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Peat Moss vs Sphagnum Moss (Best Use Cases)

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If you’re comparing Peat moss vs Sphagnum moss and Wondering which type of moss will benefit your garden the most, then your in for a treat. The short answer is that it depends on your use case.

Mosses come with a vast range of benefits for any garden, despite the size.

The decomposed matter breaks down to release a myriad of nutrients to enrich the soil. They are pretty handy for helping new plants thrive. In fact, you can even use them as potting mixes if you intend to plant in pots. Further, mosses prevent soil erosion, and surface cover, and even promote water drainage.

So, adding them to your garden really comes in handy. However, with some many types of moss existing, it’s not always easy to pick the right kind for your garden. So, here’s an airtight comparison of peat moss and sphagnum moss to help you figure out which type to incorporate in your garden (or pots).

Which Is Better Peat Moss vs Sphagnum Moss?

Sphagnum vs Peat Moss
Sphagnum vs Peat moss side by side comparison

As we mentioned above, the choice of which type of moss to use depends on your particular needs.

  • Peat moss is an excellent option if you want to enrich your garden soil for fresh planting.
  • Sphagnum moss is a great option to add to seed starters or when propagating plants.

Main Differences Between Peat Moss and Sphagnum Moss

Now, to understand how each moss works for your particular needs, you have to understand the main difference. This is an easy factor to look at when deciding.

So, here’s a brief but comprehensive difference between the two:

  • Peat moss and sphagnum moss come from the same growing materials. but, they are two different parts of the same plant and have different uses.
  • Peat moss and sphagnum have differences in their overall physical properties.
  • Peat moss is decomposed more so it’s virtually unrecognizable (it resembles soil). It has a mix of plant parts with short fibers and a finer texture. On the other hand, spagnum moss (it looks like a bright green lining the top layer of potted plants) has pliable, long fibered and spongy textured parts.
  • Peat moss is sold as a mixture of decayed organic material in cold water bogs while sphagnum moss is sold as a living plant.
  • Peat moss enriches the soil during prep for fresh planting. Spagnum moss is ideal to add to seed starters and during plant propagation.
  • Peat moss has an acidic pH (3.0 – 4.0) while spagnum moss has a neutral pH
  • Peat moss is ideal for complementing acidic soil loving plants while sphagnum moss works for different types of plants
  • Peat moss is high in tannins while spagnum moss isn’t.

Peat Moss

Peat moss being held by gardener in orange and white gloves
Peat moss being held by gardener in orange and white gloves

Peat moss, also known as sphagnum peat moss, refers to decomposed organic matter typically harvested in cold and marshy ecosystems, particularly peatlands. Unlike spagnum moss, peat moss is technically not a plant species.

Instead, it is a mixture of organic matter collected in the cold wetlands, such as dead insects and plants. In fact, sphagnum moss makes up part of peat moss, explaining why it is sometimes referred to as sphagnum peat moss.

Typically, the harvested plant remnants are usually submerged underneath the surface. The dead organic matter usually sinks under the surface and forms layers of compressed peat moss. Over thousands of years, these layers go through decomposition in the absence of oxygen (which slows down the process). Over time, the peat moss is made.

Peat Moss Harvesting

Peat bogs in Scotish Moorlands on sunny day
Peat bogs in Scotish Moorlands on sunny day

Peat moss is usually collected from two types of characterized areas.  The first option is nutrient-depleted areas, like sphagnum moss, carnivorous, or ericaceous plant habitats (e.g. blueberries, cranberries, or camellias).

The second option is an area known as fens. This area typically features dense nutrients carried in water and can enrich a selection of plants, including cattails, herbs, shrubs, and some trees, to name a few. However, don’t confuse this abundance with ease of harvesting.

In fact, commercial peat moss harvesting can get pretty labor-intensive. After all, the process has to be controlled enough to prevent damaging the ecosystem. Further, the process involves lots of digging, harvesting, and processing (such as milling, harrowing, and drying).

 Some activists and experts even argue that peat moss is unsustainable. This is because the digging process may prevent the swamps and other natural ecosystems from regenerating back again after harvest.

Peat Moss Uses

Bio degradable peat moss pot with tomato seedling
Bio degradable peat moss pot with tomato seedling

Peat moss offers a wide range of uses to gardeners.  Peat moss is a common potting mix and is particularly popular to use with acid-loving plants. Some of the common plants to grow with the mix include berries (like strawberries and blueberries), herbs (like mint, basil, rosemary, thyme, and oregano), vegetables (like lettuce, leaks, and asparagus), and flowering plants (such as azaleas, hydrangeas, and camellias).

Here are other common uses of sphagnum peat moss:

  • Great for gardening – use soifor l amendment, as potting soil, in raised garden beds for vegetables, etc.
  • Ideal for enriching dry soil due to its nutrient-rich nature and water-retaining ability
  • Perfect for complementing acid-loving plants
  • Peat moss habitats (peatlands) are beneficial to the environment – it offers habitat for countless animals and plants. Plus, it protects the surrounding areas, commonly occupied by people, by preventing extensive flooding during harsh weather conditions.
  • Used in seed starting – it is perfect for reducing damping while retaining adequate moisture to promote root forming
  • Used in hydroponics thanks to its beneficial properties – its water-retaining, drains well, has a high cation exchange capacity, is resistant to compaction, and is pretty sterile (reduces damping off).

Peat moss uses also has its faux pas. Most commonly, you should never use peat moss for alkaline soil-loving plants. These include berries (such as raspberries and blackberries), vegetables (like garlic and ginger), and flowering plants (like lavender and honeysuckle). Peat moss is also a common perpetrator of surface cracking when dry. So, it is not suitable for garden mulching or use in flower beds. 

Key Features of Peat Moss

  • Made up of a mixture of decaying organic matter (including dead plants, incl. sphagnum mos,s and insects)
  • Up to 70% water and great at water retention
  • Acidic pH (3.0 to 4.0) and high in tannins
  • Portable and light – naturally compact and sold while compressed

Pros/Cons of Peat Moss


Peat moss after being used with roots in them
Peat moss after being used with roots in them

Versatile: It is a very versatile soil amender. For instance, it improves drainage in clay soil and reduces compaction, increases water retention in sandy soils, and balances alkaline soils.

Features a variety of components each with their own benefits: For example, some components that make up peat moss aid in drainage and aeration but, remain pretty lightweight

Superior water retaining abilities: up to 25x their dry weight in water

Lightweight: Peat moss is usually dried to be sold compressed in bales and with zero water, it is incredibly lightweight.

Zero compaction risk: Peat moss is naturally spongy and springy when dried and compressed. Its physical properties prevent it from compacting, leaving open air pockets. This makes them great not only for absorption but also drainage and aeration.

Sterile: Peat moss is extremely sterile because it forms in zero presence of oxygen with no added components. In zero-oxygen environments, there is no risk of bacterial, fungal, or weed growth. Plus, you don’t have to worry about the addition of any chemicals. Its sterile nature also prevents the development of various diseases.

Great for harnessing nutrients: Because it grows in nutrient-depleted areas, peat moss is not naturally rich in nutrients. But, it has a high cation exchange, allowing it to hold nutrients and water exceptionally well.


Peat moss being held in hand of a female gardner
Peat moss being held in hand of a female gardner

Costly: Compared to other similar soil amenders, peat moss is pretty expensive due to the highly straining harvesting process.

Some consider peat moss harvesting unsustainable: It takes thousands of years for peat moss to develop. On the other hand, to harvest it, you have to dig into the ground of swamps and other types of wetlands. This process means that it can interfere with the regeneration of these ecosystems. Further, the vacuuming and drying process of bogs where the commercial peat moss is extracted produces lots of gasses – which pollute the globe.

Highly acidic: The high acidity of peat moss means it can affect plants that don’t do so well in acidic soils. But, you can quickly salvage your plants in this event by neutralizing the soil with lime!

Low nutrient: Peat moss is not nutrient-rich as it is usually harvested in nutrient-poor areas.

Can crack the top soil if used for mulching or flower beds.

Sphagnum Moss

Sphagnum moss in canyon
Sphagnum moss in canyon

Sphagnum is a plant species that grows on the top surface soil, bogs,  or a swamp. Like peat moss, sphagnum moss thrives quite well in wet climates.

The plant typically comes shrunk and wrapped in a bag. So, you have to hydrate it in a large container to use it. Further, when using it, you don’t want to tighten it in its container. Putting the moss in a tight space compromises its air flow promoting properties.

Sphagnum Moss Harvestings

Sphagnum moss harvest is considered somewhat safe. When harvested the right way, it allows for bogs to regenerate, typically in 5 to 7 years. Sphagnum moss is usually processed into two forms.

While it’s the same thing, this form simply differentiates the two in how they are presented. You can opt for the long fibered moss (its natural form) or milled moss (finely chopped).

Spagnum Moss Uses

Northern Corroboree Frog on Sphagnum Moss
Northern Corroboree Frog on Sphagnum Moss

Indoor house plant propagation: Sphagnum moss, like peat moss, holds incredible water-retaining ability. Sphagnum moss can store up to 20% of its weight in water. So, it offers adequate moisture and airflow to promote root formation while preventing root rot, respectively. Adequate air circulation ensures the root receives enough oxygen, water, and nutrients.

Used to set up a bog garden: You can use sphagnum moss to set up a bog garden as topsoil. After all, sphagnum moss naturally grows on bogs.

Used in floral arrangements: Sphagnum moss is often used as a decorative item in floral arangements.

Used as lining for hanging planter baskets: As basket liner, sphagnum moss holds its shape pretty well, allowing it to promote air circulation and drainage, and replenish the plants with moisture. Sphagnum moss is particularly ideal as a lining for orchids.

Sphagnum moss works particularly well for winter dormant orchids, such as calanthes and Habenaria. During the winter season, these plants will hibernate and during spring their bulbs wake up. NPairingthem with sphagnum moss allows them to handle their demanding 7 to 8-month growth season.

Sphagnum moss’s impressive water and nutrient-retaining abilities allow it to supply the much-needed sustenance for the orchids to survive. The same works for water-loving orchids, such as jewel orchids.

Build a moss pole: You can use sphagnum moss to build a moss pole for supporting climbing plants. Further, moss poles aid in plant growth, helping species such as monstera develop their large, iconic leaves easily.

Root plant cuttings support: You can also use spagnum moss in place for soil to grow your root plant cutting. Since it packs impressive water retaining properties, sphagnum moss will help your roots grow fast and pretty easily.

Air layering: You can also use sphagnum moss for air layering. Air layering works in growing vines and trailing house plants as a form of propagation. All you do is wrap some of the moss around the plant’s growth node and secure it with some plastic wrap.

Used for its healing properties: If you have rotten roots, sphagnum moss can help salvage them. All you do is wash off potting mix or soil from the damaged area, cut out the root with a sterile blade, and continue growing the sick plant with hydrated moss. Your plant should recover after 4 weeks or so.

Create crafts: Sphagnum moss allows you to get as creative as you want. You can even make crafts like kokedama (an ornamental Japanese moss ball).

Grow moisture-loving plants: You can add sphagnum moss to the terrarium which is great for growing moisture-loving plants, like ferns.

Terrariums: For pet keepers of amphibians and reptiles, Sphagnum moss can make it a more natural environment and make them feel safe and comfortable.

Key Features Of Sphagnum Moss

  • Neutral pH
  • Long fibered look with a pliable and soft spongy feel
  • 100% pure moss with no other organic matter

Pros/Cons of Sphagnum Moss


  • The vast range of growing uses: can be used as a traditional propagator, for air layering, growing moisture-loving plants, moss pole, and root plant cuttings, to mention a few.
  • Ornamental benefits, like in floral arrangements or creating crafts
  • Sphagnum moss can help you grow orchids not suitable for your conditions – particularly if you are in a warm climate
  • Impressive water-retaining properties
  • Natural boast open pores which aid in air circulation and drainage
  • Outstanding healing properties that address problems, such as rotten roots
  • Sustainably harvested – with a possible bog regeneration period of just 5 to 7 years
  • Can be used with most plants safely


  • Carries the fungal disease, sporotrichosis, which can penetrate and irritate the skin (always wear gloves and mask when working with it)
  • The high water retaining properties means it can sometimes absorb too much water. For example, if you place it in a large container, it’s very easy for it to absorb more water than it needs. This, in turn, can deplete water from the soil it is mixed with or even deprive water from the plant’s root system.
  • Potential to destroy the ecosystem: As a natural living sphagnum moss is an integral part of insect and plant habitats. So, harvesting it has the potential to destroy these wetlands’ ecosystems.

Other Alternatives to Consider

Peat moss and spagnum moss are pretty effective in their applications. However, even they come with limitations. These can be anything from peat moss’s high acidity to spagnum moss’s higher water-retaining abilities. Other more serious reasons may be the two mosses’ unsustainable harvesting practices. So, it’s always a good idea to look for options.


Food scraps being poured into a compost pile in back yard
Food scraps being poured into a compost pile in back yard

The simplest alternative to peat moss is natural homemade compost that anyone can put together in their home. After all, compost is renewable and doesn’t really affect the ecosystem – you use ingredients you would typically discard.

If anything, using compost does wonder for the environment – after all, you are recycling and reducing food waste. On the other hand, compost bears countless benefits for plants – including being nutrnutrient-richompost is also an excellent sphagnum moss alternative as a potting medium.

Other great alternatives include;

Shredded Materials

Shredded coconut husks
Shredded coconut husks

If you want an alternative to sphagnum moss for lining baskets, shredded natural materials are the next best thing. These include items such as coconut coir, shredded coconut husks, cocoa bean shells, tree barks, straw, dried leaves, or leaf compost.

These shredded materials also work as alternatives to peat moss allowing you to use them for soil amendment. In fact, natural matter such as coconut coir boasts similar properties to peat moss. These brown and white fibers found in the outer shell and outer coatings of coconut seeds resist compaction. They also retain water well.

 But, they also come with an advantage over peat moss. While they have a neutral pH, they pack numerous nutrients, particularly minerals. These include potassium, iron, zinc, and manganese, to name a few. Coir also helps to fix the soil to boost root and plant growth.


Top soil mixed with Perlite
Top soil mixed with Perlite

A mined volcanic rock, perlite boasts incredible water-retaining properties. This makes it perfect for seed-starting and root cuttings growth.


Leca (Clay pebbles)
Leca (Clay pebbles)

Leca is a fantastic alternative to sphagnum moss when it comes to propagating plants. You can also use pumice in place of leca.


Can i use sphagnum moss instead of peat moss?

Sphagnum peat moss in ice

In most cases, you cannot use peat moss in place of sphagnum moss or vice versa. This is because each moss boasts its own properties that make it ideal for certain applications.

So, peat moss may not necessarily work the way sphagnum moss works and vice versa. A good example is peat moss’s acidity which may not be ideal for non-acid loving plants that sphagnum moss works great with.

Why is it sometimes called sphagnum peat moss?

Sphagnum moss growing in the wild

The main reason peat moss is sometimes called sphagnum peat moss is that it is partially made from dead sphagnum moss. Remember, peat moss is made from decaying organic matter, which includes dead insects and plants.

Part of these plants includes dead sphagnum moss which, like other peat components, sinks from the surface to the bottom of wetlands. There, it is decomposed in the absence of oxygen in several layers for centuries, before being harvested as peat moss.

Can I Grow Plants In Sphagnum Moss Alone?

Newly rooted Jewel Orchid in Sphagnum moss

Absolutely! Plants will most certainly grow in sphagnum moss alone. After all, the moss works as an excellent potting medium, for root cuttings, and a range of propagation applications.

However, you have to remember that sphagnum moss doesn’t contain any nutrients. So, you will want to pair it with resources that will provide your plants with the nutrients they need to grow.

Can I grow plants in peat moss alone?

Seedlings in peat moss and top soil mixture in tray

You cannot grow plants in peat moss alone. The moss boasts all the right properties (like water retention, drainage, and excellent aeration). This makes for a soil amendment. But, peat moss develops in nutrient-poor areas so it is poor in nutrients too.

Without the needed nutrients and microbes, growing plants alone in peat moss will not allow them to grow and thrive. you have to pair it with other components, such as fertilized soil and other organic matter, such as manure compost.

Wrapping up

This peat moss vs spagnum moss comparison has gone to prove that both mosses have benefits. So, there is really not one that is better than the other. You simply have to remember that while they are both characterized as mosses, they are quite distinct.

Peat moss is generally made of decaying organic matter while sphagnum moss is classified as a living plant species. This alone gives them distinctive properties – like peat moss’s acidity and sphagnum moss’s neutrality. Similarly, the two have different uses.

So, when deciding which type of moss to use between the two, you should narrow your question to what exactly you need the most in your garden, inside your home, or even in your greenhouse.

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