Peat moss was used historically as fuel for fires and ovens. In modern times, its usage worldwide is primarily horticultural. Some controversy and concerns about its environmental impact have been raised, however. Concerned gardeners should make themselves aware of peat moss, its controversies, and other options that may be available.
How It's Used
Peat moss is dug into gardens and flower beds by gardeners. A rate of anywhere from approximately 1/2 inch to 2 inches in thickness across a given area may be used. Gardeners incorporate this into existing soil, and may also use additional soil amendments such as compost at the same time.
Peat moss absorbs and holds onto water readily, much like a sponge. This effect is easily its most desirable quality as far as gardening is concerned. It also helps improve the structure and friability of compacted garden soils. As it decomposes, it adds valuable organic material back to the garden.
Contrary to popular belief, peat moss is not the only such material that can be added to soils to improve water retention and soil structure. Waste from breweries, olive processing facilities, and even sewage treatment facilities has shown capability of providing many of the same positive properties as peat moss. Coconut coir (taken from the shells of coconuts) is the most readily available such amendment. All of the above amendments are environmentally friendly and sustainable.
Peat moss usage has raised concerns in the international community because of how long it takes to form, and the fact that it may not be as environmentally friendly as has been presented. Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, Extension Urban Horticulturist and Associate Professor at the Puyallup Research and Extension Center at Washington State University notes that peat, in nature, only grows back at a maximum of 1 millimeter per year. Compared to how much peat moss is harvested for horticultural purposes, this amount is negligible. In addition to gardening use, peat's other popular use throughout history was as fuel for households who did not have other sources. Dr. Chalker-Scott asks concerned gardeners to note the distinction between necessity, such as household fuel, and luxury, such as horticultural use, when other comparably effective products are readily available.
Peat bogs, where peat moss is harvested, are specialized wetland environments with irreplaceable ecosystems. Until and unless there is no other option for survival, gardeners should do their homework and gather information about the other options available to them. Most recreational gardeners do it because they enjoy communing with nature, not destroying it. Dr. Chalker-Scott notes that the entire continent of Africa has no peat bogs and does not have the money to import peat moss, yet has managed to consistently grow lush crops regardless.