Peat Moss and Sphagnum Moss: Related but Different (2023)

Peat moss is a soil amendment that is a dark-brown fibrous material used as a planting medium for growing plants. Plants that like peat moss are usually acid-loving, such as azaleas or blueberries, for example. Container-grown plants also like the material because it helps retain needed moisture in the soil. Peat moss is naturally made or formed after 1,000 years and harvested from peat bogs. There's much debate about its environmental safety since it's not sustainable and gives off carbon dioxide when harvested.

Peat moss is soilless but is often added to soil to lighten, aerate, and help retain moisture. Although peat moss is good for keeping in moisture and aerating the soil, peat moss is not often used for lawns since its acidity hinders grass growth and can kill earthworms.

The most significant disadvantages of peat moss are that it's too acidic for non-acid-loving plants, it's not renewable, and it doesn't have any nutrients. The upside to peat moss is it's sterile and free of weed seeds; however, weeds can still grow in peat moss once you start using it and it's exposed to the elements. Also, once you start using it, peat moss can attract bugs like fungus gnats since it's also decaying.

Find out more about peat moss, what it is, how it compares to other materials, how it's used, its benefits, and its potential downsides.

What Is Peat Moss?

Peat moss comes from peat bogs, many of which are found in the wetland areas of Canada. Peat bogs are formed, over the course of very long periods of time, as organic materials partially decompose. Because of the water in these bogs, anaerobic conditions are maintained. Anaerobic conditions slow down full decomposition. The result is that the peat moss is preserved almost indefinitely. Peat moss is made from these layers of decomposing organic materials, one of which is once-living sphagnum moss.

Though you technically can't make your own true peat moss, you can replicate it by making leaf mold, which is also a soil amendment made from composted leaves. Peat moss is commonly sold in bales (covered in plastic) at home improvement centers. When you break open a bag, the substance resembles very dry, caked-up soil.

(Video) SPHAGNUM MOSS vs PEAT MOSS? Grow Your Rare Houseplants Correctly!

Peat Moss vs. Sphagnum Moss

"Peat moss" and "sphagnum moss" are closely related, but the two terms are not synonymous. Here is how the two differ:

First, "sphagnum moss" refers to a living plant. There are 120 species of this type of moss plant. Sphagnum moss is native to many countries across the globe, but it is especially prevalent in the Northern Hemisphere. "Peat moss" is not alive; it's long dead.

Like peat moss, sphagnum moss is harvested for the horticultural trade. For example, it is commonly used to line wire baskets for hanging plants to retain the soil. But the sphagnum moss used for this purpose was a plant growing in nature not long ago. You can also tell from its appearance that it is a type of moss, whereas peat moss bears more resemblance to soil.

How Peat Moss Is Used

Sphagnum peat moss is used in soilless potting mixes. So if you have started plants indoors from seed, you have likely already dealt with peat moss. A soilless potting mix is much better to use for starting seeds than regular soil for the following reasons:

  • Regular soil is too heavy for plants, just sprouting from seed. The tender, young roots have trouble pushing through it.
  • Drainage is also generally poorer in regular soil, and seeds may rot in it before they ever get a chance to sprout.
  • Regular soil can also harbor pathogens that could quickly kill young plants.

But peat moss has other uses, as well. Outdoors, it can be tilled into a planting bed where the soil is not sufficiently friable. Peat moss will lighten up the soil in your garden, which may have become compacted over the years, resulting in inadequate drainage.

An ideal soil will retain enough moisture to keep your plants irrigated. But you do not want all of the water to pass quickly through your soil. It is a delicate balance, and peat moss mixed in with soil (you can't just put peat moss on top of soil or it could harden or blow away), with its ability to retain water, will help you achieve that balance.

(Video) Peat Moss Vs Sphagnum Moss: Best Venus Flytrap Soil Mix Substrate - What Is The Difference?

Benefits of Peat Moss

The popularity of peat moss as a soil amendment can be accounted for by listing the following pros:

  • Inexpensive
  • Lightweight (which helps you as well as your plants, because pots filled with such soilless mixes are easier to transport)
  • It promotes sufficient drainage and doesn't get as compacted as soil
  • Retains just the right amount of water
  • Sold to the public after being sterilized to remove pathogens; doesn't have bacteria, fungus, harmful chemicals, or weed seeds
  • Readily available; easy to find at nurseries and garden shops

Disadvantages of Peat Moss

Peat moss comes with some cons:

  • It doesn't add any nutrients to the soil.
  • It takes hundreds of years for peat moss to be created in nature. It is not considered sustainable.
  • Peat moss is acidic. So while it is an ideal soil amendment for acid-loving plants, you may have to add garden lime to your planting bed to raise its soil pH over time if you are growing plants that want a higher pH.
  • It holds water well, but if you allow it to dry out, it can take a while before it reabsorbs water.
  • It's not free. Although it's not expensive, if you need a lot of it, you will have to pay for it.

Peat Moss Alternatives

Peat moss is a great planting medium, but its drawbacks are sufficient for some people to look for viable alternatives. Consider these peat moss alternatives:

  • Coconut coir: Coir is a by-product of coconut fiber and is a renewable, more sustainable option. Coir is increasingly used as an alternative to peat moss in soilless potting mixes. It has a neutral pH, retains water, and provides better soil aeration than peat moss, but it is more expensive.
  • Compost: It is made from decayed organic materials like rotted plants, leaves, vegetable scraps, and animal manure. It holds water well and is rich in nutrients.
  • Bark or wood fiber: Bark chips and wood by-products like sawdust make potential alternatives to peat moss. They add organic matter, aid water retention, help aerate, and are a good use of waste materials.


  • What is the difference between peat and peat moss?

    (Video) Peat Moss Vs. Sphagnum Moss

    Although sometimes referred to as "peat" for short, peat moss and peat are not, technically, the same. "Peat" is the broader term: Peat moss is just one of the products harvested from peat bogs. Other kinds of peat come from the partial decomposition of other organic materials. The "moss" in "peat moss" refers specifically to sphagnum moss (for example, Sphagnum cymbifolium) that is one of the decaying organic materials in a peat bog.

  • How long does peat moss last?

    A dry, closed package or bale of peat moss should not have a shelf life since it's decaying or dead matter. However, you may want to replenish peat moss in your soil after a few years as it may naturally wash away.

    (Video) Peat Moss vs. Coconut Coir: Are They BOTH Bad?
  • Is topsoil better than peat moss?

    Peat moss isn't better or worse than soil; it's different. Peat moss is sometimes added to enhance the topsoil's environment for growing healthier plants.


What is the difference between peat moss and sphagnum moss? ›

Whereas sphagnum moss has a neutral pH, peat moss is very acidic and is high in tannins. Peat moss is sold in compressed bales and, like milled sphagnum moss, it is used in potting and garden soils.

What is the difference between peat and peat moss? ›

People commonly call peat as peat moss even though they are somewhat different. Peat is the product created from organic matters that submerged into the bogs. Peat can be formed from different materials, but a large percentage of the peat harvested is composed of sphagnum moss. And hence the name peat moss.

Why does sphagnum is called peat moss? ›

Sphagnum is called peat moss because it grows in acidic marshes (bog) and helps in peat formation. The Sphagnum that has been decayed and dried is known as the peat or peat moss.

Why is peat moss being banned? ›

Peat extraction also degrades the state of the wider peatland landscape, damaging habitats for some of our rarest wildlife such as the swallowtail butterfly, hen harriers and short-eared owls, and negatively impacting peat's ability to prevent flooding and filter water.

What is special about sphagnum moss? ›

Sphagnum mosses carpet the ground with colour on our marshes, heaths and moors. They play a vital role in the creation of peat bogs: by storing water in their spongy forms, they prevent the decay of dead plant material and eventually form peat.

How do I identify sphagnum moss? ›

- Plants are all or mostly dark wine-red except if shaded, when they are green. - Larger than most species, with very long narrow leaves, looking 'feathery' when floating. - Messy-looking (like matted wet fur) when lifted out of water. - Usually green, sometimes with mustard colours.

What are the three types of peat? ›

Peat can be divided into subcategories based on the type of plant material present and the degree of decomposition. NRCS divides Wisconsin peats and peat soils into the three classes of sapric, hemic, and fibric, based on the decomposition state of the plant remains.

What can I use instead of sphagnum moss? ›

Peat Moss Alternatives
  • Coconut Coir. Coconut coir, also known as coco peat or coir peat, is rapidly gaining popularity and is the best-known alternative to peat moss. ...
  • Wood-Based Materials. ...
  • Compost. ...
  • Pine Needles. ...
  • Rice Hulls. ...
  • Leaf Mold. ...
  • Composted Manure.
Jul 19, 2021

What is another name for peat moss? ›

peat moss, (genus Sphagnum), also called bog moss or sphagnum moss, genus of more than 300 species of moss (division Bryophyta). The taxonomy of Sphagnum species has been controversial, and various botanists accept quite different numbers of species.

Is peat made from sphagnum moss? ›

Most of the peat moss used in crop production comes from Canada and is composed mainly of mosses from the genus Sphagnum (of which there are 160 species of sphagnum found globally). This is where the name sphagnum peat moss is derived from.

Is sphagnum a peat? ›

Sphagnum is a genus of approximately 380 accepted species of mosses, commonly known as sphagnum moss, peat moss, also bog moss and quacker moss (although that term is also sometimes used for peat).

Why should gardeners not use peat? ›

Plantlife, along with the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and Friends of the Earth, is calling on government and industry to replace peat use in gardening and horticulture. Damaging peatlands has a knock-on effect on wildlife, carbon stores, flood risk and water quality.

Is peat moss being banned in the United States? ›

The Government has announced it will be banning peat compost sales for amateur gardeners from 2024.

Why is peat no longer used in compost? ›

Why is peat compost bad for the environment and why is it being banned? For peat to be healthy and function efficiently, it must remain wet. Its extraction for human use dries the peat causing the area to degrade and also increases the risk of wildfires.

Does sphagnum moss need soil to grow? ›

Soil. Sphagnum moss is a non-vascular plant without a root system, so planting it on top of soil or other substrates isn't at all necessary. The plants take in water and nutrients through direct contact with their leaves.

What did Native Americans use sphagnum moss for? ›

Its ability to hold water makes sphagnum peat a valuable addition to many soils. It also made dried sphagnum useful to Native Americans, who used it to diaper babies. Sphagnum is also famous for growing in – and helping to create – bogs.

Can plants grow in just sphagnum moss? ›

If you're looking for a soilless potting mix for indoor plants, sphagnum moss is an excellent choice. You can use pure sphagnum in containers for growing plants that love a mix of moist substrate and excellent drainage, such as Philodendrons, Alocasia, Anthuriums, even orchids.

How long do plants stay in sphagnum moss? ›

A high quality sphagnum moss will last you for good 2 or three years. You probably will need to repot the plant way before the moss goes bad. Confusion no 3: You cannot use sphagnum moss for long term because it doesn't have any nutrients.

Are there different kinds of sphagnum moss? ›

Peat moss

What is another name for peat soil? ›

Soils consisting primarily of peat are known as histosols. Peat forms in wetland conditions, where flooding or stagnant water obstructs the flow of oxygen from the atmosphere, slowing the rate of decomposition.

Is there peat in the US? ›

It is estimated that the USA and Canada together have about 1.86 million km2 of peatland area most of which is located in the boreal zone with a continental climate. This is about 40–45 % of the world's 4 million km2 of peatland. Peat is the undecomposed remains of organic matter.

What is peat made of? ›

Peat is the surface organic layer of a soil that consists of partially decomposed organic matter, derived mostly from plant material, which has accumulated under conditions of waterlogging, oxygen deficiency, high acidity and nutrient deficiency.

What is better than peat moss? ›

It's hard not to use peat in some gardening projects. However, there are effective alternatives to using peat as a total soil amendment or conditioner. Simply switch to sustainable products such as compost—or, aged manure, leaf mold, biochar, cover crops, or green manure.

Can you mix sphagnum moss with soil? ›

Apply peat moss in a 2–3 inch layer in your garden, and incorporate it into the top 12" of soil. For containers and raised beds, use between 1/3 and 2/3 peat moss into your potting soil mix or compost.

Does sphagnum moss break down in soil? ›

Sphagnum moss prefers growing in moist tundra-type areas, and most of what gets used for gardening in the US comes from peat bogs in northern Canada. As the sphagnum moss dies in these bogs, it very slowly decays into what becomes the peat moss that's so popular for gardening.

How many types of peat are there? ›

Peats may be divided into several types, including fibric, coarse hemic, hemic, fine hemic, and sapric, based on their macroscopic, microscopic, and chemical characteristics.

What is the scientific name for sphagnum moss? ›

Scientific Name: Sphagnum platyphyllum (Lindb. ex Braithw.)

What is peat moss simple definition? ›

Peat moss is made up of decomposed organic material salvaged from peat bogs. It makes an excellent soil amendment to potting mix and garden soil, and mounds of peat moss can even serve as hydroponic growing media.

Does sphagnum absorb water? ›

The ability of sphagnum to hold so much water is related both to the large quantity of non-living cells that can absorb water and also to the fact that the mat of plants itself can hold water in between individual plants.

What do you use sphagnum moss for? ›

You'll often see it used for creating a Kokedama (which is a moss ball planter), seed starting, as a planting medium for orchids, as a potting soil amendment, for lining baskets, or for other art projects. It has a neutral pH level and is great for retaining moisture in the soil, even when dried.

What is peat moss best used for? ›

Peat Moss Uses

Gardeners use peat moss mainly as a soil amendment or ingredient in potting soil. It has an acid pH, so it's ideal for acid loving plants, such as blueberries and camellias. For plants that like a more alkaline soil, compost may be a better choice.

Can you use just peat moss as potting soil? ›

You can use straight peat moss as your potting mix, but be careful not to overwater. Peat moss all by itself can stay wet for a long time after watering your plants. NOTE: If you buy a bag of straight peat moss and it is very dry, you may find that it repels water.

What plants can grow in sphagnum moss? ›

Sphagnum moss is especially ideal for lithophytic or epiphytic plants (like orchids and some aroids) which need moisture at the root zone, but also lots of airflow.

Can I use sphagnum moss instead of peat? ›

Sphagnum moss and sphagnum peat moss are terms used to refer to two different forms of the same plant. Both are interchangeably referred to as peat moss.

Why do gardeners add sphagnum moss to soil? ›

You can add it into your soil to achieve any of the following results: Help drier, sandier soils retain moisture for longer. Help heavy clay soils loosen up and have better drainage. Increase the amount of organic material in the soil, which breaks down over time to provide nutrients.

What is a good substitute for peat moss? ›

Peat Moss Alternatives
  • Coconut Coir. Coconut coir, also known as coco peat or coir peat, is rapidly gaining popularity and is the best-known alternative to peat moss. ...
  • Wood-Based Materials. ...
  • Compost. ...
  • Pine Needles. ...
  • Rice Hulls. ...
  • Leaf Mold. ...
  • Composted Manure.
Jul 19, 2021

What are the disadvantages of peat? ›

Peat soil is a non-renewable resource.

The most significant downside to peat soil is that it is an unsustainable, non-renewable resource. Harvesting peat soil can contribute to climate change by releasing greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide and methane into the air.

Can you eat peat moss? ›

Our bodies simply aren't programmed to survive on sphagnum moss. If they were, then it would be a staple food source. Sphagnum moss has little to zero nutritional value, has no fruit, and consists mainly of micro leaves.

Should I wet peat moss before planting? ›

Before Adding Peat Moss to the Soil

Before using peat moss, you will need to wet it thoroughly. Scoop out as much as you will need into a large bucket or wheelbarrow. Add water and stir, then let it soak for a few minutes.

Can I mix peat moss with Miracle Grow potting soil? ›

Building Your Own Potting Mix

For acid loving plants add equal parts Miracle-Gro® Sphagnum Peat Moss and pre-mixed potting mix.

What plants should you use peat moss? ›

Peat moss is acidic, and is excellent for use with acid-loving plants, like blueberries, azaleas and tomatoes. Because it can make your soil more acidic, you may need to add lime to the soil.


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