Peat moss, a bog-derived product usually made of sphagnum moss, is often called a gardener’s best friend. Dried and formed into large bales through compressing machines, peat moss has myriad uses. While in some parts of the world peat moss provides fuel for heating and cooking, in the United States, gardeners use it primarily for soil improvement.
Improve Soil Structure
Adding organic matter to a garden bed builds soil structure, allowing your plants’ root systems room to grow. Proper “tilth,” as soil texture is called, also enables water and nutrients to reach plant roots. Peat moss, although it contains few nutrients, is an ideal soil-builder because it is lightweight and somewhat inexpensive, relative to the amounts in which it is sold. Spread 1 to 2 inches over your garden bed and run a hose or sprinkler over the bed for a few hours. Once the peat becomes soaked, dig it into the garden.
Lower pH Level
In some cases, gardeners need to lower their soil’s pH level. Some parts of the United States have naturally alkaline soil, for example, and need a soil amendment that will bring the pH down to a neutral level of 6.0 or 7.0 Many plants, moreover, prefer soil on the acidic side. Among the plants preferring a range of 3.5 to 5.5 are blueberries, certain evergreen shrubs, laurels, rhododendrons and azaleas. Whether you want to lower your alkaline soil to neutral, or your neutral soil both cases, add more peat moss to the soil then you would if you were just improving the soil structure--up to 6 inches.
Potting Soil Ingredient
Because regular garden soil is too heavy and potentially bacteria-ridden for most container plantings, gardeners prefer either a part-soil or non-soil planting mix. Both types often include already-sterile peat moss. For a part-soil planting, mix equal parts sand, soil and peat moss in a flower pot or larger container. (If you are concerned about the sterility of the soil, put it in an oven-safe pan and cook it at the oven’s lowest setting for one hour before adding it to the peat and sand.) For a non-soil planting medium, mix equal parts peat, perlite and vermiculite.
Certain plants, especially houseplants, reproduce themselves easily through propagation. To do this with a stem cutting, put some peat moss, or a peat- vermiculite mix, in a spare pot or cleaned food container. Make a 2-inch hole in the soil with a pencil. Locate a 4- to 6-inch section of stem on the houseplant you want to propagate. Use a section with several leaves. Slice the stem at an angle just below one of the sets of leaves, remove those leaves just above the cut and gently place the stem in the hole. Mist the stem and the peat, cover with plastic film and wait for the stem to develop a root system and become a true plant in its own right.
A key ingredient in the craft known as hypertufa, peat moss combines with Portland cement and perlite and/or vermiculite to form a sculpting media which, when plastered onto greased containers or flowerpots, form the shape of those molds. Hypertufa enthusiasts use it to make everything from fake boulders to elaborate garden sculpture. Used to hold plants, hypertufa makes lovely, antique-looking “stone” urns, flowerpots and garden troughs.