What is Peat Moss and How to Use Sphagnum Moss In Gardening

Peat Moss – a timeless favorite for farmers and gardeners alike.

Now you probably wondering what is it? how it’s different than sphagnum moss.

In this post, I’m going to help you to find out everything you ever wanted to know about plus how to use peat moss in your hydroponic or soil garden!

Any gardener knows that the secret to gardening success is your growing medium.

Whether you are a conventional gardener or a hydroponic grower, the soil or growing medium needs to provide the plant root systems with;

  • Good aeration
  • Good drainage
  • Enough moisture
  • And the ability to absorb nutrients.

Related posts: 

What Is Peat Moss And Where Does It Come From?

Peat moss is probably a word you have heard before, but do you actually know what it is and the role it plays in determining the quality of a good compost?

Quite honestly, the first time I used it I thought it was awful stuff.

I didn’t know you had to actually soak it first and then use your hands to mulch it up and squeeze out the moisture before you got the lovely spongy, workable end product.

Now I can’t live without it!

Traditionally, peat moss has always played a vital role in improving the soil.

It is a major component in the growing mediums formulated for seedlings, right up to the compost used for transplanting trees and shrubs.

It has many practical applications and benefits as well as a few drawbacks.

Good Choices: Brands that I have found to be of consistently high quality, and sourced in a responsible and sustainable renewable manner are:

For more info on these companies and their peat moss products, scroll down.

Let’s look at peat moss in a bit more detail.

  • What is it exactly?
  • What’s the Difference Between Sphagnum and Peat Moss?
  • Why do you need it?
  • What are the benefits and drawbacks? 
  • How do you use it?
  • And where can you buy the perfect peat moss for your plants?

What’s The Difference Between Sphagnum And Peat Moss?

Common green peat moss

Peat moss is also known as Sphagnum peat moss.

The difference is simple. Peat moss is just dead Sphagnum moss.

This primitive plant species known as Sphagnum moss is part of the group of plants known as Bryophytes.

These plants bear no seeds or flowers, producing spores instead.

They thrive in moist, shady environments, and when the mosses decompose these wetlands turn into peat bogs.  

Wet, cold, oxygen-poor conditions mean that the presence of bacteria is reduced and plant growth is greater than the rate of decomposition.

Over time the dead vegetation turns into peat moss.

Both the living sphagnum and the dead peat mosses are harvested.

First, the living moss is harvested, and then the dead.

Sphagnum moss is used differently from sphagnum peat moss as they are very different in appearance and function.

Sphagnum moss is the top of the bog and peat moss is the decomposed product deeper down.

Different grades of peat moss are graded using the Von Post Scale for Decomposition, where H2 is the light, spongy formation also known as blonde, and H8 is the dark, decomposed, peat that feels like putty.

The scale starts at H1 and goes up to H10.

The largest peat bogs are found in Russia with Canada coming in second.

Countries like Finland, Sweden, Ireland, and Germany also have ideal climatic conditions for bogs to develop.

Why you should consider peat moss as your growing media ?

The Perfect Soil Conditioner

Peat moss is first and foremost a soil conditioner.

Soil conditioners repair damaged soil by loosening compacted soil to improve aeration, increasing the water holding capacity.

By helping to bond nutrients and water together to help the roots absorb both moisture and food.

The greatest demand for peat moss (source) comes from the horticultural industry but it is used by farmers, landscapers, and gardeners alike. It also has important uses in other industries.

Not only is it a porous, fibrous material, it also bears traces of vitamins, polyphenols, and humic acid.

It has a slightly acid pH and an above-average moisture-holding capacity.

But the nutrients in it are by no means sufficient enough to call peat moss a fertilizer.

It is however a disease suppressant (source) and free of weed seeds.

As a soil conditioner and amendment to growing mediums it has many benefits:

Benefits of Peat Moss

my organic garden
  • The pH is slightly acidic. This increases the soil’s buffering capacity, preventing the leaching of fertilizer nutrients. It also means it is ideal for a wide range of acid-loving plants.
  • It loosens clayey soils and compacted soils, improving their porosity, while still keeping its absorbency. Due to the slow decomposition rate, one application can last a long time.
  • Retains water well. It increases the moisture-holding capacity in sandy soils, conditioning, increasing absorption rate, and raising bioavailability of nutrients.
  •  It can be added to compost/potting mixes. Because it acts as a soil conditioner it is an important additive to any custom compost/potting mix.
  • A compost/potting soil with peat moss will have a longer lifespan than one just using plain bark chips, for example

Note: On its own peat moss is just crumbly or powdery dry matter but once soaked and allowed to absorb water it becomes a spongy, workable medium.

So make sure to pre-soak before adding to your mix. Pre-mixed composts or other growing mediums already containing peat moss will eventually rehydrate.

  • It is a sterile growing medium. Peat moss is weed and pathogen free.
  • It has disease suppressing qualities against certain root-rot pathogens, making it ideal as a component in hydroponic growing mediums or as a soil amendment to growing mixes like potting soil.
  • It is organic. Used for propagating seedlings both in organic farming and hydroponics.

Note: To make sure you buy peat moss suited to your specific needs, check to see if it is pure and organic or if it has been supplemented with other ingredients or fertilizer, which could kill sensitive carnivorous plants.

  • Increases nutrient relations, known as cation exchange capacity (CEC). This means nutrients in the soil are unlocked and become available to plant through the roots.
  • Compost heaps benefit from added peat moss. What makes peat moss unique? is that it has a slower rate of decomposition due to its ability to decompose without oxygen (anaerobic).
  • It won’t rot in wet conditions making it great for adding to compost heaps where you want to lock nutrients in and slow down decomposition.
  • It is readily available.

All these characteristics aid and improve nutrient absorption which in turn helps a plant to grow strong and healthy and produce good quality flowers and fruit.

In today’s world where our soils have been depleted through overuse and erosion, where some soils are just not fertile and friable by nature.

Many people live in urban environments where container gardening has to be practiced.

The use of added compost and substrates like peat moss is essential for growing plants to their full potential.

All these characteristics aid and improve nutrient absorption which in turn helps a plant to grow strong and healthy and produce good quality flowers and fruit.

grow some green

Negative Aspects of Using Peat Moss

Harvested from peat bogs. Peatlands are unique ecosystems (source) that are home to many endemic species of orchids, shrubs, carnivorous plants, and mosses.

They play a huge part in reducing greenhouse gases and are rich in carbon. Many birds nest here and mammals and insects hunt and feed in these peat bogs.

Considered a nonrenewable resource. This is a subject of great controversy.

Canada is the main supplier of peat moss for horticultural use while the other countries use it predominantly as a fuel supply.

Because of the sensitive subject of whether or not it is ecologically viable to support the peat moss industry.

I did some thorough research and I have to say, in my humble opinion, I see a lot of effort, money, and research has been made, not only to manage it but also to rehabilitate.

NOTE: When buying peat moss, choose a trustworthy, well-established company.

A company that implements sound harvesting practices and has programs and initiatives in place that gives back to the earth and the community.

See my 3 companies of choice down below.

Not the cheapest choice: Sourcing a brand that is affordable and of a good standard is paramount. Because there are so many brands out there, often in the past.

I have found I’ve paid too much for too little or the quality is substandard.

The trick is to find a brand that is reasonably priced and offers a consistently good grade of peat.

How To Use Peat Moss In Your Garden

pet moss in garden

Peat moss is by no means a stand-alone growing medium.

It is useful because it can be added to soils, composts, potting mixes, and growing mediums.

It aerates, retains moisture, and lessens soil density, making it a versatile and fundamental ingredient for growing plants successfully.

Listed below are the most common practical applications for peat moss:

Used as a lawn dressing: it will correct soil problems like compaction, and it is weed-free, making it a good choice.

To apply just break up the peat moss to a fine texture, spread it out, and rake it evenly over the lawn.

Used when starting lawns from seed, peat moss mixed with topsoil works well.

The topsoil holds the roots and the peat moss keeps the seeds and moisture locked in.

In vegetable gardens and raised beds potting soil.

A good mix of organic ingredients will give the vegetables the right formula to thrive.

Either make a mix from scratch, for tubs or add a mix to your garden soil and dig it in well.

In compost heaps, peat moss binds nutrients that would normally be lost through the rapid decomposition of the other debris and organic matter in the heap.

Thanks to its ability to decompose slowly and without oxygen, it keeps nutrients found deep down in the heap.

Used in primary growing mediums for hydroponics: True hydroponic systems have roots suspended in nutrient solution and the pH of the solution is monitored. 

With a soil-less medium, you need to monitor the growing medium as well.

With the increase in popularity of indoor growing, many variations of hydroponic systems have evolved with some using a soilless medium.

Peat moss is often used along with other substrates like perlite and vermiculite.

Used in seedling propagation: Ideal for germination when used with a mix of vermiculite, perlite, and organic nutrients.

Because it is pathogen-free it removes the threat of soil-borne diseases and reduces damping off.

Used for transplanting trees and shrubs. Mix 1 part peat moss with two parts soil.

Hanging baskets: Often the wire-type hanging baskets are lined with straight Sphagnum moss (not peat moss).

Not only is it attractive but also holds moisture well.

Specialized plants: Peat moss is the ideal medium for carnivorous plants.

It makes perfect potting mixes for African violets when mixed with perlite and vermiculite at a ratio of 2:1:1 (2 parts peat to 1 part perlite and 1 part vermiculite).

Different Grades and Qualities of Peat Moss

Sphagnum Peat Moss

If you have never bought or used peat moss before you will be forgiven for thinking that all peat moss looks and feels the same.

In reality, because it is an organic medium, peat moss comes in different grades.

Peat moss is graded by particle size and decomposition rate.

The decomposition status is rated by the Von Post Scale of Decomposition.

Some are very fine and others are much coarser.

The coarser types are often used for adding to potting mixes and composts while the finer types are ideal for use in germination mixes or lawn applications.

If using peat moss for hydroponics you can use either type depending on what other substrates you are adding to your growing medium.

Having said all that, buying the finer type is also perfectly okay to add to compost as you will vary the amounts you add to your mix.

For example, using the fine peat with pine bark or coco coir as well as adding perlite or vermiculite and lime works well.

The coarser the moss the cheaper it will be as it has been less decomposed but this is not necessarily a bad thing if adding to compost heaps and buying by the bale.

The fine stuff may seem more expensive but it is the peat moss that is harvested after the sphagnum has been removed.

If you buy a coarse grain you can reduce it to a finer strain by sieving through a screen.

I find it easier just to buy ready-to-use peat-like Premier Pro Moss, especially when I do my lawns once a year.

Where To Buy the Best Quality Peat Moss

Peat moss is readily available from most garden centers and retail nurseries.

I prefer to shop online as my local stores only stock one or two brands and often the quality and value for money are not so good.

The problem with online shopping is you are bombarded with choices and this can be confusing to novice gardeners and growers.

When I’m not busy with my gardens, I spend an unhealthy amount of time “shopping around” online but my efforts have paid off.

Here is a list of my top brands. I chose them for certain reasons which I’ll share with you further on.

My Top 3 Peat Moss Products

Top 3 Peat Moss Brands:  Value, Quality and Ethics

Hoffman 15503 Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss, 10 Quarts
#2nd Best Choice
Premier Horticulture (0110P) Pro Moss Horticulture Retail Peat Moss, 2-1/5 Cubic Feet
#3rd Best Choice
Espoma PTM8 8-Quart Organic Peat Moss
Hoffman 15503 Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss, 10 Quarts
Premier Horticulture (0110P) Pro Moss Horticulture Retail Peat Moss, 2-1/5 Cubic Feet
Espoma PTM8 8-Quart Organic Peat Moss
Hoffman 15503 Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss, 10 Quarts
Hoffman 15503 Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss, 10 Quarts
#2nd Best Choice
Premier Horticulture (0110P) Pro Moss Horticulture Retail Peat Moss, 2-1/5 Cubic Feet
Premier Horticulture (0110P) Pro Moss Horticulture Retail Peat Moss, 2-1/5 Cubic Feet
#3rd Best Choice
Espoma PTM8 8-Quart Organic Peat Moss
Espoma PTM8 8-Quart Organic Peat Moss

All 3 of these companies have built reputable brand names for themselves.

Espoma was established in 1929 and Premier Tech Horticulture is listed with the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI).

Hoffman Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss is another brand that is very popular and has a good reputation. It is also Canadian sourced.

All three of these brands sell peat moss that guarantees improved soil aeration and water holding capacity.

They also say it will improve drainage in potting mixes and promote root growth. Their peat moss will loosen heavy soils and reduce soil compaction.

Hoffman Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss – My Personal Choice

Hoffman 15503 Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss, 10 Quarts
  • Canadian sphagnum peat Moss
  • Premium grade of horticultural, 99.8 percent organic
  • When mixed with soil, increases the soil's capacity to hold water and...

Hoffman guarantees their product as being 99.8% organic.

This means there maybe some kind of preparation they implement before packaging which detracts from being 100% organic but it is still pure peat moss. 

Premier Horticulture Pro Moss

Premier Horticulture (0110P) Pro Moss Horticulture Retail Peat Moss, 2-1/5 Cubic Feet
  • Pro moss horticulture retail peat moss
  • Recommended for establishment of new turf and maintenance and lawn surface...
  • Rich in organic matter 100 percent natural and free of insects and...

Premier Tech has been going since 1923. They promote their Pro Moss Retail Peat Moss for turf maintenance and as a soil amendment for new lawns, thus it comes in a larger quantity.

Ideal for gardeners wanting to buy in bulk.

Espoma Organic Peat Moss – 100% Organic Product

Espoma PTM8 8-Quart Organic Peat Moss
  • All natural sphagnum peat Moss for improving heavy soils
  • Helps loosen heavy soils and prevents compaction
  • Improves aeration and drainage in potting mixes

All are packaged in quantities small enough for the home gardener but affordable enough to buy in quantities if larger amounts are needed.  

Most of their products are perfect for organic gardening.

For custom blends, you can buy perlite or vermiculite to add to the peat moss.

Note: All three moss products above can be used for adding to potting mixes and soil-less growing mediums.

5 Good Alternatives for Peat Moss

If you are still not convinced that peat moss is the perfect soil conditioner to use or you want to experiment with other amendments you can try the following:

Whatever your choices are when it comes to great gardening just remember the main ingredient is love. And you can’t buy love!

Happy gardening!

Sphagnum Peat Moss – What It Is & How To Use It Wisely In Your Garden