You’ve seen them at every nursery and home improvement center: bales of peat moss, that fluffy brown stuff gardeners add to their clay or sandy soil to improve the flowerbed. However, there are some environmental drawbacks to using peat moss as a soil amendment. Peat moss takes centuries to develop, and its harvest from wetland bogs damages this habitat and releases greenhouse gases into the air. This is surprising to many gardeners, who may rely on peat moss to lighten and acidify the soil.
Flower gardeners can take steps to protect the fragile peat bog ecosystem by choosing from four soil amendment alternatives:
Compost got it’s nickname of “black gold” for a reason: This soil amendment improves the tilth of soil, adds trace nutrients, attracts earthworms, and introduces beneficial microorganisms into the garden. Don’t like the “ick factor” of do-it-yourself composting? Most nurseries sell compost by the bag or truckload, and many cities give residents free compost through their yard waste processing facilities.
- Coconut fiber:
Like peat moss, coconut fiber helps soil absorb and retain moisture. You can buy coconut fiber as dry compressed bricks, which store tidily in the garden shed until you add water to them and mix them with garden soil. Coco fiber bricks are pricy, so they might be a better option for the small garden or flowering container garden.
- Leaf mold:
Leaf mold is like the lazy man’s compost. The product is the result of the natural decay process of leaves, without all the turning or worrying about the right ratio of greens and browns. Shredding the leaves helps them break down into humus faster, and you don’t need a fancy shredder; running over them with the lawnmower will do.
- Pine needles:
Pine needle mulch is popular where pine trees are abundant, but flower gardeners can use pine needles as a soil amendment too. After all, what are pine needles but the specially shaped leaves of pine trees? The acidity of pine needles is especially beneficial to help acid loving flowers thrive, including azaleas, lilies, marigolds, and rhododendrons.