11 Cases Where Peat Humus Can Become Your Secret Gardening Weapon

You have probably heard that peat makes a great addition to soil. 

Humus, of course, is another well-known soil helper. 

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So, peat humus must be something even better – a double-deal, the all-star substrate, right?

The short and surprising answer would be – No. Peat humus is one very particular soil ingredient not fit for everyday use.

Still, there are several instances in which peat humus may be of great help in your garden.

Read on to learn about 11 plants that may benefit from peat humus.

What is Peat Humus?

seedlings-in-peat-pots-on-the-windowsill
Peat pots with seedlings

Before starting on the benefits, let’s try to solve the mystery of peat humus origin.

Let me say that whoever tried to conceive the proper marketing names for peat products didn’t try hard enough – and that’s putting it politely. 

Why? 

Well, because “peat moss” isn’t real moss, and – you’ve guessed it – “peat humus” is not really humus! This lack of clarity has caused much confusion in the past, and will surely continue to do so in the future.

To resolve these mysteries and figure out what peat products really are, we need to dig deep into the dark, damp wetlands.

Did you know?

It takes 1,000 (one thousand!) years for peat to grow up to 1-meter deep. That’s one of the reasons why peat is so precious – and why many experts are in a panic about peat sustainability!

Read more from Pomona College about organic farming – are our alternatives actually sustainable? If not, what should homesteaders and gardeners use instead?

Peat Products – Peat Moss vs. Peat Humus

Peat (in general) is a specific accumulation of dead organic matter from bogs, peatlands, moors, or muskegs. The plant matter that peat consists of will depend on the location, but essentially, these are mostly wetland plants. 

Sphagnum moss is the best-known and the most abundant component of peat.

Unlike the regular humus, the organic matter in bogs goes through painstakingly slow anaerobic decomposition – an oxygenless process that could be somewhat compared to pickling (but please resist the temptation to add peat to your meals).

The color of peat humus is dark brown to black. Unlike peat moss, it is a heavy substrate with a low water-holding capacity. However, it too has low pH (4-8, although acidic is more common), plus contains a small amount of nitrogen – 2.5 – 3 percent.

Additionally, there are two types of peat humus.

There are two main types of peat on the garden market.

Peat moss is partially decayed sphagnum moss found in the upper layers of peatland and bog sediments. It has low pH, light brown color, is airy, and retains water very well. Peat moss is one of the most common components of soilless mixes.

Peat humus is a deeper part of the sediment found at the bottom of a bog. It is a combination of various deposits, and it too contains sphagnum moss – only in more advanced stages of decay. 

  • Amorphous peat humus has a poor structure and is highly acidic. It is added as a soil amendation in exceptional circumstances, but it is not suitable for everyday garden use.
  • Granular peat humus has a much better structure that allows adequate water and air movement and contains humates. It is more common in gardening for improving potting mixes and sandy soils.

On the other hand, true humus is fully decayed organic matter, mostly plant matter from various terrestrial ecosystems.

Despite popular belief, humus has no nutrients. But, it does have a structure that is highly beneficial to the soil. As for humus pH, it is slightly acidic to neutral.

What Is Peat Humus Used For?

seedlings-in-peat-pots
Several seedlings growing in peat pots.

Peat humus doesn’t have so many roles in gardening as you might guess at first. Peat moss has a broader range of uses due to its airy structure and water-retention properties.

Peat humus use is limited to outdoor gardening – for amending the soil on the property and in the raised beds.

However, even in the outdoor gardening realm, regular humus or compost are better suited for amending the soil for common plants such as vegetables or turfgrass. 

Still, despite its rarity and limited use, there are instances in which peat humus becomes a magical secret ingredient that gets everything going.

Peat Humus for Soil Acidification and Structure Improvement

Finally, here is where you can actually use peat humus. 

This substrate shines as a helper when growing plants that demand acidic soil.

  • In French hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla), soil acidification is used in cases you want to get stunning purple-blue hues.
  • Although they are not officially on the acidophilic plant lists, peat is also often used in rose substrates to get the pH within their comfort zone.

How to Choose Between Peat Humus and Peat Moss?

While peat moss is light and airy, peat humus is denser, heavier, and finer. 

If you need to make your soil more substantial (e.g., in the case of sandy soil) and more acidic, peat humus might make a good choice.

How to Use Peat Humus?

herbs-planted-in-peat-pots
Mixed garden herbs planted in peat growing pots.

Peat humus is used in soil mixes, never on its own. 

The exact mix will depend on the culture you intend to grow and its pH environment.

Peat Use and Environmental Concerns

All types of peat have a deserved bad rap when it comes to their environmental impact. 

The prolonged process of peat generation makes it a non-renewable resource, much like coal. Peat products are excavated and mined from sensitive wetland habitats, destroying large chunks of these ecosystems in the process. 

There is another major concern regarding the impact of peat mining. It turns out that peat is a tremendously potent terrestrial carbon storage medium. Consequently, mining peat rids us of an important carbon sink in times of drastic climate change.

The solution is simple – use peat only if you really need it.

Unless you require a specific pH and structure for growing acidity-loving cultures, you can amend your soil with other, neutral, and more available materials. In either case, you could do some research on peat alternatives.

Peat Alternatives:

  • Coconut coir – Boasts exceptional water retention and aeration qualities. Since it’s a product derived from coconut fibers – it’s much easier (and faster) to create compared to peat-based gardening products.
  • Worm castings – Nightcrawlers and other earthworms have excellent reputations for improving the aeration of garden soil, and their excrement also helps to fertilize and recycles nutrients – how can you lose?
  • Compost – Composting is the best friend of all gardeners and homesteaders! Best of all – composting is arguably the most sustainable soil booster considering you can produce many of the composting components yourself.

Did you know?

I’ve been reading a case against peat from the University of Georgia Extension. The article discusses the double-edged sword nature of peat moss! Here’s what it means.

Soil mixes with peat moss are often lightweight, provide excellent drainage, and also retain water! So yes – peat moss rocks for gardening! But – Mining for peat also releases oodles of CO2 and may contribute to global warming. Double-edged-sword. Peat moss style!

Adding Peat Humus to Soil – Yes, or No?

Peat humus can be an excellent addition to soil – but not on every occasion. 

Specific acidic-loving plant cultures such as blueberries will thrive with the addition of peat, but you will have to decide whether you’ll go for peat moss or peat humus based on other soil properties. 

Light soils that lack needed acidity are the best candidates for peat humus amendation, and the listed 11 plants may benefit from it.

Have you found a successful gardening use for peat humus? Share your experience in the comments below!

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