Most cannabis cultivators have their favorite methods of growing, as well as their favorite grow media and nutrients. The two main schools of cultivation are hydroponics and soil (biological) growing.
Hydroponics is a method of growing without traditional soil and that utilizes nutrient-rich water and an inert growing medium. The plants are suspended in gravel, water, sand, rock wool, clay pellets, or other material, and the root systems are fed directly with a nutrient-rich water solution. Although it sounds fairly hi-tech, hydroponic growing is nothing new, and it has a fairly long history with cannabis-growing. The practice goes back centuries, with some botany historians identifying hydroponic practices with ancient cultures in many different regions of the world.
Hydroponic growers swear by this method—just like soil growers are incredibly devoted to their traditional cultivation method. Even within the schools of hydroponic and soil grows, there are a variety of methods, media, and nutrient recipes.
In this article, we’ll focus on one of the lesser-utilized soil mediums: peat moss. A good cannabis soil mixture can contain any of a number of substances that, when combined, create a good soil mixture.
Because there is such a wide variety of potentially good ingredients to put into a soil mixture, the possibilities and various ratios of ingredients are vast. Among the various suitable soil ingredients is potting soil, compost, perlite, course sand, coco coir, fine gravel, and peat moss.
Why Is Peat Moss Soil Good?
Peat moss is a great soil component for its ability to retain water (up the 20 times its weight) and hydrate plants over an extended period of time. Peat moss also provides valuable micronutrients to the soil. It is free of weed seeds, pests, and pathogens. It also contains a range of elements, such as sulfur, which helps plants express their terpenes. Peat moss pH is acidic, so it allows for the use of alkaline soil amendments. Despite these things, it often gets overlooked in favor of other popular soil ingredients, which is unfortunate.
When cultivating with cannabis, peat moss can help provide two important things to any garden: aeration and moisture. The root systems of plants are just as important as what grows above the soil surface, yet some growers tend to neglect it more, in a variety of ways. Inappropriately designed pots, pots of the wrong size and water and nutrient inadequacies (too much of too little) being just a few of them. Root systems must stay moist to remain healthy, and plants do not grow nearly as well when their roots are cramped in a confined space. Well-aerated soil helps them spread out and grow, which is why a loose soil mixture that allows easy root growth is superior to dense soils that contain clay.
Preparing and Mixing Your Peat Moss
Because peat moss is initially resistant to absorbing water and repels it, the first step is to prepare it for soil use. This is best done during the spring months when the days are growing warmer and longer.
Prepare the peat moss for later use by placing a substantial amount of peat moss in a large pan and thoroughly moisten it with water. Spread the peat moss out to cover the bottom of the pan to increase the surface area, and leave it outside for a few weeks. This will allow the peat moss to soften and become more absorbent, as well as allow it to grow important micronutrients. You want it to get exposed to rain and morning dew as much as possible, but if water collects in the pan, pour it out so it doesn’t get stagnant. If you live in an arid region, be sure to periodically spray the peat moss with water. Coarse, clumpy chunks of peat moss work better for soil mixtures than thin, wispy peat moss. Remember that peat moss must be kept evenly moist in order for plants to grow their best. Avoid letting it dry out, because it will once again be resistant to absorbing water and will require attention and treatment.
After a few weeks, assemble the peat moss with equal parts of a good-quality potting soil or garden soil that does not contain any fertilizers. Some commercial soil mixes have synthetic fertilizers added, but to grow good-tasting cannabis, you want to grow organically and avoid synthetic additives. Also purchase an equal part of perlite, which will help increase the soil aeration and aid root development. If you do not have access to perlite, you can substitute with a thick, coarse sand. Avoid any sand with tiny grains.
To mix the soil, combine equal parts of the peat moss, soil, and perlite into a large garden bucket and thoroughly mix the three ingredients together with your hands and a hand spade. You want the three ingredients to be evenly distributed throughout the mixture. To this, you will want to add a nutrient-rich ingredient like compost (you can easily make your own at home) or a commercially available product like Big Bloom. Compost is a valuable ingredient when growing organic cannabis because it feeds the soil. Big Bloom, used in combination with Grow Big and Tiger Bloom, is an almost purely organic mixture that feed the plants rather than the soil. So, while compost will feed the peat moss soil mixture, compost will feed the soil. In the correct ratios, they work well together.
Your cannabis plants will grow very well in a peat moss soil mixture right from the start. After the first couple of weeks, supplementing it with the Big Bloom and Grow Big nutrient (follow the feeding schedule provided for the trio) will ensure your cannabis thrives throughout all stages of its life cycle (vegetative, glowering, and pre-harvest).
Peat Moss Versus Coco Coir
Since they have a similar consistency, many soil mixes contain either peat moss or coco coir. Both can work well and have their own unique benefits and drawbacks. Most cannabis cultivators have a preference for one or the other.
Although similar to peat moss in its consistency, coco coir has its own unique sets of benefits which differentiates once from the other. Some of the unique benefits of coco coir is that its pH typically runs 6-6.7, which is perfect for cannabis. Since coco coir is harvested from coconuts, it’s a renewable resource—unlike peat moss. It also absorbs water much easier and is much easier to rehydrate if it gets overly dry. It has excellent water retention properties, retaining eight to 30 times its own weight. Like peat moss, coco coir is an outstanding habitat for microorganisms and is free of pests, pathogens, and weed seeds. Coco coir is also durable and due to its lignin content, it breaks down slower than peat moss. Finally, coco coir is typically less expensive than peat moss—and this lower cost is something that everyone can appreciate.
Coco coir also has some drawbacks. It has a high salinity unless thoroughly washed, and its quality and consistency can vary more than peat moss, depending on the source. It also doesn’t contain many microorganisms and few trace elements. Also, because some coco coir is sprayed with pesticides in its country of origin, combined with its tendency to be high in sodium and magnesium, means that it must be thoroughly washed and treated (follow the same instructions for treating coco coir as the peat moss method detailed above).
Because peat moss and coco coir have several similarities as well as differences, it’s easy to see why both have their legions of devotees. There are really no right or wrong answers when it comes to using one or the other; it’s just a matter of personal preference.
Since it’s used less often than coco coir for cannabis cultivation and has many benefits, do not overlook peat moss the next time you plan a cannabis soil mixture. Most likely, you will be happy with the results and use it as a regular soil ingredient.