of coconuts and has given some hope for normally what is seen as a waste product.

Should we keep using sphagnum peat moss?

This is all depends on where the peat moss is being sourced. If it’s being harvested in countries that are not willing to invest in peat bogs as renewable sources then my advice would be to find a source that is. If your choice is limited then try and find some other alternatives such as coconut fibre.

Sources: Wikipedia

Photo source: Trinity