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Oh, for Peat's sake!

In my last post talking about soil fertility, I neglected to mention peat or peat moss that is an excellent additive to soil mixes. Lets talk about Peat.

Peat is decomposed plant matter, or in essence a type of compost, that has decomposed for centuries, vs months or years. Peat has almost no nutrients but is the best growing medium for roots.

There are two types of peat. Peat moss (or sphagnum moss) is what is typically sold in stores. This is brown and very light and fibrous. It is not as decomposed as Sedge peat, which we talk about in a minute. Sphagnum peat is less acidic and less nutrients than sedge peat. On the side, sphagnum peat is a good oil sorbent.

Sedge peat is what is found in Northern Minnesota bogs. It is superior to the Sphagnum peat. It contains cattail and reed remains rotted for hundreds of years, is finely textured, dark brown and holds water longer than sphagnum peat. When purchasing sedge peat it should be light and fluffy, not wet and mucky. It should never be gray and only black when wet. Often sedge peat found outside Minnesota is too decomposed and can harden soil. Not true with our Minnesota peat.

Why is peat recommended for a good soil mix? Peat helps the soil in several ways:

  • Addition of peat lowers soil pH slightly, which helps free up nutrients

  • Peat aerates heavy soil

  • Peat retains the right amount of moisture around the roots in sandy soil

  • increases drainage

  • adding peat before planting perennials will raise the soil level enough to prevent root rot if a wet, soggy winter.

For some applications, I like to use the sedge peat straight. For example, when planting roses or in flower pots. Otherwise I use it 30% in soil bed mixes or planting trees. I also like to put straight sedge peat on top of my established medicinal plant beds each year. I use about 3 inch layer, but others use up to a 6 inch layer of peat on their established beds.

The best place I have found to purchase quality sedge peat is at Bergeson's Nursery in Fertile, MN. It comes in 15 pound bags and is beautiful stuff to run your hands through. I have the best rose bushes that were planted in this peat. I love this stuff.

Don't forget your peat.


Successful Gardening on the Northern Prairie. by Eric Bergeson

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