As a garden tool, peat moss is often portrayed as either a villain or a hero. The truth is that peat moss, like most soil amendments, has both potential benefits and drawbacks. It's best used in a secondary role in your garden management scheme, rather than in large amounts. Buy peat moss that was sourced in Canada or North America and use it sparingly.
Peat moss is dead, compressed moss that has been stripped from bogs. In order to remove it, farmers must first remove living layers of moss. When peat moss is removed, it disturbs natural ecosystems and displaces both plants and animals. Although distributors claim that peat moss bogs can regenerate within 5 to 25 years, environmentalists suggest that the process can actually take hundreds or thousands of years. Peat moss producers in the United States and Canada must comply with strict guidelines for harvesting peat moss. Still, to minimize the environmental impact of harvesting peat moss, use it in small quantities in potting mixes or to establish new garden beds. Another option is to use compost or shredded leaves instead.
Peat moss holds up to 10 times its weight in water, making it a valuable addition to potting mixes, as well as some garden beds. However, when dry, it can wick the water from the soil. If you live in a dry climate, moisten peat moss before you add it to your garden soil so that it doesn't dry out the garden. Stir it so the moisture completely infiltrates the peat moss. Water vegetable and flower beds when the soil is dry 1 inch beneath the surface. If you use peat pots to start seeds, plant the pots so the edges are completely covered with moist earth. Otherwise, the exposed edges will become dry.
Peat moss is generally used as a soil amendment to lighten heavy soils or improve water efficiency. It has some limitations, though, when it comes to creating healthy soils. Unlike compost, manure or shredded leaves, peat moss provides no nutritional benefit. It doesn't contain beneficial microbes and it's fairly acidic. You'd probably have to add a lot of peat moss to a garden bed to significantly alter the soil pH, but if your soil is already acidic, it's something to consider.
Peat moss typically comes in large bales. The bales are not particularly heavy, but they can be cumbersome to use. To open the bale, make a large cut on the front of the package. Use a shovel or hoe to break up the clumps of peat moss. At this point, you can spread the peat moss over the garden area or you can moisten it first. To moisten peat moss, shovel it into a large bucket and place a running hose in it. Allow the hose to thoroughly saturate the peat moss. Spread it on the garden and dig it in.