Gardeners and garden experts have begun to rethink the customary use of peat moss as a soil amendment. Once considered an automatic addition to almost every planting job, peat moss is being examined in a more environmentally-informed context. Using peat moss damages the bogs and wetlands where it originates. Further, peat moss may add fewer nutrients than once assumed.
Peat Moss as a Commercial Product
Given the huge popularity of peat moss, naturally-occurring supplies have required supplementing by commercial growers in Canada and the U.S. Both the destruction of natural bogs and new commercial sites are coming under increasing concern. Environmentalists point out that the rate of bog regeneration and other impacts on wetlands need further investigation and substantiation.
Peat Moss as a Soil Amendment
Peat moss tends to be regarded as the solution to all residential garden problems, when in fact there are some genuine limitations to its properties. Most frequently, gardeners dig in peat moss to lighten soil, breaking up clumps of clay and improving water retention. What needs to be recognized is that peat moss, once dry, absorbs new water very slowly; added to soil in large amounts it can produce dry spots. Sprinkled over grass seed or used as mulch over new plantings, its absorption problems multiply. Peat moss may wick away water intended for thirsty seeds or roots.
Peat Moss and Soil Nutrition
While peat moss may add aeration to heavy soils, it brings far less nutrition to soil than a similar amount of compost, which would also provide aeration. Gardeners advise each other that 1 part peat moss to 2 parts soil is a good mixture for plants, without recognizing that more than one part peat moss to two parts soil may drastically reduce soil nutrition (it's easy to think about human diet discussions of fiber and empty calories). Further, peat moss is strongly acidic, adding elements to some soils that non-acid-lovers may not need at all.
Peat Moss in Perspective
Peat moss has a definite place in home gardening, so long as it is not regarded as an endlessly-available resource that fixes all gardening problems. Used as intended, peat moss can lighten planting soil; add compost or leaf mold to supplement nutrition. Mixed thoroughly into soil it can contribute some measure of water retention; care needs to be taken though, that the peat moss itself does not take more than its share of water. Harvested carefully, peat moss can be regarded as a renewable natural resource. Peat moss improves home gardens; it just doesn't do everything.