Sunday, December 10, 2006

Sphagnum moss

Are you sometimes just "hanging around" thinking about sphagnum moss? Our friend here is deciding whether it's good to go forward and learn about how useful long fiber sphagnum can be (coming from wetlands something a little like this) or whether it's a better idea to just go and find some lunch back in the house.

Long fiber sphagnum moss is really quite an interesting product. It can hold up to 20 times it's weight in water. This means that one pound of dry moss could hold up to two gallons of water. That's why many people that enjoy preparing their own hanging baskets always use the long fiber moss in the containers. It isn't just because the moss makes an attractive outer covering that gives a pleasing natural look, it's also because even the amount used as the decorative covering holds a good deal of water which is readily available for the plants.

Many people like the New Zealand sphagnum which is Sphagnum christatum. It's primarily grown on the Western coast of New Zealand and is a renewable resource that's able to regenerate itself in two to four years after it's harvested. There are actually many species of sphagnum. It was feared that harvesting it would ruin the wetlands where it grows and destroy delicate and very important ecosystems. Depending on the particular species and location, it can indeed be grown as a crop that replenishes itself if the farmer is careful. Did you know that they also harvest sphagnum a little closer to home in Wisconsin?

This sphagnum is different from sphagnum peat moss. Sphagnum peat is a product that has long been dead. Thousands of years ago sphagnum plants thrived in marshland similar to where it still grows currently but after it died and was covered by more layers of living moss the old moss decomposed and compressed into the peat moss that we typically use in our potting mixes today. To collect most of the peat moss that we use it has to be dug up out of the ground. Long fiber sphagnum is not "mined" but cut off at ground level by people who typically use hand tools for the job.

Besides the benefit of water retention, sphagnum has a natural antibiotic agent in it called Tropolene. It kills viruses, bacteria and other micro organisms. This is a wonderful attribute for those wishing to start new cuttings or seeds. It helps keep the plants free from disease and pests. If you chop up the long fiber moss or "mill" it into a powdery form it is a useful soil covering after seeding especially on tiny seeds. Many of the gesneriads have particularly small seeds.

What do you use as a seed starter? Is there a particular brand of sphagnum that you prefer? Would the water holding properties be suitable in your potting mix or is it better used for orchids? Let us know what you think.


Barb W said...

I use sphagnum moss for the sole medium for many of my orchids. It is great for rooting the cuttings of many types of plants. When mixing a medium for my sinningias, about half is sphagnum moss. However, I have tried the milled moss for seeds and the results were not favorable.

Sandy O said...

I use a pure milled Sphagnum moss seed stater by Mosser Lee that I can buy at any of the local nurseries. It is very fine. It has great holding properties if kept covered. To me, it is too fine for orchids but great for seeds.I wet it first and press the excess water out. After I sprinkle my seeds on top, I cover the container and wait. I use a clear plastic salad container or some such thing from the local grocery store.

For my micro miniature sinningias, I use the New Zealand sphagnum moss exclusivly. It retains enough water so that they don't need to be in a terrarium. I mix it half and half with my regular potting soil for my larger sinningias.