Sphagnum Moss vs. Peat Moss – What You Need to Know

If you are an indoor gardening enthusiast aiming to cultivate edible plants, you have likely been faced with the question: sphagnum moss or peat moss?

This decision isn’t trivial, as the choice of growing medium significantly influences your plants’ growth and productivity.

Both sphagnum moss and peat moss have their unique advantages and shortcomings. Understanding these can help you make an informed decision, optimize your indoor garden, and improve your harvest.

In this blog post, we delve into the properties of peat moss and sphagnum moss, their pros and cons, a detailed comparison, and tips on making the right choice for your indoor garden.

Understanding Peat Moss and Sphagnum Moss: A Basic Overview

Sphagnum moss and peat moss are not the same thing, but they are commonly lumped together and easily confused. Both actually do come from the same plant: sphagnum moss. This changes their properties and uses immensely.

Sphagnum moss is the green living part, and Peat moss is sphagnum moss that has died, decayed, and resides beneath the surface. Both are parts of the Sphagnum genus, which is found in bogs and damp, acidic areas all over the world. There are over 300 species of sphagnum moss, each with unique characteristics and properties.

Thus, while they come from the same plant, sphagnum moss will be green, while peat moss is a light brown, dark brown, or black when you see these materials in garden centers. 

What is Sphagnum Moss?

Sphagnum moss grows in cool, moist environments like bogs and marshes. It’s an incredibly absorbent green living plant, making it highly useful for indoor gardening.

It has a green, gray, and brown color that makes it a favored choice for hanging baskets or the topping of large pots. You can buy it in both long (natural fibers) or as milled (chopped). However, plain sphagnum moss may be harder to find. It is generally sold in smaller bags and is not as widely used as peat moss.

The Pros of Sphagnum Moss

Sphagnum mosses have the capability to absorb water that is more than eight times their own weight, a feature that is crucial in indoor gardening where controlling moisture levels can be a challenge. During the First World War, there was a shortage of cotton bandages, so people used Sphagnum mosses as wound dressings instead.

This ability to retain water while also offering excellent aeration for roots makes it a preferred choice for propagation and growing plants from seeds.

Indoor gardeners find sphagnum moss particularly helpful for edible plants that require a consistently moist but well-draining environment. For example, herbs like basil, parsley, and cilantro can thrive in a sphagnum moss-based medium.

In addition, sphagnum moss has antifungal properties, which can help protect your plants from diseases. This can be a game-changer for indoor gardeners since indoor plants are often more prone to fungal diseases due to the lack of natural airflow and sunlight.

The Cons of Sphagnum Moss

sphagnum moss and peat

Despite its many benefits, sphagnum moss does have its drawbacks. One significant disadvantage is its lack of essential nutrients. While sphagnum moss provides a great physical environment for your plants to grow, it doesn’t feed them.

Therefore, if you’re using sphagnum moss, you’ll need to provide your plants with a separate source of nutrients, such as a high-quality fertilizer or compost.

Another potential drawback is the acidity of sphagnum moss. It tends to have a neutral PH level, which can make it unsuitable for plants that prefer a more alkaline environment.

What Is Sphagnum Moss Used For?

You can use Sphagnum moss as a lining in a garden rather than a soil amendment. There are some instances in which you can use sphagnum moss as planting material in and of itself.

Orchids are often planted in solely sphagnum moss, and it is also used as a seed starting medium. However, it is sold in smaller bags and is more expensive than peat moss, so it is more of a specialty tool rather than something in every gardener’s toolkit

And as with all things, there are pros and cons to using sphagnum moss in your indoor garden.

What is Sphagnum Peat Moss?

Sphagnum peat moss, also called Peat moss, on the other hand, is an accumulative layer of partially decayed sphagnum moss that collects in bogs over centuries. It is essentially dead sphagnum moss.

It is harvested from the lower levels of sphagnum bogs and contains a high concentration of organic matter like dead insects and other plant material.

Peat moss is much more prominent in gardening for its large place as a soil amendment. You can buy bags of it yourself, but you will also find it is already an ingredient in many pre-made potting soils and potting mixes.

However, it also has its own set of pros and cons.

The Pros of Sphagnum Peat Moss

Sphagnum peat moss and sphagnum moss shares many of the same physical benefits. It is fantastic at retaining water, making it an excellent potting soil amendment in your indoor gardening medium, especially for plants that require a consistently moist environment.

A potting soil amendment is an added material to improve soil texture and increase the availability of nutrients for plants. In this case, adding peat moss will help keep your soil moist by providing long-term water retention.

Moreover, peat moss provides good aeration, which is essential for the plant’s roots health. It also tends to be more readily available and affordable than sphagnum moss, making it a more practical choice for gardening soil.

Peat moss also has antifungal properties, which can help protect your plants from diseases. It is especially useful in greenhouse settings where fungal infections are more common due to the lack of natural airflow and sunlight.

Peat moss can be an excellent choice for those growing acid-loving edible plants, due to its naturally low pH (3.0 to 4.0).

The Cons of Sphagnum Peat Moss

soil organic matter in peat moss

Like sphagnum moss, sphagnum peat moss does not contain the necessary nutrients that plants need to thrive. This means that if you’re using peat moss, you’ll need to provide additional nutrient sources through fertilizers or compost.

One significant disadvantage of harvesting peat moss is its environmental impact. Sphagnum Peat moss is harvested from peat bogs, ecosystems that take thousands of years to form. When extracting sphagnum, it disrupts these unique ecosystems and contributes to carbon emissions, as stored carbon is released during the extraction process.

This has led to criticism of peat moss use and a preference for more sustainable alternatives among environmentally conscious gardeners.

What is it Used For?

peat moss grows

Peat moss is added to the soil to make it better for gardening. You can also find them in the form of peat pots. Because of its low pH, it is an excellent choice for acid-loving plants. It is typically balanced with a more basic substance like lime when used with plants that are not fond of an acidic environment.

Many plant varieties that are particularly fond of sphagnum peat moss include:

Here are some of the acid-loving edible plants:

  • Blueberries
  • Cranberries
  • Raspberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Strawberries
  • Potatoes
  • Eggplants

Sphagnum Moss vs Peat Moss: A Detailed Comparison

Now that we understand what sphagnum moss and peat moss are, let’s compare them to help you make an informed decision.


peat bog

If you are an environmentally conscious gardener, sphagnum moss is the more sustainable choice. Peat moss comes from peat bogs that take millennia to form. Extracting peat moss disrupts these ecosystems and takes away a valuable carbon sink, contributing to climate change.

On the other hand, sphagnum moss can be harvested sustainably. When responsibly sourced, it can regenerate within a few years, making it a renewable resource. However, it’s essential to ensure that the sphagnum moss you buy has been harvested responsibly.

Water Retention

Both sphagnum and peat moss excel in water retention, but sphagnum moss has a slight edge. Because it’s a spongy and living plant, sphagnum moss can hold up to 20 times its weight in water. This ability makes it a fantastic choice for indoor plants that require a consistently moist environment.

While still excellent at retaining water, Sphagnum peat moss may not hold quite as much due to its decomposed nature. However, it still outperforms many other types of growing media in terms of water retention.

Expert Tip: No matter which one you choose, remember that good water retention doesn’t replace the need for proper watering practices. You should always water your plants based on their specific needs.

pH Levels

Sphagnum moss has a more neutral PH of 7.0, while peat moss has an acidic PH ranging from 3.0 to 4.0. This acidity can be beneficial for acid-loving plants, but not all plants enjoy such a low pH. Some plants may struggle in such an acidic environment, and the acidity may inhibit the absorption of certain nutrients.

If you’re growing a variety of edible plants, you’ll need to balance the pH based on your plants’ preferences. You can do this by adding lime to increase the pH or using a fertilizer designed for acid-loving plants.

Nutrient Content

When it comes to nutrient content, neither sphagnum nor peat moss offers much. They both lack the essential nutrients that plants need to thrive. However, this doesn’t mean they can’t be part of a successful growing medium.

You can create balanced potting and garden soils by combining sphagnum or peat moss with other nutrient-rich components. Compost, worm castings, or a good-quality fertilizer can supplement the nutrient content.

Making the Right Choice for Your Indoor Garden

harvest sphagnum moss

The choice between sphagnum moss and peat moss isn’t clear-cut and depends on various factors, including the type of plants you’re growing, their specific needs, and your personal preferences and values.

If you value sustainability and are growing plants that need lighter, airy garden soils, sphagnum moss could be the better choice. It’s renewable and offers excellent water retention and aeration.

However, it’s usually more expensive than peat moss and may not be as readily available.

On the other hand, if you’re on a budget, growing acid-loving plants, or need a medium that can hold more water, peat moss might be the way to go. Just remember that it comes with environmental concerns and that you will need to supplement it with other nutrients.

Expert Tip: If you can’t decide between sphagnum and peat moss, why not use a mix of both? You can enjoy the benefits of both types of moss by creating a custom mix tailored to your plants’ needs.

Regardless of your choice, remember that neither sphagnum nor peat moss can be used as a standalone potting soils. Both lack essential nutrients and must be supplemented with a quality fertilizer or compost. Also, don’t forget to consider your plants’ pH requirements and adjust the medium accordingly.

Lastly, bear in mind that the success of your indoor garden doesn’t solely rest on the choice between sphagnum and peat moss. Other factors like light, temperature, humidity, and your care play a significant role in your plants’ health and productivity.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is sphagnum moss better than sphagnum peat moss for indoor edible plants?

The choice between sphagnum and peat moss depends on your plant’s specific needs and your gardening practices. Some plants may benefit more from sphagnum moss, while others prefer peat moss.

Is sphagnum moss renewable?

Peat moss comes from peat bogs, which are a type of natural form of wetland that takes thousands of years to form. These bogs are important carbon sinks, meaning they absorb more carbon than they release.

Over-harvesting of peat moss can deplete these bogs, releasing stored carbon back into the atmosphere and contributing to climate change. Additionally, the destruction of peat bogs threatens the unique ecosystems they support, including a range of bird species, insects, and plants.

Therefore, many gardeners are opting for more sustainable alternatives, such as sphagnum moss, and avoiding peat moss altogether.

Do I need to add nutrients to sphagnum or peat moss?

Yes, both materials lack essential nutrients that plants need to thrive. You can supplement them with a good-quality fertilizer or compost to ensure your plants get all the nutrients they require.

Can I use sphagnum or peat moss as a standalone growing medium?

While sphagnum and peat moss have excellent water retention and aeration properties, they are not nutrient-rich. Therefore, if you were to use either as a standalone growing medium, your plants would likely suffer from nutrient deficiencies over time.

To create a balanced growing environment, you should mix sphagnum moss or peat moss with a nutrient-rich compost or use a high-quality fertilizer regularly or create a mix to fit your plants’ needs.

This way, you can ensure that your indoor garden gets all the nutrients it needs without worrying about environmental concerns associated with harvestable peat moss. This will ensure your plants receive all the essential macro and micronutrients they need to grow and produce food.

What is a good substitute for peat moss?

Good alternatives to peat moss include coir, vermiculite, and perlite. These materials do not come with the same environmental concerns as peat moss and offer similar water retention and aeration properties.

Additionally, most are more affordable than sphagnum or peat moss.

When in doubt, you can always create a custom mix of materials to best fit your plants’ needs.

This way, you can enjoy the benefits of both peat and sphagnum moss without having to worry about environmental concerns or nutrient deficiencies.

Can you use forest moss instead of sphagnum moss?

Yes, forest moss can be used instead of sphagnum moss. Like sphagnum moss, it is lightweight and has excellent water retention and aeration properties.

However, it does not contain the same beneficial microbial life as sphagnum and will require regular nutrient supplementation in order to provide your plants with the best growing environment possible.

Can any plant grow in sphagnum moss?

No, not all plants can grow in sphagnum moss. Some plants prefer a more acidic soil and require peat moss as the growing material.

Additionally, some plants may need additional support, such as trellises or stakes, when grown in sphagnum moss. To ensure your plants have the best chance of survival, it is important to research the specific requirements of your plants before planting them in either sphagnum or peat moss.


Choosing between peat moss and sphagnum moss is important for indoor gardeners focusing on edible plants.

Both have their strengths and weaknesses, and your choice should reflect your plants’ specific needs, gardening practices, and commitment to sustainability.

By understanding what each moss brings to the table, you can make an informed choice and cultivate a thriving indoor garden. Whether you choose sphagnum moss, peat moss, or a mix of both, remember that the secret to a successful indoor garden lies in the growing medium and your dedication and care.

Hope you enjoyed this guide – you can find more indoor gardening guides here.


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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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