peat moss

Rooting Around in Peat Moss

Rooting Around in Peat Moss

By Linda Affolder

What you add to your soil can be as important as what you plant in it, and springtime preparation of gardens and beds often involves the addition of peat moss. Most gardeners know the basics and benefits of peat moss:
• It is an organic soil supplement that improves plant growth by increasing the air and water surrounding plant roots.
• It saves water. Peat absorbs and gradually releases up to 20 times its weight in water.
• It improves the physical structure of soil. Peat loosens and aerates clay soil and binds light, sandy soil.
• It reduces leaching. Peat absorbs and slowly releases nutrients present in or added to the soil.
• It is a valuable ingredient in gardening compost, curtailing odours in the compost pile.
• There are over 100 species of moss worldwide.


DID YOU KNOW...

The peat moss you add to your soil comes from the gradual, incomplete decomposition of sphagnum moss, which accumulates in peatlands (or bogs). The development of peatland depends on a complex combination of climatic and other physical conditions. Generally, peatland forms in very moist and poorly drained environments. When the water table stabilizes and the growth of plant material exceeds decomposition, a layer of organic residue results - fibrous peat moss. This layer is excavated, dried, shredded and pressed into bales.

Of the many species of peat mosses, sphagnum peat moss is the most suited to horticulture because the large cell structure of sphagnum moss enables it to absorb, like a sponge, large amounts of air and moisture. The different species of sphagnum vary in their absorptive capacities but remain substantially higher than any other fibrous peat moss.

Most of the world’s peatlands are found in the northern hemisphere and in particular, Canada and the northern United States. Natural peatland accounts for roughly 12% of Canada’s landbase, covering approximately 275 million acres. This figure represents more than one quarter of the world’s estimated 1 billion acres of peatland and covers an area equivalent to the combined size of Washington, California, Oregon and Nevada.

Peatlands cover 20% of Alberta’s landbase. Due to climactic and geological factors, peatlands are chiefly located in boreal wetland regions and the concentration of peatland resources in Alberta is therefore higher in the northern areas of the province.

The value of peat moss lies in its high absorptive capacity, resistance to decomposition and deodorizing quality and a variety of applications for peat moss have existed outside the garden. Historically, peat moss has been used as livestock bedding, surgical dressing and building materials. In fact, by the early forties several thousand Alberta homes were insulated with peat moss manufactured into an insulating material. Peat moss can absorb just under 6 times its weight in oil and currently sectors of the oil and gas industry use it to clean out oil receptacles and absorb accidental oil spills.

Canadian gardeners have added peat moss to their soil for generations. Prior to the Second World War, however, commercial peat cultivation in Canada was small, although sphagnum peat moss existed in every province. At that time, Canada and the United States imported the bulk of their peat moss from Europe. When the Second World War disrupted and cut off these shipments, the Canadian commercial peat moss industry expanded and established Canada as a substantial and high quality source of peat moss.

Today, Canada is one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of sphagnum peat moss for horticultural use, producing more than 98% of the peat moss imported by the United States. The majority of the production is located in eastern Canada, primarily in New Brunswick and Quebec. Peat production also occurs in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland.

The Cold Equation - Why Plants Die Over the Winter

The Cold Equation – Why Plants Die Over the Winter

By Jim Hole

By the time spring arrives, our gardens have endured a very long and arduous season. Months of sub-zero temperatures can take their toll on even the most stoic gardeners, but at least people spend most of their time on the warm side of the living-room window. Garden plants have little choice but to endure what winter throws their way. They must persevere or die.

Cooling Passions

What is it that allows a tulip bulb to survive extreme cold while a croton is damaged when temperatures drop to just a few degrees above freezing? The secret lies in water management. Plants have a love/hate relationship with water. During the growing season, plants are very enamoured with water, absorbing vast quantities of it to maintain vigour and encourage new growth. But during the winter, the love affair cools. Plants naturally retain some water within their cells. However, the water trapped in these cells is a recipe for disaster—when temperatures drop, it freezes and forms ice crystals. The expanding crystals burst cell walls, allowing the vital contents of the cell to leak out. The cell dies, and when this happens to enough cells, the plant perishes.

Coping Mechanisms

Plants that are native to areas with cold winters have several coping strategies to avoid the ice crystal problem:

  • One simple and obvious adaptation is the movement of the water out of the cells. Some plants transfer the moisture into the space between the cells rather than letting it lie within the cells and the cells do not burst.

  • Certain plants adapt by increasing the sugar or salt content within their cells. Water with higher levels of sugars or salts won’t freeze as readily as clear water —the higher the salt and sugar content, the greater the resistance to freezing. Ironically, plants may also suffer winter injury if their cells do not have enough water. Instead of freezing and bursting, these cells shrivel up and die from dehydration.

Running Hot and Cold

The water content issue isn’t the only factor involved in determining whether or not plants survive the winter. Sometimes, they are simply caught off guard. If temperatures drop rapidly following a warm spell, the plants do not have enough time to prepare for freezing temperatures.

Often, it is not low temperatures that kill plants, but rapid temperature fluctuations. It is much easier for a plant to adjust to gradual rather than brisk temperature changes and the ideal situation is for temperatures to cool slowly in the fall, remain moderately cold all winter, and then gradually warm in the spring. Of course, Mother Nature is rarely this benevolent. We’re all familiar with wildly fluctuating temperatures throughout fall and winter, and these conditions really test a plant’s hardiness.

Combating Winter’s Bite

There are ways to alleviate the winter weather woes:

  • CHOOSE HARDY PLANTS.

  • Take steps to protect your more vulnerable garden inhabitants. Mulches of peat moss and compost can stabilize root zone temperatures of perennials, while wind and sunscreen fabrics can be staked up to protect sensitive fruit trees.

  • Finally, give your plants a good soaking a couple of weeks prior to freeze-up. This will ensure that plants strike the right balance between too much and too little moisture. Ultimately, plant survival over the winter is part skill and part luck. Don’t be immobilized by the fear of losing a plant. Take a chance and plant a few of the more tender perennials and trees. A great deal of satisfaction in the garden comes when a gamble turns into a success.

The Scoop on Soil

The Scoop on Soil

A Beginner's Guide to Soil

Good soil is the foundation of a great garden. Without the right soil, whether in the garden or in containers, plants will wither. Sometimes the right soil is untouched clay loam; sometimes it's not soil at all, but a soilless mix. Tilling soil, adding organic matter, testing and adjusting the pH level—all of these actions give your plants the solid and nurturing earth they need to prosper.

A Simple Test

Reach down and gather up a handful of soil. Then, give it a squeeze. Does the soil hold together, or fall apart? If it does hold together, is it soft and springy or does it feel like a lump of clay?

What colour is it?If you have a nice, dark clump of earth that crumbles easily between your fingers, you're well on your way. Otherwise, your first step should be to improve your soil quality. Loam is the ultimate goal: a perfectly balanced blend of sand, silt, clay, and organic matter.

Soil's Job

Good soil must perform a number of functions. First, it should contain all the nutrients your
plants require. And good soil helps, rather than hinders, root absorption of plant nutrients. It
anchors plant roots firmly, but is loose and porous enough to allow them to grow and branch out.
Good soil retains moisture, but at the same time has adequate drainage to prevent waterlogged roots. Finally, good soil is neither too acidic nor too alkaline. All this is also true of soil in containers.

Amending the Soil

If you're not blessed with perfect soil from the start—and few of us are—you will need to amend the soil. That means adding plenty of organic matter: peat moss, well-rotted manure, or compost. Organic matter can be added to the soil anytime that the soil is warm enough to work, though the most convenient times tend to be in the early spring, before you've planted your gardens, or in the fall, after the growing season is over.

Amending the soil can take a lot of organic matter; generally, you need enough to cover your
beds to a thickness of 5-8 cm, or more if your soil is particularly dense (too much clay). Till in
the organic matter with a rake or rototiller, and you're on your way to a healthier garden!
Note that amending your soil isn't a one-time affair; since your garden uses the soil year after
year, it's only natural that the soil's quality will erode over time. Adding soil amendments once a year is an excellent way to keep your soil fertile.

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