What Is Peat Moss? Uses, Advantages and Disadvantages

Peat moss is a peat-like substance that is used as an organic soil amendment. It has been used for centuries to help improve the quality of garden soils and keep them moist. It’s also often mixed with potting mix or composted garden refuse to create a peaty soil blend suitable for planting pots and containers.

But what exactly is it? What are its advantages over other types of soil amendments? And what should you know about peat’s disadvantages before using it in your own garden? Read on to find out!

What is peat or peat moss?

Peat moss is a peat-like substance consisting primarily of partially decayed vegetation. It is just one of the products harvested from peat bogs. It forms in wet, boggy areas where living plants cannot grow and accumulate over centuries to create deposits harvested as peat moss for garden use. 

It was used indoors or outdoors since ancient times by people around the world – it was even used in the 12th and 13th centuries as an energy source of ever-growing importance in Europe.

In the 1950s, sphagnum peat moss became widely used as a principal ingredient in the potting soils sold in the United States. Due to its antiseptic qualities, it is also used as a dressing for wounds. Peat-based products on the market promise to work wonders to beautify skin or hair.

Don’t confuse it with sphagnum moss, the living part of the sphagnum moss plant. 

Peat Moss Benefits

sphagnum peat moss

Peat moss has many benefits that make it an excellent soil amendment for landscapes, container gardens, and indoor plants or houseplants. It is an essential component of most soilless potting mixes and seed starting mediums.

Its benefits are so great that it ranks among one of the best options for improving poor-quality garden soil – even better than some types of composts!

Effective Soil Amendment

Peat moss is highly effective for amending soil. It doesn’t contain harmful microorganisms or weed seeds that you may find in poorly processed compost. At the same time, its lightweight helps reduce the strain on your back when you’re transporting potted plants from one place to another. 

PH Balancer

It also can neutralize the soil acidity or alkalinity of the soil without changing the garden’s soil pH balance.

Improving Drainage

Adding peat moss can improve drainage (especially if mixed with sandy soil) because of its ability to retain water – which is among its advantages. Pots dry out faster due to the air-filled gaps between peat particles, creating more aeration around roots. Its ability to hold water and absorb it into its structure during periods of rain or watering prevents moisture evaporation from your plants’ roots.

Gardeners like using peat’s sandy texture because peat moss helps keep the soil from becoming compacted, restricting water retention and air circulation. This property makes it excellent at improving the aeration and texture of heavy clay soils. It is perfect for raised-bed gardening and as an effective soil amendment for vegetable gardening. For example, if you are growing carrot, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and more. 

Supports worm casting activity

In addition, peats’ porous structure also provides an ideal environment for worm casting activity – one of the most vital contributors to a healthy garden ecosystem.

How Is Peat Moss Used?

peat mosses

Peat moss helps to add nutrients and improve plant growth. However, it should only be used in moderation.

Properly using peat moss in your indoor garden should be mixed with other planting mediums like perlite, vermiculite, compost, or others. It shouldn’t exceed 20% of your total fertilizer needs.

You should know that using peat moss will cause drainage problems for indoor gardens where the plants sit directly on top of moistened peat.

This means they’ll need more frequent watering than if you were using bark or other natural mulches. 

For starting seeds or potting up plants, it is a great way to create a sterile environment for seedlings or cuttings. It will help protect them from disease and pests, but peat should be removed before the plant enters the final pot it’ll grow in.

Finally, you can also use peat pots, that are made of a compostable mix of peat moss and wood.

What disadvantages does peat moss have?

While most experts agree on peat moss’s usefulness as an organic material with essential minerals like potassium and magnesium (and other micronutrients), it can have some disadvantages.

  • Peat moss is unsuitable if your main goal is adding soil nutrients like nitrogen near plant roots because peat doesn’t provide much. Its lack of nutrients means it doesn’t make an excellent stand-alone amendment. Hence, combining other materials with peat is a good idea.
  • It can also harbor certain pests, such as mites and nematodes, that may infest other growing plants in your garden.
  • It also has an acidic pH, making it difficult for plants to grow there. 
  • Peat’s high salt content can also harm plants if not planted correctly. However, experts say this problem can be avoided by using fresh peat or adding gypsum to help offset its effects on plant growth. 

Environmental Concerns

what does peat moss do

Peat moss mining also raises environmental concerns: it is a nonrenewable resource, like other soil amendments such as compost. It can be found in peat bogs, and peat is harvested from these peat bogs in small amounts every year. 

Peat moss also contains peat, a type of organic matter made up mainly of decayed vegetation that accumulates in wetlands in the Northern Hemisphere. Actually, the U.S. gets up to 80% of the sphagnum peat moss it uses from Canada. Canada contains the second-biggest amounts of peat moss in the world, with 25% of the world’s moss. The peat bog mass harvested each year is an estimated 1/60th of the mass that accumulates.

They are considered good carbon sinks and can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere when peat bog are left intact. However, cutting into peat bogs to harvest peat moss can release the peat and peat-forming vegetation into the atmosphere, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

To prevent this, initiatives are underway to replant sphagnum moss with trees, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. 

If you’re considering using sphagnum peat moss on your vegetable beds or raised planters, try adding peat pellets instead. Peat pellets are just compressed peat balls that can be used like regular peat but will eventually break down into composted material over time! Plus, they offer all the benefits mentioned above without negative environmental effects, making them an excellent substitute replacement.

What are some substitutes for peat moss?

Fortunately, many alternatives are available, making an excellent substitute for peat moss and providing plenty of aeration without any of peat’s negative environmental impacts. 

A great alternative to peat moss in your garden would be compost mixed with other fertilizers like manure or adding coffee grounds directly into the soil, or using organic fertilizers. They provide nitrogen while also improving drainage and water retention. There are many alternatives available that most experts agree on their superior properties.

Coco coir is another substitute: it is the unused portion of coconut fiber that has been compressed and dried out. Coco coir peat is made from coconuts, a sustainable building material;

Pecan shell dust can also be used instead, in compost or soil because it contains plenty of nutrients for plants to grow.


While there are some environmental concerns regarding using peat mosses for gardening, this doesn’t mean it should be avoided entirely!

It is often considered an effective soil amendment for improving drainage and increasing moisture retention. It can affect drainage and nutrients in the soil when mixed with compost or other organic materials like straw, which help offset its effects on plant growth. 

If you’re considering using sphagnum peat moss on your vegetable beds or raised planters, try adding pellets instead. 

I hope this article has helped you understand what sphagnum peat moss is used for in gardening and how it compares to other commonly used organic.

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Daniel Buckner is an indoor gardening enthusiast and hydroponic expert with years of experience cultivating a variety of plants. Passionate about sustainable living and urban gardening, Daniel shares his knowledge through engaging content to inspire and educate fellow gardeners. Discover the joys of indoor gardening with Daniel's practical tips and valuable insights.

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