Peat moss is widely-used in gardens around the world, and for good reason. Plants thrive in peat because it provides a sterile growing medium and delivers highly-absorbent qualities;
it retains water better than other types of soil and prevents soil compaction. There’s no doubt peat moss will make your gardens more productive than ever, but at what cost?
Big Environmental Impact
Many of us never stop to think about where peat comes from, or what kind of impact it has on our ecosystems. Despite the fact that peat moss grows naturally in bogs, digging it up for horticultural purposes comes at an unsustainable cost to the environment and to wildlife. As fast as it is to destroy, peat takes an incredibly long time to grow; it forms at less than one millimeter per year!
Not only that, but peat stores a third of the world’s soil carbon; so draining the bog and removing the moss releases CO2 into the atmosphere. Peat bogs are also the breeding ground for Curlews, an endangered bird species.
The UK’s Peat-Free Movement
The book Gardening For Wildlife: A Complete Guide To Nature-Friendly Gardening has an eye-opening chapter on peat moss. There were originally 95,000 hectares of peat bogs in the British Isles; today, fewer than 5,000 hectares remain in good condition.
As a result, the government is pushing for peat-free home gardening in the UK by 2020, and a peat phase-out by professional growers by 2030. It’s completely voluntary, but according to Horticulture Week, if sufficient movement towards peat-free gardening hasn’t been made within the next two years, further measures could be taken. The Growing Media Association suggests financial penalties or even a total ban are possible.
A Different Story In North America
The issue is somewhat muted in North America, where most of the peat moss sold comes from Canada’s vast number of bogs. The Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association says peatlands cover 113.6 million hectares of land, and from that, only 29 744 hectares have been harvested — only 0.03% of the total number available.
The association also says special care is taken to restore the bogs, such as allowing them to re-flood and seeding them with shredded moss grafts. The grafts are transplanted from a donor site. By using this method, called the moss-layer transfer technique, bogs are said to grow back to their almost-natural states within 10-15 years.
Still, there are other options out there; ones that don’t involve tearing up a natural habitat.
For those who would rather use peat-free mediums, a number of alternatives exist. In fact, soils containing bark and wood fibers are said to produce similar results to peat. Another excellent option is coconut fiber, known as coir. Coir retains water just as well, if not better than peat, and decomposes at a slower rate meaning your plants gradually get nutrients over time. Soils containing coir can be purchased at many garden centers, but if you can’t find it, you can simply make your own by combining one part homemade compost with one part coir, which can be found at many hydroponic shops.
Never underestimate the power of kitchen compost. You can’t find a more perfect nutrient-rich food for your gardens. It provides plants with all the NPK they need, while also improving soil structure, water retention, and drainage. Better yet, compost is something we can all easily do at home for free!
Whether you decide to buy peat-free soils or go ahead and make your own, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re choosing a more sustainable way to care for your gardens with wildlife and future generations in mind.