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Moss Gardening
How to Create, Grow and Care for a Moss Garden

This plant requires or will tolerate shade during the heat of the dayThis plant may not tolerate any direct sunlightThis plant will tolerate some drought, but benefits from periodic wateringThis plant needs a thorough, deep weekly watering, Double icons require boggy or wet conditionsWhite flowering plantYellow flowering plant
Mosses grow naturally in most temperate areas of the world.
They are primarily found growing in lightly shaded areas or where there are periods of sun in the morning
or late afternoon. Some species grow well in extremely deep shade.
Mosses thrive in moist, average soil.
Most mosses will survive periods of drought and quickly regenerate once water becomes available again.
As a group, they withstand heat and cold, grow slowly and live a long time.

Horace the Garden Gnome

What is Moss?

Like ferns, mosses grow from spores.
The spores develop green threadlike branches called protonema, rather than true roots.
The protonema push into the ground (or in some cases, attach to a surface)
and then eventually develop the tiny flat leaves.
Thousands of these plants will bunch together to make a single patch of moss.
The protonema serve primarily to anchor the moss to the growing surface.
Mosses obtain all their nutrients from the air rather than the soil, which is why it is able to grow on rocks!

Moss in the Landscape

The Japanese have used moss in their traditional gardens for centuries, but it is only now beginning to gain popularity and acceptance in this country. True mosses, club mosses and peat mosses can be found
in a wide range of rich colors, fine textures and unique appearances.
They make an excellent ground cover for shade gardens, accents for rock gardens and water features,
and are a low-maintenance alternative to grass lawns.
Mosses will grow on rocks, between paving stones, over logs, in soil, or any shady spot where other plants won't grow.
The compact nature and slow growth of many mosses make them very usable for creating a beautiful indoor landscape in a terrarium!

Growing Requirements of Moss

There are four factors that will determine your success or failure at growing moss in your landscape.
Moss requires acid soil, shading, sufficient moisture, and humidity.
Soil pH
Mosses prefer acidic soils with a pH between 5.0 and 6.0. They will probably not survive if the pH is higher than 6.5!
(Testing kits are available at most nurseries and home centers. They are inexpensive and easy to use easy to use...)

The pH can be adjusted by the addition of sulfur (liquid or granular) or peat moss to the soil prior to planting.
Shading
Most mosses prefer a medium to fairly dense shade. A bit of morning sun will help
to intensify the color of the moss but direct, hot afternoon sun will burn it.
Very few mosses will survive in full sun. The ideal growing locations are northern or eastern facing slopes or wooded areas.
When choosing the planting area, be sure to consider the sun's location during all four seasons.
(An area that is fully shaded now may be in full sun by mid summer!)
Sufficient Moisture
Once established, moss will tolerate periods of drought, but it prefers constant moisture.
However, if the moss is to survive, it is absolutely imperative that the area is kept constantly moist
for at least the first three weeks following transplanting.
Humidity
Because moss obtains its nutrients from the air, humidity is very important, but it is very hard to control.
If the area is kept moist enough there will naturally be a certain amount of humidity in the growing zone.
Water features will increase the humidity in the immediate area of the feature,
but the best method is probably to install an automated misting system.

Planting Moss

Moss plants need a firm soil bed rather than loose, fluffy soil, so if the area has been cultivated recently it should be tamped down lightly prior to laying your moss. Remove any debris, plants or leaves (moss doesn't like compost).

Lay the sections of moss on the soil and tamp them firmly into position. (I lay a square piece of plywood over the patch and step onto it to create even pressure). If you purchase moss in a pot, firm the surrounding area then dig a planting hole the exact size of the pot. (No roots, remember?)

If you want to grow your moss on a rock or log, mix up some regular old mud and spread it on the surface you want to cover before pressing the moss into place.
Water regularly and thoroughly for the first 3 weeks.

Where to Get Moss

Unfortunately, at this time there are not many different types of moss available for sale.
Many nurseries don't carry it at all..... The easiest way to acquire moss for the garden is to transplant
a strip from your own or a neighbor's woods (With their permission, of course!).
It is best to remove the moss attached to a layer of the material it is already growing on to avoid excess damage to the protonema.
I use a square shovel to cut the edges of the patch I am after, then try to scoop an inch of soil with the moss.
Mosses which grow on rotting wood will most likely require a rotting wood surface to survive.
If possible, remove it still attached to the wood or gather some of the rotted material for the planting area.
If all else fails it will probably grow for you on packed garden bark mulch.
Remove moss from rocks carefully, with a wide putty knife.

Propagating Moss

Take a clump of healthy moss and crumble it into your blender.
Add 2 cups of buttermilk and 2 cups of water
Blend at the lowest speed until it is completely mixed and the consistency of a thin milk shake. (add water if necessary)
Paint the mixture onto rocks, pots or statuary, or simply pour it on the ground wherever you'd like your moss to grow!


Burl with many Mosses
Several species of Moss Growing on a Burl