Growing in bogs and wetlands, the highly acidic remains of sphagnum peat moss (Sphagnum andersonianum) break down slowly, if at all, because of the acidity peat moss adds to its host environment. In such high=acid environments, decay is severely slowed or stops altogether. These partially decayed remains of peat moss are harvested and used as soil amendments for indoor and outdoor gardening.
Sphagnum moss contains a fungistatic chemical that prevents the growth of the fungus that causes “damping off” disease in young seedlings. It is widely used as a growing medium for starting seeds indoors or for transplanting young rooted cuttings.
Improves Soil Texture
With its fibrous structure, peat moss is an organic soil amendment that will improve the quality of your soil, whatever type it is. Peat moss increases aeration in heavy clay soils by creating air pockets with its stringy fibers. This makes it easier for plant roots to grow and for water to drain more quickly, keeping the plants' roots from being waterlogged. In sandy soils, peat moss increases the amount of moisture and nutrients held in the soil. This keeps the moisture and nutrients in the plants' root zone long enough to be used.
Unprocessed, or “unmilled,” peat moss is available in sheets from florists and craft supply stores. It retains its green color and is commonly used in craft and floral projects, such as lining the soil of terrariums, dish gardens or other container plants. First moisten it thoroughly by soaking and then squeeze the excess water out of it before installing. Moistening the peat moss first makes it more malleable and it is less likely to tear when installing.
Peat moss will absorb 10 to 20 times its own weight in water, the main reason it is widely used as a component of potting soil. It holds more water and is lighter than soil, making the container less cumbersome to move, as well as preventing the potting soil from drying out too quickly.
Sphagnum peat moss grows in wet, boggy areas in acidic soil. It is not found in woods or high-alkaline water sources. Growing in its native habitat, it forms a thick, cushiony mat that floats on the surface of the water and is strong enough to support the weight of several moose, according to Brandeis University. Peat moss is shallow-rooted with tiny, usually light green leaves, although some species have brown, deep red, pink or yellow leaves.