Finding environmentally sound alternatives to peat moss for gardening
Recently, I learned that peat moss (which many people use in their gardens) is not very environmentally friendly. If you are unaware of what peat moss does, it helps lighten soil and aids in water retention and drainage.
Why is peat moss not sustainable? Well, the methods used to grow and harvest peat moss are unsound environmentally. Peat moss is grown in marshy bogs and wetlands in the northern hemisphere, and you may be surprised to learn that 2% of land on earth is comprised of peat moss.
What is even more impressive, is that despite only covering 2% of land worldwide, it stores nearly one-third of the world’s soil carbon! As you maybe can guess, that is part of the issue.
When the peat moss is untouched, so is the carbon. However, after it is harvested, the harmful carbon dioxide is released back into the environment, which is harmful for the environment. Furthermore, peat moss is being harvested quicker than it is able to grow, rendering it non-renewable.
Lastly, peat bogs are home to a unique ecosystem, supporting many insects, birds and plants. Peat bogs are fragile and important to rainforests; continuing to harvest peat moss is a cause for concern, environmentally speaking. It is a good idea to choose peat moss alternatives in the future for your gardens.
So, you’re asking yourself: what are good, environmentally sound alternatives to peat moss? The first alternative is coconut coir also known as coconut peat. It has excellent water-retention and helps with draining and aeration. It also has anti-fungal properties. The environmental downside to coconut peat is that it must be processed and shipped, however it is using a resource that is left over from coconuts which are already being harvested for consumption, making it a renewable resource and using a part of the coconut that would otherwise go unused.
Wood-based materials can also be used in place of peat moss, such as wood fiber, sawdust, or composted bark. They add organic matter to gardens and improve water retention. If you choose to use one of these materials, please ensure it is coming from untreated wood (and locally sourced if available!).
Residents can purchase shredded wood from the composte site that is shared by Westlake and Bay Village. Learn more at www.cityofwestlake.org/479/Compost-Site or www.cityofbayvillage.com/346/Leaf-Humus-Wood-Chips. These wood chips are sourced from the branches, logs, and trees picked up from residents or public spaces in the city, making it a very eco-friendly choice.
Compost is also a great alternative to peat moss. It is full of beneficial microbes and nutrients, which is why it is often referred to as “black gold.” It improves soil structure and increases water retainment. If you already compost at home, you are likely using it in your garden beds. If you don’t compost, please consider it! It is actually quite simple. I have written about starting a home compost in my column a few times.
If you have pine trees, you can use those in place of peat moss as well. This is a very eco-friendly, renewable alternative for you. The downside is that pine needles do not help in water retention for your soil. Simply spread the pine needs over your beds and mix into the soil a bit.
Last, but certainly not least, leaf mold is a renewable, cost-effective material to add to your garden instead of peat moss. Leaf mold is literally created by piling up leaves and letting them decompose and compost. Leaf mold can increase water retention in soil and acts as a natural soil conditioner. This is the most simple – and free! – thing you can do: simply pile up your leaves this fall and wait for them to decompose (while frequently turning it). It should be ready for your spring planting!