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Peat Moss is an Unsustainable Resource
Peat moss is often used in amending garden soil and in potting soil mixes. Although peat moss is useful in retaining soil moisture and adding organic material to soil, other products can provide these benefits in a more ecologically sound manner.
Peat moss is harvested from wetlands where decaying moss slowly accumulates over time at a rate of approximately one millimeter per year. The harvesting process includes digging drainage ditches to drain the wetland, thereby killing the many species of plants and insects that rely on this unique ecosystem. Once the top layer of peat is dried by the sun and wind it may be harvested using heavy equipment and shipped to a processing center.
Most commercial peat moss in the US comes from peat bogs in Canada. As the world's leading supplier of peat moss, Canada does require thorough environmental mitigation measures to restore the wetland after harvest. Many environmental groups criticize this system and argue that the wetlands are forever changed after the intrusion of peat moss harvesting.
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Eco-Friendly Peat Moss Alternatives
Several environmentally friendly natural products can be utilized in your garden or potting soil mix in place of peat moss.
Coconut Coir. The product that most resembles peat moss comes from the fibrous husk of the coconut and is often called coconut coir. Prior to it's use as a soil amendment, coconut coir was considered a waste product of the coconut fiber industry, as producers favored long strong strands of coconut fiber over shorter, smaller pieces.
Coconut coir, which may also be called coco peat or coco coir, is beginning to grow in popularity among gardeners and farmers seeking an alternative to non-renewable peat moss. Coconut coir has many benefits as a growing medium including significant amounts of phosphorous and potassium, a micro-sponge effect that improves soil's water holding capacity, and an optimum pH range of 6 - 6.7.
Coconut coir often comes in compressed bricks or disks that need to be soaked in water before use. Once re-hydrated, the coco coir can be added to potting mixes or used to amend garden soil. Coconut coir greatly improves a soil's water retention and aeration, helping to create a healthy environment for root growth. 100% natural and biodegradable, coco coir is also a beneficial addition to your compost pile, helping to aerate the compost and control odors. You can find coconut coir bricks increasingly at local nurseries and garden supply centers or through online retailers, such as Amazon.com.
Grass Clippings. If you need to add organic matter to your soil, don't overlook grass clippings as a resource you probably have on hand already. Grass clippings are high in nitrogen and can be mixed into garden beds to prepare for planting.
Compost. Whether you have your own compost to add to your garden or buy it in bags, compost adds valuable nutrients and organic matter to your garden beds.
Mulch. Mulches such as straw, newspaper, and sawdust can help to keep your garden beds from losing water through evaporation. Mulch plants after they are established in your garden beds.