Use of Moss as ground cover?????

Leo in N E Illinois

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@headive24
In a botanical sense you are mostly correct. But this is a horticultural forum, and you are not quite correct about the distinction between "peat" and "sphagnum" when used as terms in horticulture, especially bonsai.

"Sphagnum moss" is as you say any of the 380 species of moss in the genus sphagnum. In horticulture the term refers to the live moss, which you will encounter in the carnivorous plant trade, and the dried, long fiber form. The long fiber sphagnum, is harvested live, dried and compressed into bales without being shredded. This is a product that is harvested only from LIVE MOSS. This is key. The moss has not undergone any decomposition before it is harvested. It is a LIVE or recently alive product.

The sought after products are from New Zealand and Chile, because the species found there have fairly high phenol content. The phenol means the moss will hold its structure for about 1 to 2 years before decomposing. It also has anti-microbial activity, making for fewer problems with certain water molds, bacteria and fungi.

Canada and Wisconsin origin sphagnum moss, has a low phenol content, and while it can be used in the same manner as the New Zealand and Chilean sourced sphagnum, the low phenols means that the long fibers begin decaying quickly, and can be largely decomposed, loosing structure in less than one year. For this reason, a premium is paid for the New Zealand & Chilean products.

"Peat" and the confusing term "peat moss" in horticulture refers only to the dead layers of DEAD sphagnum moss, in the lower portions of the bogs, quagmires, peatlands and dystrophic lakes. This product has already begun decomposition. It no longer has the long fiber structure of living sphagnum. Peat is classified as a histosol, a USDA defined category of soil that is primarily organic in origin. It is created from sphagnum moss, but it is only the dead moss, moss that has dies usually decades to centuries earlier. It is not a recently living product.

The peat is harvested with techniques more similar to mining gravel. The nature of bogs, this peat has undergone anaerobic decomposition, which is quite slow and preserves many traits of the original sphagnum fibers, including the cation exchange capacity. Peat that is harvested is often from thick, ancient layers of the bog that have accumulated over the centuries. Most peat harvested in Canada and sold in the USA is from layers more than 100 years old in old peat bogs. In Europe, especially Germany there are ancient peat bogs where the peat harvested is thousands of years old, and has begun the metamorphosis into a more mineral like product that more closely resembles coal. This is the product referred to as "hard German peat". It is on its way to becoming a product like leonardite or lignite, essentially on its way to becoming coal.

To sum it up
In bonsai & general horticulture.
Sphagnum, sphagnum moss, and long fiber sphagnum moss refer to harvested live and then dried out product. No decomposition has occurred.

Peat, & peat moss, refer to material harvested from below the living surface of a bog or peatland. It is dead, partially decayed, sphagnum that has undergone many years of slow anaerobic decomposition and metamorphosis. It is a histosol, an organic soil type. It is NOT living, or recently living sphagnum moss.
 

sorce

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@headive24
In a botanical sense you are mostly correct. But this is a horticultural forum, and you are not quite correct about the distinction between "peat" and "sphagnum" when used as terms in horticulture, especially bonsai.

"Sphagnum moss" is as you say any of the 380 species of moss in the genus sphagnum. In horticulture the term refers to the live moss, which you will encounter in the carnivorous plant trade, and the dried, long fiber form. The long fiber sphagnum, is harvested live, dried and compressed into bales without being shredded. This is a product that is harvested only from LIVE MOSS. This is key. The moss has not undergone any decomposition before it is harvested. It is a LIVE or recently alive product.

The sought after products are from New Zealand and Chile, because the species found there have fairly high phenol content. The phenol means the moss will hold its structure for about 1 to 2 years before decomposing. It also has anti-microbial activity, making for fewer problems with certain water molds, bacteria and fungi.

Canada and Wisconsin origin sphagnum moss, has a low phenol content, and while it can be used in the same manner as the New Zealand and Chilean sourced sphagnum, the low phenols means that the long fibers begin decaying quickly, and can be largely decomposed, loosing structure in less than one year. For this reason, a premium is paid for the New Zealand & Chilean products.

"Peat" and the confusing term "peat moss" in horticulture refers only to the dead layers of DEAD sphagnum moss, in the lower portions of the bogs, quagmires, peatlands and dystrophic lakes. This product has already begun decomposition. It no longer has the long fiber structure of living sphagnum. Peat is classified as a histosol, a USDA defined category of soil that is primarily organic in origin. It is created from sphagnum moss, but it is only the dead moss, moss that has dies usually decades to centuries earlier. It is not a recently living product.

The peat is harvested with techniques more similar to mining gravel. The nature of bogs, this peat has undergone anaerobic decomposition, which is quite slow and preserves many traits of the original sphagnum fibers, including the cation exchange capacity. Peat that is harvested is often from thick, ancient layers of the bog that have accumulated over the centuries. Most peat harvested in Canada and sold in the USA is from layers more than 100 years old in old peat bogs. In Europe, especially Germany there are ancient peat bogs where the peat harvested is thousands of years old, and has begun the metamorphosis into a more mineral like product that more closely resembles coal. This is the product referred to as "hard German peat". It is on its way to becoming a product like leonardite or lignite, essentially on its way to becoming coal.

To sum it up
In bonsai & general horticulture.
Sphagnum, sphagnum moss, and long fiber sphagnum moss refer to harvested live and then dried out product. No decomposition has occurred.

Peat, & peat moss, refer to material harvested from below the living surface of a bog or peatland. It is dead, partially decayed, sphagnum that has undergone many years of slow anaerobic decomposition and metamorphosis. It is a histosol, an organic soil type. It is NOT living, or recently living sphagnum moss.
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Sorce
 

Just Rosie

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Not to ruin all the fun... but just to be clear.... moss is pretty much good for displaying bonsai but not keeping on bonsai?
 

Tieball

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Not to ruin all the fun... but just to be clear.... moss is pretty much good for displaying bonsai but not keeping on bonsai?
Correct in my experience. However, I do use it periodically, for extended time, when I have a small thin root near the surface that I want to develop and be shaded from the drying sun and air. The select moss location works well for me for this purpose....growth of a higher root. And I keep the moss under control with no trunk moss growth.
 

AJL

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Most responsible horticulturalists here are moving away from or reducing use of horticultural peat and are using peat-free alternatives to reduce the environmental destruction caused to habitats by commercial peat collection and extraction. Its simply unsustainable.
I still use live moss to decorate my bonsai pots and to shade surface roots . I collect it off my roof and paths-Its really abundant around here after record rainfall this year.....
 

Leo in N E Illinois

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Live moss is a sign of relatively good soil conditions; ample moisture, and a favorable pH. Some moss on the surface of the potting media is great. "Crack-in-the-Sidewalk-Moss" is a nice stand in for a lawn, right in scale, makes it look like grass is growing under the bonsai tree. A dense layer of living moss, covering 100% of the potting media, can make it difficult to water the tree properly, and difficult to tell if the tree needs water. That is the main reason most remove moss when not displaying the tree. For trees like certain pines, like Ponderosa pines, a heavy moss layer keeps the soil too moist. Majority of deciduous trees like the moisture held by a partial cover of moss. So living moss on the soil surface is not automatically "bad", some is a good thing, a dense layer is when problems occur.

Second, yes, it is true most "modern" bonsai media avoids the use of peat. And the harvest of peat moss is not environmentally sustainable. There are times it is appropriate, but that is for very specific uses, not beginner level bonsai topic. Vast majority of peat is used by landscape and potted plant industry, very little is used by the bonsai hobby.
 

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