By Erin Marissa Russell
Many gardeners are searching for alternatives to peat moss because of concerns about peat moss’ sustainability. We’ve got the scoop on all the different materials you can use in place of peat moss in your garden. Just keep reading to learn what you can use instead of peat moss, so you can garden sustainably.
Biochar is a charcoal product that helps soil to hang onto more water and nutrients, keeping them available for your plants. Biochar also promotes a healthy environment for beneficial microorganisms in the soil. More benefits of biochar include improved water quality, added carbon in the soil, reduced leaching of fertilizer and other nutrients, reduced soil acidity, and a reduction in the amount of water and fertilizer your soil requires.
To use biochar in your garden, start by mixing it with compost or another fertilizer. Let the mixture sit for at least 10 days, blending and adding water each day. Finally, use the biochar by tilling this mixture into the top four to six inches of your soil.
For more information, see our article What Is Biochar? Should You Add It to Your Garden?
Coconut coir has gained popularity in recent years as a garden amendment, and we think it’s one of the best substitutes for peat moss in the garden. It is made of the brown and white fibers that are between the shell of the coconut and the seed’s outer covering. These fibers are a waste product created in coconut processing, so using coconut coir in the garden is quite a sustainable practice.
The resulting product is excellent for moisture retention in the soil, as it can hold up to 10 times its weight in water. In addition to improving moisture retention, coconut coit also promotes air circulation in the soil and improves the soil’s drainage. It has a neutral pH level and decomposes slowly, which means you won’t need to replace it for some time. Coir is also known to have antifungal properties, so using it may reduce the risk of fungal disease in your garden.
For more information, see our article The Many Benefits of Coir Mulch.
Compost can help promote the presence of beneficial microorganisms in the soil, at the same time adding rich organic material that includes the nutrients plants need to thrive.
As a peat moss alternative, compost benefits the soil structure, allows water to travel through the soil and improves water retention, and makes the soil a haven for earthworms, increasing their presence.
In addition to being a sustainable product created by kitchen waste, compost reduces landfill space by making use of items that would otherwise be trash.
For more information, see our article How to Start Composting.
Gardeners who have livestock can make use of the manure that livestock creates by letting it rot well and then using it in the garden. Even gardeners who do not have livestock of their own may be able to get manure for free from friends or family. Manure is a sustainable product, and for many gardeners, it’s easy to get a hold of.
Well rotted manure increases the amount of carbon in the soil, making this nutrient more available for your plants. Composted manure will also increase the presence of beneficial microbes in the soil.
However, if manure is not well rotted, it can be dangerous to plants. In addition, some gardeners choose not to use manure because they find the smell unpleasant.
For more information, see our article Using Manure as Fertilizer for Gardens.
As long as you have trees on your property, you can allow them to decompose by simply not raking them up in the fall, creating leaf mold you can use in your garden. This is a super sustainable way for your garden to get the nutrients it needs, as well as other benefits.
Leaf mold is a powerhouse when it comes to water retention, able to hold up to 500 times its weight in water. The availability of leaves makes leaf mold a renewable resource, as well as a free soil amendment for most gardeners who have trees.
However, leaf mold does have a slightly acidic pH level, making it an inappropriate choice to use with certain plants. There’s also the risk of adding weed seeds to your garden when you spread leaf mold as a soil amendment.
Similarly to leaf mold, pine needles are a renewable, sustainable resource that many gardeners can collect on their own property for free. Pine needles won’t lower the pH level of the soil as peat moss would. Because of their shape, pine needles are great at adding some aeration to the soil and making it more porous. As a mulch, pine needles create a dense mat that won’t blow away but will allow water to penetrate. However, pine needles don’t do anything to help retain water, as they have no moisture retention of their own.
Whichever of these more sustainable options you choose, we know there’s a peat moss alternative on this list that will work for you. Enjoy all the benefits of using peat moss in the garden without the twinge in the conscience or, in many cases, the cost associated with peat moss.