Both professional and amateur gardeners know and understand the collective love affair with peat moss. It’s an excellent growing amendment and can help even the beginner’s garden flourish. However, you may have noticed that peat moss is becoming increasingly difficult to find—and there are a few notable reasons for this.
Peat moss is so hard to find because it isn’t a renewable resource, and the harvesting practices used up until today have diminished the capacity for peat moss to grow sustainably. Additionally, more governments are looking to ban it alternatively due to its effects on climate change.
Our earth is in crisis—as many non-renewable resources disappear in the name of profit—and peat moss is one of these vital resources. In this article, we’ll discuss where one usually finds peat and why there is a shortage at the moment. We’ll also go through the option of growing peat moss at home and what alternatives you can choose so your garden doesn’t have to suffer.
Why Is There a Shortage of Peat Moss?
The peat moss shortage is primarily due to environmental concerns—but there have also been collective concerns about how peat moss harvesting sometimes leads to catastrophic wildfires.
Additionally, due to the overharvesting of peat moss, the areas it can be grown have become severely limited.
Due to these (very valid) concerns, many countries are turning to alternatives. For example, the United Kingdom is looking to place a blanket ban on the production and selling of peat moss from the country’s diminishing peatlands. This ban should take effect by 2024—and no doubt many nations will follow suit soon enough.
The shortage of peat moss is not likely to go away anytime soon. Looking for safer, more environmentally friendly alternatives is the best option for gardeners looking to grow crops or plants in the future.
In addition to the shortage problem, you should consider whether using peat moss in your garden is a good idea. To find out the answer, check out my full article on the topic: Should You Use Peat Moss in Your Vegetable Garden?
Where Does Peat Moss Originate?
You may find peat moss in several places, notably in bogs known as peatlands in Russia and Canada. You can also find it in a few Asian countries, but the primary source of most peat moss on the market is the Canadian peatlands. These peatlands originated many thousands of years ago.
Sphagnum peat moss develops through a process of biological decomposition with the help of plants and animals. These decomposition systems leave behind a residue that helps to form a spongy material well-known for its hardy nature.
Since peat moss has a considerable capacity to retain moisture and can help aerate the soil, it is also naturally disease-free. Thus the demand for peat moss for gardens worldwide increased in recent decades. However, it arguably began back in the Roman period. This increase has led to environmental concerns about its ultimate sustainability and impact on global warming.
Since you can only find peat moss in certain parts of the world, the global demand is high. Thus, its production and harvesting processes have boomed—making it more expensive, less environmentally friendly, and far more scarce than ever.
Can I Grow My Own Peat Moss?
For those looking for alternatives, you may wonder if it’s possible to produce your own peat moss at home. Thankfully, this is considered a sustainable practice and is even encouraged if you feel your garden can’t live without peat moss.
You can grow your own peat moss at home. Finding moss in your local countryside is possible, and you can even buy dried peat moss suitable for farming. Additionally, you can choose to grow it indoors or outdoors, and it’s relatively straightforward to produce.
Foraging sphagnum moss is also relatively easy, provided you know what you seek. It comes in various colors but will generally look very distinctive. It usually only reaches a couple of inches.
The first place to look would be shaded, humid, or moist areas. For example, you will often find this moss around wooded areas beneath trees.
Once you have identified the sphagnum moss, you can harvest it quickly by cutting off a small offshoot from the top of the growth.
The instructions below will explain how to grow your peat moss in an indoor environment:
- Find some trays that you can stack, one with drainage holes in the bottom and one without holes. Place the tray with the holes on top of the other to create a mini drainage system that can replicate the natural humidity of a peat bog.
- Place a small piece of fabric on the bottom tray. This fabric will ultimately absorb the water once it’s introduced and increase the humidity of the setting.
- Place a growing additive at the bottom of the top tray. Spread it out evenly to keep the aeration potential high enough to keep the area humid and allow proper water drainage.
- Place your harvested sphagnum moss in the top tray and fill it with water. You can wait for it to drain out.
- Once done, leave it in a partly shaded area, such as a window that gets partial sunlight. Make sure you keep the moss moist by checking on it daily.
It shouldn’t take too long for the peat moss to form, and once it has, you can snip off the ends and continue to grow it until you have enough to use in your garden.
If you want to speed up the process, you can use a fertilizer. Make sure you use an organic fertilizer rather than a synthetic one.
For example, this MARPHYL Organic Liquid Fertilizer from Amazon.com is all-natural and doesn’t contain pests or diseases, so your growing peat moss will thrive. It comes in various sizes, so you don’t need to purchase a massive container for a small amount of peat. Additionally, it comprises phytoplankton found in the ocean, so it’s super sustainable.
However, in most cases, it’s best to leave the moss to flourish on its own. Introducing foreign substances could mess with your container’s equilibrium, so if you can, be patient with your peat moss.
It would be best to consider the disadvantages of mixing too much peat moss with your garden or potting soil. You can find out more about these potential issues in this article: Can You Put Too Much Peat Moss in a Garden?
What Are the Best Peat Moss Alternatives?
Now that climate concerns are coming to the forefront of international discourse, finding suitable and sustainable alternatives has never been more critical. If you’re an avid user of commercially-harvested peat moss, it might be time to search for an option that suits your needs and those of your garden.
The best peat moss alternatives include coconut coir, compost, and rice hulls. We’ll discuss these in more detail below.
Coconut coir is fast becoming the favorite among those looking for peat moss alternatives. It can be harvested from coconuts and used in various formats, including as an effective soil additive.
The primary reason coconut coir is so popular is its ability to retain moisture, similar to peat moss. These features make it an excellent alternative if you’re looking for something to keep your soil nice and healthy, and it’s relatively easy to find.
Compost is also an intelligent way to boost those garden beds. It’s relatively cheap to produce at home and is also a great way to get rid of food waste and other bits and pieces lying around that would otherwise be thrown away.
There aren’t any substantial downsides to using compost as long as you know how to compost effectively. Your garden will thank you for it!
Rice hulls might seem like an odd suggestion, but they are beneficial for many different purposes. Using these as an alternative to peat moss is also a sustainable and environmentally friendly way to recycle and reuse substances we use all the time: rice.
Rice hulls are the residue of rice grains, and people tend to throw them away. However, reusing them as a soil additive is an excellent choice since they provide good aeration, are super cheap and lightweight, and can (perhaps surprisingly) retain water adequately enough to give your garden beds extra moisture.
Whichever one you choose, be sure to source them sustainably. If you’ve got a compost heap going home, this is probably the best option since you won’t need to pay anything extra, and you’ll be able to find a perfect home for your (otherwise useless) kitchen waste.
Nowadays, given the state of our peatlands, it’s usually the wiser choice to find an alternative to peat moss. Plus, purchasing alternative soil amendments might be more accessible and cheaper if you find it challenging to source peat moss.
Peat moss is difficult to find because of environmental concerns and diminishing resources. Many countries are even beginning to ban the stuff. Even if you find it, it is likely quite expensive compared to other products, and although it lasts a long time, it’s best to remember that it doesn’t necessarily do a better job than compost.
If you’re looking for a decent substitute, you can use rice hulls or coconut fibers. You should be able to source these products without fuss—they are relatively inexpensive. If you care for the environment, consider making your garden more sustainable today.