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Published: Thursday, 5/18/2006

Gardeners Can Feel Good About Peat s Green Qualities

Groundbreaking Research Ensures Long-Term Peat Availability

It s no secret that millions of gardeners use peat moss as an effective soil conditioner, helping to regulate air and moisture around plants roots.

But what you might not know is that peat moss is cultivating a reputation as one of the world s most ecologically aware industries. Today, gardeners can feel good about not only the results peat provides in their gardens, but on its environmental impact as well.

We ve come a long way toward ensuring that we re harvesting with accountability, says Gerry Hood, president of the Canadian Peat Moss Association (CSPMA). In the mid 1990s, plant ecologist Dr. Line Rochefort kicked off an exhaustive research program to prove that harvested or abandoned peatlands could be restored.

The groundbreaking research she and her team undertook made a big difference in helping people feel good about using peat moss again, Hood says. It s helped establish environmental policies designed to ensure that gardeners will be able to keep using peat for a long, long time.

Rochefort, who was dubbed Canada s great peat crusader by Canadian Geographic magazine, meticulously tested dozens of methods to regenerate the Sphagnum on a harvested bog, including using different combinations of mulch and cultivation techniques. After two years of research funded by Canadian peat producers, Rochefort and her colleagues discovered one of the most effective ingredients for growing Sphagnum on harvested bogs -- straw.

After harvesting a bog, producers leave behind a thick layer of peat. They collect three to five inches of growing Sphagnum moss from a virgin bog, grind it up, and spread it across the harvested bog. Then they cover the bog with a straw mulch, which holds in moisture and insulates the area as the delicate plants begin to take root. Over the next two to four years, a new carpet of Sphagnum begins to cover the bog.

By 1997, the peat industry had demonstrated enough success and gathered enough information to begin small restoration projects, and by 2000, it was successfully restoring hundreds of acres at a time. To ensure that Rochefort s work would endure, CSPMA members adopted stringent preservation and reclamation policies. To remain members of the CSPMA, Canadian peat companies must strictly comply with the rules.

That s why it s so critical for homeowners to make sure they purchase their peat from a CSPMA member, Hood says. The only way the industry is going to be able to continue its important work is for gardeners to demand that their peat is harvested using the most environmentally friendly methods.

The Canadian peat industry is committed to making peat moss a sustainable resource. Only one acre in every 6,000 is harvested, and when harvesting stops, the bogs are restored to functioning peatlands.



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