Are Peat Moss & Peat Mulch the Same Thing in a Garden?

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Peat moss is a popular ingredient in commercial potting soils.
Peat moss is a popular ingredient in commercial potting soils. (Image: Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Diana House)

Confused about the difference between peat moss and peat mulch? And what, exactly, is sphagnum? Don’t let the garden jargon worry you: they’re all the same material, but used in two very different ways.

What Is Peat Moss?

Peat moss, which is also commonly known as sphagnum, is farmed from peat bogs, after which it’s decomposed, compressed, and packaged into bricks.

Peat Moss and Potting Soil

Peat moss is a common ingredient in commercial potting soil, as its light, loose structure keeps soil aerated and well-watered.

What Is a Mulch?

A mulch is a material layered on top of garden soil to help water retention, prevent weeds, and fight soil erosion. Peat moss can be used to mulch a garden bed—in which case it’s known as a “peat mulch.”

Drawbacks to Peat Mulch

Peat mulch is effective for weed control, but forms a crust over time, which can keep water from reaching your plants. Also, dry peat has a tendency to blow away, unlike heavier mulches.

Peat Moss Substitutes

Growing concerns about the over-farming of peat bogs have led many gardeners to switch to more sustainable materials. Coir, made from coconut shells, is a popular substitute for amending soil. For mulches, try using hay, decomposing leaves, or pine needles.

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