When sustainable landscaper Kirstie McCullough of Sustainscape, Inc. entered the industry five years ago, she quickly realized that conventional landscaping practices were detrimental to Florida’s environment. “I worked at a country club, and that’s when I realized the full scope and severity of the use of synthetic chemicals,” she said. “I realized I needed to find a company that was in line with my values. Aside from the morals and ethics of it all and the environmental impact, I didn’t want to be exposed to a lot of the chemicals, just for my own health.”
Conventional landscaping practices tend to deprive soil of nutrients and organic matter, while sustainable practices strive to preserve soil quality, nutrition, and moisture. “Sustainable landscaping practices try to use fertilizers and pesticides that will actually add organic matter back into the soil,” said Kirstie. This is especially critical in Florida, where the soil is largely comprised of sand. “We want something like PittMoss® that is sustainably produced or harvested,” Kirstie explained. “And we want something that can increase the moisture holding capacity of the soil and isn’t going to wash away or volatilize. I love PittMoss® for that reason.”
One of the primary challenges faced by Florida landscapers is that the state’s abundant commercial properties call for more irrigation than the annual rainfall can provide. “We have a lot of golf courses, country clubs, and condos,” said Kirstie. Maintaining these landscapes often leads to unsustainable choices for the sake of aesthetics. Landscapers “might be tempted to choose a turf grass that requires more water or bedding plants that require more pesticides,” Kirstie said. By selecting plants that are native to the environment when possible, sustainable landscaping projects require less fertilizer, pesticides, and supplemental irrigation over time. Additionally, incorporating PittMoss® reduces fertilizer requirements by as much as one-third while increasing nutrient availability.
In addition to concerns about unsustainable harvesting methods, the growers at Sustainscape found themselves frustrated with the poor water-absorption abilities of peat moss. “Peat moss was almost hydrophobic to begin with,” Kirstie said. “You would water it and it would repel the water. It would spill over the pot. I had to be really careful about not losing the product that we were spending all of that money on.”
When Kirstie tested PittMoss® as an alternative to peat in containerized plants, its superior moisture-retention qualities were immediately evident. “It was so much easier. I would water and the water would soak right in, and then it would hold onto the water for a long time,” she explained. “Instead of having to water and then wait and go back two hours later to water it again like we did with the peat moss, we could just water it once and we were done.”
“For someone like me whose main job is to work in the nursery, not having to water as often or water for as long of a period of time frees up the rest of my day,” Kirstie said. “I can save literally hours and have that time to work on something else in the nursery. So it’s crucial. Not only are we saving the water itself but we’re saving my time that would otherwise be spent watering.”
Kirstie provided Sustainscape’s ratios for using PittMoss® in their landscaping projects. “For typical bedding plants and small trees and shrubs, I’m using 50% native sand, 30% compost, and 20% PittMoss®,” she said. The mix changes to 70% sand, 20% compost, and 10% PittMoss® for native plants, which have evolved over time to withstand drought. “We actually use less PittMoss® in the mix than we would have to use peat moss,” Kirstie shared.
Playing around with #pittmoss in potting mix. It’s a sustainable alternative to #peatmoss which is harvested from bogs. As seen on #sharktank So far so good, it has great moisture holding capacity, but not quite as fluffy as peat moss. Will probably have to add perlite or other media to help aerate the soil.
For Kirstie, PittMoss® has proven itself to be invaluable when it comes to reducing losses on the job. “It gives us a little bit of a buffer,” she said. Even with proper mulching and irrigation, issues ranging from transplant shock to dehydration can arise amid landscaping projects. “It’s nice to know that if you plant a plant into the ground from a container that had PittMoss®, it’s going to stay wetter for longer,” Kirstie added. PittMoss®’s water-retaining abilities are especially beneficial when rainfall and native soil quality can be unpredictable. “We know [with PittMoss®] that we have at least a couple of extra days to go back to that house and double check on it without having to worry.” A great insurance policy.
*Some quotations have been edited for clarity and brevity.