Sphagnum Moss vs. Peat Moss: What’s the Best Growing Medium for Your Plants?

Written by Kristin Hitchcock
Updated: June 13, 2023
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Both Sphagnum moss and peat moss are popular planting mediums. While both of these substances are mosses, they have their own distinctive properties and benefits. One is probably better for your plants than the other. We’re here to help you tell the difference.

As gardeners, we are always on the lookout for the best way to give our plants a healthy start. Neither of these mosses is always better than the other. It’s a matter of your environment and what exactly you’re planting.

Let’s dive into the differences between these two mosses, their ideal uses, and the environmental impacts of using them.

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Properties of Sphagnum Moss and Peat Moss

Not all moss is the same. In fact, Sphagnum moss and peat moss have very different properties.

Sphagnum moss, or bog moss, is a living moss that grows in wetlands and peatlands. Its soft, spongy texture indicates just how much water it needs to survive. It typically only resides in very wet environments.

On the other hand, peat moss is partially decomposed Sphagnum moss. While it is technically the same moss, the decomposition process gives it some very different qualities. It’s typically harvested from bogs and then dried out before being sold.

Benefits of Sphagnum Moss

Person adding sphagnum moss to flower pot to improve soil quality
Sphagnum moss has natural antiseptic properties, preventing the growth of harmful bacteria and fungi.

©iStock.com/Larisa Stefanuyk

Sphagnum moss has an excellent water retention capacity. It can absorb up to 20 times its weight in water, keeping your plant extremely moist. It’s especially good at retaining moisture in potted plants.

Sphagnum moss also has natural antiseptic properties, preventing the growth of harmful bacteria and fungi. It creates a clean and hygienic environment for your plants.

Benefits of Peat Moss

Peat moss, fertilizer soil for organic agriculture, plant growing, ecology concept.
Peat moss prevents waterlogged soil and provides the roots with plenty of oxygenation.


On the other hand, peat moss basically does the opposite. It provides aeration and drainage, providing a structure that allows water and air to move freely. It prevents waterlogged soil and provides the roots with plenty of oxygenation.

Peat moss is also slightly acidic, which makes it suitable for acid-loving plants. However, you have to be cautious with plants that don’t like acid.

Ideal Uses

Gardeners can use both mosses in different places in the gardening world.

Sphagnum moss works well for hanging baskets and container gardens. It’s also very good for orchids. Its water retention abilities allow it to work well in these situations, especially in hot, dry climates.

It also has a nice, natural look in hanging baskets that many people appreciate.

Peat moss provides the opposite – drainage and aeration. Therefore, it’s a great soil amendment. It improves the structure of heavy soils and enhances water retention in sandy soils. It also promotes overall soil quality, so many gardeners use it religiously.

Many seed-starting mixes include peat moss, as it provides the perfect environment for germination.

As we previously mentioned, though, peat moss is acidic. Therefore, you should only use it for acid-loving plants.

Environmental Impact Comparison

Sphagnum and peat moss have very different environmental impacts. Sphagnum moss grows very quickly, and growers can harvest it without damaging the environment. Therefore, it is a significantly sustainable option. It’s regenerative when harvested correctly, meaning that it grows back within a reasonable time frame.

However, peat moss must be extracted from peatlands. It’s deep inside the ground inside these peatlands, and digging it up harms the environment and unique ecosystems. It may destroy habitats for rare and endangered species.

Therefore, many people choose to explore alternative growing mediums.

Alternative Growing Mediums

Luckily, there are many sustainable alternatives to peat moss (and Sphagnum moss, though finding an alternative for this moss is less pressing). Coconut coir comes from coconut husks and has many of the same qualities. It provides good water retention and aeration. Plus, it’s pH-neutral, making it more suitable for a range of plants.

You can also use compost, which enriches the soil, maintains moisture, and improves its structure. You can make your own compost for the best environmental impact or purchase it from a store.

Many people also like to use perlite and vermiculite, which are lightweight rocks that improve drainage and aeration. Gardeners often combine them with organic material, though, as most plants cannot just grow in rocks.

Rockwool is a synthetic material that is spun from mineral fibers. It provides excellent water retention and drainage properties, which is why it is common in hydroponics.

Which is Better? Peat Moss or Sphagnum Moss?

Gardener woman holding peat moss organic matter improve soil for agriculture organic plant growing, ecology concept.
You should look for the best option for your plant’s specific needs.

©sasirin pamai/Shutterstock.com

Neither of these mosses is always better all the time. It largely depends on what you need, as they do incredibly different things. Here’s a quick summary of each one, allowing you to choose the best option for your plants:

Sphagnum Moss:

  • Excellent water retention
  • Provides a clean, hygienic environment
  • Ideal for hanging baskets, container gardens, and orchids
  • Sustainable
  • Regenerates quickly

Peat Moss:

  • Offers excellent aeration and drainage properties
  • Acidic pH
  • Improves structure and fertility of the soil
  • Valuable for starting seeds
  • Significant environmental impact

Considering the environmental impact of peat moss, Sphagnum moss is a more sustainable choice. However, if you have plants that specifically require acidic conditions or if you need improved drainage, peat moss may be the better option. Alternatively, you can also explore sustainable alternatives like coconut coir, compost, perlite, vermiculite, or rockwool.

In the end, the “best” choice depends on your gardening needs and values.

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