To Peat or Not to Peat

Peat moss has long been a staple on the list of organic gardening supplies. The natural fertilizer has several benefits for the garden, but its harvesting process has many eco-friendly gardeners concerned. Here’s what you need to know about the peat moss debate.



Peat moss has long been a staple on the list of organic gardening supplies. The natural fertilizer has several benefits for the garden, but its harvesting process has many eco-friendly gardeners concerned. Here’s what you need to know about the peat moss debate.

Peat moss is decomposed moss that grows in specific wetland areas. In the U.S., most of the peat moss found on store shelves is Canadian sphagnum moss. It also grows in Ireland, Finland and other areas of Northern Europe. When mixed with soil, peat moss can create a higher soil pH level and help the soil hold more water.

The problems come in when peat moss is harvested. Moss turns into decomposed peat at a rate of about one millimeter per year. As that figure alludes, peat is not readily renewable. In order to get to the peat, harvesters need to channel the wetland water away from the peat accumulation at the bottom of the bog, which in turn destroys the ecosystem of the wetland. Since these peat bogs only exist on about 3 percent of the earth’s surface, eco-scientists consider ruining these bogs akin to destroying fragile rainforest environments.

While peat may be natural and organic, it’s not sustainable. Gardening alternatives to peat include compost, leaf mold, straw, cocoa shells or coir (coconut husk). Since peat on its own doesn’t provide much in the way of nutrients, your garden could even be better off with a bog-friendly alternative!

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