Sometimes rehydrating peat moss can be frustrating. This is particularly evident in peat moss already mixed with potting soil of its tendency to repel water. Is your peat moss lost?
Rehydrating peat moss is easily achieved using two simple methods: 1) immersion in boiling water and 2) using commercial soil surfactants which are chemicals that help water permeate peat moss faster.
Let’s dive in!
Peat moss is harvested from wetlands hence it has to be dried and compressed into bricks or bales before getting sold commercially. Wet peat moss can hold moisture very well however, when dry, it tends to repel water.
Before I talk about the technique, please prepare the following:
- A solid block of peat moss
- Heat tolerant container that the block can fit into
- 4 liters boiling water
- Some sort of mixing tool
The steps to hydrate peat moss are:
- Place the peat moss block in the container.
- Slowly pour about 2 liters of boiling water on the block.
- Let it sit for 24 hours.
- When you check it again, and see clumps, try to stir the block with some mixing tools.
- If there are no clumps, pour boiling water again until you see clumps forming and stir.
- Continue stirring until the peat moss is soft and fluffy.
- The peat moss must be dry to the touch before mixing with soil.
The use of commercial products that help to counteract water-repelling soil also called wetting agents or what is called soil surfactants has become popular for larger areas. This is due to the recommendation of experts that other ingredients in detergent will harm plants.
To use a commercial surfactant, follow label directions.
Long fibered sphagnum needs light and moisture. The choice of liquid is important. Sphagnum prefers sodium-free, neutral water, distilled water, or rainwater, any other liquid will kill it.
- 2 fistful of dry long fibered sphagnum moss
- R/O water, sodium-free water, rainwater, distilled water
- Container with cover to place the wetted moss in
- Another container where you can wet the moss
- Indoor light, 20 watts will do fine
- Mister/spray bottle with a fine mist
Here are the steps:
- Take 2 fistfuls of dry long fibered sphagnum moss.
- Mill the bricks by grinding against each other over a container.
- Wet the dry moss with any of the types of liquid mentioned above.
- Let it soak then squeeze as much of the water out.
- Place inside the counter with cover in a nice even layer up to 1-2” deep.
- Mist every day or every two days. Keep moist and humid but not soggy and floating.
- Don’t forget to use your indoor light while waiting for moss to
- At first, tiny moss will grow here and there but within 90 days you should see a nice green moss growth.
Warning: When you are doing the grinding wear a protective cover over your mouth and nose to prevent you from inhaling moss spores.
Surfactants also called wetting agents are chemical compounds that work by minimizing the surface tension between liquids, liquids and solids, and liquids and gases so that they can mix, disperse, and penetrate easily. Some examples are soap and detergent.
When applied to soil science, soil surfactants work at decreasing the surface tension between water and soil to allow the former to penetrate dry soil.
This product is readily available in garden centers, agricultural supplies stores, independent online shops which you can find by using search terms like, soil wetter, soil surfactant, and wetting agent. You can also find plenty of this soil amelioration product on Amazon.
Like many chemical compounds, this product is toxic when handled improperly. The documented side effects to humans are several including stomachache, eye irritation, stinging.
On a final note: inform the medical personnel what the chemical poison is and if possible provide the chemical data sheet so that there is no guesswork involved.
There are 4 kinds of commercial surfactants. Among those, only 2 are used in horticulture. Between the two, only one which is called Nonionic Surfactant is safe to use for crop production granted the application is done correctly.
In fact, there is ongoing research on using nonionic surfactants to control fungal infestation in hydroponic systems. When using this type of surfactant, following the proper application is paramount otherwise, the chemical will kill the roots and leaves or cause off-colored leaves and slow growth on plants.
Lawn moss is beneficial to the ecosystem because it 1) provides a home for insects, 2) provides food for other creatures that feed on insects, 3) cleans the air in regions where it grows, 4) helps to prevent soil erosion, and 5) acts as a sponge helping the soil below to retain water.
Some gardeners and homeowners choose moss lawn to regular grass because of: 1) aesthetics of the garden; 2) the impossibility to grow conventional lawn grass in some areas.
Supplies and equipment needed to rehydrate moss lawn:
- Milk – you can buy from the store or use one at home that has gone sour.
- Equipment – leaf blower, lawn vacuum, or a 2 in combo blower/vacuum for lawns.
- Any type of material you can use to cover up treated areas.
Here are the steps for rehydrating moss lawn
- Remove any debris lying on the ground with your choice of tool by using, for instance, a leaf blower.
- If you cannot completely blow all the small debris, use a lawn vacuum or get a leaf blower/vacuum garden tool like this.
- Pour milk only on the places where moss has dried up.
- Cover the treated area to protect from pets, wild animals that frequently visit your lawn or rainfall.
While either can be used, the electric blower may be the superior alternative. It does not consume a lot of energy, which could cause the moss to blow away with the leaves.
When potting soil already mixed with peat moss dries out, the soil tends to become hydrophobic (water-repelling) and will be hard to rehydrate. We are going to wet the soil in 4 different ways.
In a bucket of water, place the pot with the dried soil. The pot may float due to the air in the soil, allowing air bubbles to escape. You can remove the pot once the bubbling has ceased.
Place the pot inside a shallow container that can contain it and fill it with enough water. It can take an hour for the soil to soak in the water. Do not overwater, check the pot after 1 to 2 hours then remove it.
This is applicable to large and heavy pots. Use a slow watering system that drips water into so that the water doesn’t run off so that the soil is able to absorb the water. Monitor to avoid overwatering. Remove the watering system when the water has been hydrated.
Check the weather, if there is a forecast of rain, place your pots outside.
Extra: Adding a surfactant such as a squirt of hand soap, detergent, or liquid dishwashing soap, with either warm or room temperature water will peat most rehydrate faster.
- You can wait for light rain or lightly sprinkle the soil with water.
- Cover the surface with mulch and compost. You can also use coffee grounds but break them up before using as it has the tendency to dry out the soil
How To Store Peat Moss To Avoid Dehydration?
It is a great idea to store unused remaining peat moss in an air-tight container.
Peat moss, as discussed, comes in dry form and you have to hydrate it before use. After it is mixed in with your soil, it is common that it will dry up again and again.
Whether it’s your potted plants or garden soil, you can use the strategies mentioned earlier in the “How To Rehydrate Hydrophobic Soil.”
Peat Moss vs Sphagnum Moss vs Sphagnum Peat Moss
The biggest differences are where they come from and how they are harvested. Sphagnum peat moss is also called peat moss, and both names relate to different parts of the same plant.
Peat moss is made up of decaying sphagnum moss, insects, animals, and other plants that have sunk to the bottom of bogs where the peat moss is harvested and is moist (it can contain up to 70% water). It is harvested from bogs in Northern Europe, Scandinavia, and Canada.
Sphagnum moss, on the other hand, is the living component of the plant that is taken while still alive and then dried before being sold. It is marketed as Long Fibered Sphagnum (LFS) moss.
In case you are interested we have also a great article on the difference between peat moss and peat humus!
1. Peat moss is available in selected places thus after harvest it is normally dried for easy and less costly shipping.
2. You can use commercial soil surfactants or you can use household supplies you already have to rehydrate peat moss.
3. Peat moss, when mixed in with potting soil, tends to dry out the soil as well and makes the soil hard to rewet.
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“Peat Moss” by Editors in Encyclopaedia Britannica
“Peat Moss vs Sphagnum Moss – What’s the difference?” by n.a. in Southside Plants
“What’s the Difference Between Spagmoss and Peat Moss? The Environment” by n.a, in Besgrow
“The Benefits & Ecology of a Moss Lawn” by Cathy Burk in Habitat Nature
“Watering Hydrophobic Soil” by n.a. in University of California
“Wetting Agents – Are You Buying Trouble?” by Author in Jerry Coleby-Williams
“Here’s what to do when potted plant soil dries out” by Leimone Waite in RecordSearchlight
“Wetting Agent” by Editors in Encyclopaedia Britannica
“Soil Wetting Agent SAFETY DATA SHEET” by n.a. In Southern AG
“Using Surfactants, Wetting Agents, and Adjuvants in the Greenhouse” by Mark Czarnota and Paul A. Thomas in University of Georgia