Peat vs. Peat moss-is there a difference??

Giovanna_gal(z9TX)June 27, 2005

Always hear about planting in peat/perlite mixture. What's the difference in peat and peat moss and where can you get just peat, do you buy it in the stores or nurseries?? Help a newbie out : > )

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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

It's probably more accurate to call it moss peat instead of peat moss. There are several different commercially sold peat mosses. I'll describe the 2 most common. You're looking for sphagnum peat. It's available in small bags, usually milled or screened, or larger compressed bags or bundles. It's light to medium brown in color, is formed primarily from Sphagnum moss, and is the least decomposed of the general categories of peat. It has the highest water-holding capacity of the peats; holding up to 60% of its volume in water. It is used in most commercial potting soils.

Reed-sedge peat is brown to black in color, mucky and is formed from a variety of plant materials - reeds, sedges, grasses and cattails mostly. Although it can be obtained in different degrees of decomposition, it is usually more decomposed than Sphagnum peat. Therefore, it has a finer texture and lower air-filled poor space than Sphagnum peat. Its water-holding capacity is lower than that of Sphagnum peat too. This is not suitable for container use.

Sphagnum moss is whole moss & used as a decoration, in some rooting operations (like airlayering, e.g.) and other horticultural applications. It is available in bags at most stores by plant supplies.


    Bookmark   June 27, 2005 at 10:57PM
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Al, I've never seen reed-sedge peat. I use sphagnum peat moss in vermicomposting but have read it is a non-renewable resource, so I was wondering if the reed-sedge would work as well and where it is available, at least in your area.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2005 at 9:29AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

MI & MN are big producers of this type of peat (reed-sedge). It comes in a 1 - 1-1/2 cu ft bag & is usually like stinky muck. Good in gardens - death in pots. ;o)

Sorry, but I'm not buying the non-renewable sob story. In Canada alone, there are more than 270 million acres of harvestable peat bogs. If we make the conservative guess that the harvestable portions of these bogs are 10 feet deep, that means there are probably more than 900 billion cu ft available for harvest, just in Canada! That doesn't even take into consideration whats available in Europe, Asia, or places like New Zealand where they also mine peat. Canada currently has mining/harvesting operations underway on approximately 40 thousand acres or about .014% (that reads "14 one thousandths of 1 percent").


    Bookmark   June 28, 2005 at 4:17PM
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I'm still confused...I had the same question as the first poster. I am doing landscaping in my yard and was told (I think) to mix some peat moss into the soil. I went to a store that had peat for sale, but they couldn't tell me what the difference was between peat and peat moss. I'm just wondering if I should buy the bags of peat to use in my flower beds.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2006 at 10:13AM
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username_5(banned for no reason)

look for the word 'sphagnum' on the bag and that is what you want.

I also agree with Al, it isn't at all true that peat is a non renewable resource. At the rate it is being harvested, the net amount on the planet is increasing, not decreasing. The idea that it is non renewable is based upon really old data. The idea was that it took many decades for the moss to form and as harvesting increased we would run out as it couldn't keep up.

Well, that wasn't really true, but it is less true today. The Canadian government (the US gets most peat from Canada) has programs which have sped up the prodution of peat bogs to the point where it takes 5-10 years to replace what was harvested, not several decades.

Additionally the government controls the harvesting to limited areas and once they are exhausted, they are regrown.

Peat moss harvesting is completely sustainable, no worries there.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2006 at 10:54AM
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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4)

Peat is dark brown....fine stuff, looks like dark soil but doesn't weigh as much....mixes easily with your soil.
Sphagnum is like a bundle of brown takes a while to wet down and is not terribly easy to mix with your soil. I used to put in a couple of 4 cu foot bales a year....but sometimes if we got a downpour after a dry spell, that sphagnum would just float out of the garden.
I like peat for the beds and sphagnum for pots.
Peat comes in bags like top soil, sphagnum comes in a square bale, like.....well sphagnum!
Linda C

    Bookmark   April 22, 2006 at 6:31PM
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Peat and peat moss are essentially the same thing. As Al mentioned, peat can be derived from different materials, but the bulk of it sold commercially is from Canadian sources, most of which are primarily comprised of sphagnum moss. Peat is simply the decomposed product of these mosses. It is typically sold screened and dried and often in compressed bales. Depending on source, it has a rather high (or I guess more accurately, low) acidic pH and little, if any, nutrient content as the organic matter has decomposed to the point where it has been broken down almost completely.

It can be used as a soil amendment to lighten heavy soils or to acidify soils for specific plant requirements. It is able to hold several times its weight in water so is good for increasing water retention. When dry, it tends to be very hydrophobic and resists wetting. It is best to incorporate it fully into existing soil rather than using as a mulch or topdressing, which will form a crust that water will not penetrate easily.

It is often sold sterilized and therefore can make a great starting medium for cuttings or seeds as all pathogens have been removed. In this case, wetting before planting is necessary and it can't be allowed to dry out.

There is some validity to environmental concerns about peat, but they are more restricted to the UK than to North America. Peat has been used as a fuel source (it is the next step before coal) for centuries in England and Ireland and depletion of peat bogs and the associated ecosystems in those countries has been significant.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2006 at 10:04AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Good point, Pam - about the non-renewable issue. I tend to think more in terms of its abundance and how we'll never run out of it here in North America, and forget the more localized ecosystem issues of other countries. Next time I comment on this issue, I'll be sure to include a broader perspective.


    Bookmark   April 24, 2006 at 2:35PM
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thanks for the info but what would be bettter for blueberries? Spahgnum or michigan peat?

    Bookmark   May 22, 2006 at 6:18PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Read the label. You want milled Sphagnum Peat moss. MANY companies sell it under their own labels, and some might not use the word moss in the label, but spagnum will sure be there. I would avoid Michigan peat, which is (as is stated several times above) a sedge peat. However!!!! Michigan Peat DOES sell a spagnum peat moss product, I believe. the label.

You can purchase spagnum moss as sheets, as coarse mill, or fine milled. Most of the stuff that we buy by the bale is finely milled.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2006 at 1:29PM
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meldy_nva(z6b VA)

Link is to an excellent article [from Cornell] detailing the differences among peat mosses and WHY they are different.

username5 Â Please advise me of your source for the statement that Canada is "replacing" the peat moss. All I have been able to find is an assortment of reports from various companies that Canada is using a 10-year plan for a "controlled harvest" of various peat sources. It is apparently true that the potential *production* is being limited due to this plan. The word *production* is used in the sense of producing a salable material, not in the sense of producing the material itself.

Please note that there is a considerable difference between Âharvesting and Âreplacing. Since peat apparently grows about a milliliter a year, it would be unlikely that Canada (or anywhere else) would be able to actually "replace" the material harvested.

Here is a link that might be useful: definitions of peat moss

    Bookmark   May 30, 2006 at 10:18AM
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I have a large area that I use for large bushes (rhodies, azaleas, spirea) The soil is hard clay except where I have supplemented for the bushes. I would like to cover the remaining area to prevent the clay runoff when it rains. I had been using red cedar mulch but it is very expensive. I was thinking of covering the area with sphagnum peat moss. There is a slight slope to the area. What do you suggest?

    Bookmark   June 7, 2006 at 8:57AM
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Florabunga(z8 WA)

Peat moss is an essential part of wetlands that is not renewable. I'd like to know the sources of those who say it is. Please take the time to read what Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D., Extension Urban Horticulturist and Associate Professor,
Puyallup Research and Extension Center, Washington State University has to say. The article was written in 2006.

Here is a link that might be useful: Linda Chalker-Scott's Article on Peat

    Bookmark   May 18, 2008 at 11:17PM
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