Monthly Archives: May 2012

Preparing soils for moss–a clean slate

 


At Moss and Stone Gardens we are often asked how to start a moss lawn where there is nothing but dirt covered with leaves and other debris.  Below, David Spain, provide a clear understanding on what is needed to begin creating your emerald carpet of moss.

David Spain, says, To develop an area of moss, you will need to start from the ground up. First remove any existing plants that you do not want, especially grasses and weeds. A pre-emergent like Preen Vegetable Garden Weed Preventer can be applied to discourage germination of any existing seeds.

Mosses are not particular about the type of soil they grow on in terms of soil composition. Loam, clay or richly amended soils will all work fine. The exception would be soils with a high sand content preventing a stable surface; ever-shifting loose sandy soils make attachment difficult, but not impossible. The more important aspect to encouraging mosses to establish is texture and particle size. If you imagine yourself to be less than an inch tall and had to move across the soils surface, you would understand the importance of smoothness.

Grade and contour the area if needed, remember that moss will follow the small undulations that are normally not noticeable until a smooth carpet of green is hugging the ground. Watch also for small depressions that will end up collecting debris and water. This includes depressions up to three feet in diameter.

Be aware of any water run-off paths that you may create or that already exist.  Mosses are great soil stabilizers and will filter water run off, but first they need to be established to withstand flowing water. If you have these areas, pre-filter run off from sediment and debris that may deposit onto newly installed areas. One way to do this is by placing stones and gravel as a barrier upstream or temporarily diverting the run-off. Mosses laid in the path of run-off can be pinned or netted in place until established.

Smoothing the surface will also aid in rhizome attachment which will speed up establishment and then growth. Keep in mind that mosses will first need some rhizome attachment at their growing edge before they will send out new branching. Mosses do not like being unattached nor do they like being exposed to air without some surface below them. Preparing really smooth soil speeds up rhizome attachment and encourages faster branching. Even though mosses may overcome almost any obstacle in their path such as a fallen tree, they don’t do this quickly nor do they simply just run up the side and over. Pebbles, leaves, or any loose material will need removing and also ensure that the soil leading up to any trees, roots, or hardscaping is slightly ramped up to meet the obstruction. This will prevent a debris zone or dead zone where mosses resist meeting vertical surfaces and attaching to them.

With regards to soil pH, moss will grow in most pH conditions.  Adjusting the pH is usually not needed. If you suspect your soils are alkaline (greater than 7 on the logarithmic scale,) you should get the soil tested . And if it is above 7.0, you may consider adding aluminum sulfate or elemental sulphur to bring it down somewhat. Alkaline  conditions like this may have been created by years of lime applications in an attempt to sustain grasses in the shade. In our experience, mosses will grow on soils of a wide range of pH. The common practice has been to adjust soil pH to 5.0 or 5.5 for the benefit of the moss, but since mosses don’t have roots that feed from the soil, pH is not a major criterial.

Plant any companion plants before introducing mosses. If you want to add any foundation plants, perennials, or hardscaping, it is best to do that first and add the mosses last. Prepare the soils to suit the vascular plants and then smooth the surface for the mosses to create a living mulch around them.

Even though you have smoothed the soils before introducing the mosses, you may need to very lightly scratch the surface to create some loosened soil to aid in making good contact.

This is helpful when transplanting mosses that have been collected by scraping or raking. After the mosses have been placed on top of this loosened soil, they will be watered deeply and then walked on. This will re-compress the fluffed soil and act as an temporary mortar to hold the moss down. If transplanting scooped moss colonies, scratching can be done to create a slight depression to keep the soils level. All areas under and around the transplants will need to be tamped down by hand or by walking on them after installation.

With David’s clear explaination to the needs to preparing a moss lawn from a clean slate, making a moss lawn will increase you chances of success.

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To learn more about Moss and Stone Gardens – Where Moss Rocks!, please visit our website.  Or email David Spain at info@mossandstonegardens.com.

Unless otherwise noted, all photos are credited to Ken Gergle.

How to collect moss

Mosses can be collected by scooping, scraping, or raking. The technique for collection depends on the type of moss–acrocarp or pleurocarp

ACROCARPS

Acrocarps are best collected by scooping after a rainfall. First, clean any loose debris and weed the moss as much as possible before collecting. Once the moss is disturbed and removed from it’s original location, it’s more difficult to remove debris and vascular plants. Slide a mason’s trowel, BBQ spatula, or any flat-bladed hand tool underneath a moss colony to collect a thin layer of soil along with a patch of moss, preserving the rhizomes and the integrity of the colony.

Work in sections about the size of the palm of your hand or as large as you can transport without damage. These moss colonies can then be re-located intact or divided and nestled back into the soil to re-establish in a new location.

Frequent watering will speed up the re-establishment process. For acrocarps, begin with a greater frequency of watering then decreasing over time:

  • Months 1 and 2–water daily for up to two months to promote growth.
  • Month 3–water every three days for one month.
  • Month 4–water once a week for one month.
  • Month 5–water twice a month then until the area is fully covered in moss.
  • After that, water only when rain has been absent for three weeks or more.

PLEUROCARPS

Pleurocarps can be collected by scooping, scraping, or raking.

To scoop, collect pleurocarps like you would acrocarps, cutting the soil just under the colony and transplanting the colony whole (with soil) to a new location.

To scrape or pull the mosses from the soil, cut at the top of the soil level or work the moss away from the soil with your hands. A lateral pushing and pulling motion will loosen or break the rhizomes and allow the mosses to be removed from the soil.  This technique is similar to giving someone a back massage where the palms of your hands are flat on top of the moss and you are pressing down.  Slowly push and pull, keeping the contact between your hands and the moss to loosen and break the rhizomes that are holding the moss in place. With your fingertips, work your way around the area until it is loose, tearing an edge to allow you to gently peel it up. Scraping should also be done when the moss is wet.

This will also allow you to collect the moss without any soil, lessening the weight for transport, thus increasing your chances of keeping the colony section whole. The moss section can then be transplanted to the new substrate for establishment. Collecting mosses in this fashion is also helpful when moving them from a fallen tree and then onto soil or other substrate when you intend to fragment into smaller pieces.

Raking the mosses can also be used to remove moss from areas where they are mixed with weeds and grasses. By raking the mosses, you can leave the root-anchored plants behind and collect the mosses in fragments. This technique is best done when the moss is dry. It may also be helpful to agitate the moss with your finger tips until the fragments are free.  

Spread the moss fragments into a prepared area and water frequently to establish new rhizome anchors. Pleurocarpous mosses can be watered daily to encourage establishment and spreading. It is not necessary to reduce the frequency as you would with acrocarps.

 

 

Be sure to check in next week as we talk about preparing a site for moss establishment.

David Spain, a.k.a Moss Rock

 

 

Order your Moss Rocks!  online today.  Moss is grand.  Moss is green.  Moss is good. Make the most of it; order Moss Rocks! today.

Edited by: Helen Yoest

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Photo credited: David Spain.

 

Growing moss between flagstones


Dear Moss Rock,

Your blog is the funniest and most creative thing I have seen in a while!  I loved the peep picnic photos -ingenious!

I have a very shady area that stays too moist for grass and I want to use flagstone with moss growing between the stone to create a natural patio. How long will it take to get moss growing ?  The spaces are planned to be about one to two inches wide.

 

Dear Beth,

Thanks very much for compliments, I’ll pass them along to Helen and the Peeps!

Growing moss between dry-set flagstone, in a shady area, is a natural combination. In a few years, some moisture, and  you’ll be good to go.

As with any mosscaping, our desire is to speed up the very slow process. Transplanting mosses into the spaces between the stones and following a regular watering schedule can establish healthy colonies in a few months.

Be sure to use pleurocarps and a soil substrate between the stones, especially if the stones were set in sand or stone dust. Even though mosses can eventually colonize a sandy substrate, it is usually after many years of detritus collecting and compaction before the mosses can overcome the shifting of the loose sandy substrate.

Mosses often colonize in harsh conditions where other plants find it difficult, which is why they have survived on this earth for so long. A small strip of soil in a sea of stone or concrete has become the expected home for mosses and where most of us recognize them. However, This natural combination usually occurs over many years or decades while we aren’t watching. Achieving this feat successfully can be as challenging as creating a moss lawn. The little micro-climate created between stones can provide shelter, but also rapidly changing moisture conditions, so pay close attention to a frequent watering schedule to insure the best chances of establishment.

As always with moss, patience is a necessity and even if it looks like some of the moss has gone south, continue to treat it as though it hasn’t. It only takes a few spores or living cells for mosses to regenerate as long as there is moisture to allow for growth.

Best of luck, Beth! – David Spain, a.k.a. Moss Rock.

 

Order your Moss Rocks!  online today.  Moss is grand.  Moss is green.  Moss is good. Make the most of it; order Moss Rocks! today.

By: Helen Yoest

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Follow Moss and Stone Gardens – Where Moss Rocks! on Twitter @Moss_Rocks and our Facebook Like page Moss and Stone Gardens – Where Moss Rocks!

To learn more about Moss and Stone Gardens – Where Moss Rocks!, please visit our website.  Or email David Spain at info@mossandstonegardens.com.

Unless otherwise noted, all photo are credited to Ken Gergle.

Moss Rocks–aging moss in my moss lawn

A blend of Thuidium delecatulum and Hypnum cupressiforme

 

Dear David,

For the past 6 years I have been slowly replacing my grass lawn by encouraging the native mosses in my yard to grow. I have successfully replaced about 75% of my lawn with a lush moss carpet. Unfortunately I’ve began to notice that the oldest mosses have grown so thick (about 3-4″ deep) that they’re starting to die off. Not only do they appear to be suffocating their own annual new growth, but they’re no longer established or attached to the soil (I can lift the moss up like sod). I fear that I may have to tear out this moss and start all over – are there any better solutions?

Jesha

Dear Jesha,

Congratulations on your lawn conversion!

Mature moss colonies continue to gain in thickness as you described. This is natural and self limiting as the older growth becomes smothered and breaks down, creating soil.

When large areas are carpeted, the colonies no longer have access to new territory to spread into, it is the growing edge that has access to soils where rhizomes can attach. Instead, the colony attaches to itself and forms this mat even though direct attachment to the soil isn’t possible, the interconnected mosses hold together and gravity does the rest.

This fact should not be a concern unless animals or some other disturbance is causing dislocation. You can thin the mosses out to encourage new attachment by pulling up a section, removing some of the under-layer moss and stretching the colony out, as though you were going to pull it apart but stopping before it tears completely. This is the same technique to harvest mature colonies and transplant them to new areas, only in this case you can put them back in the same place.

Another technique is to pull a 4 to 6 inch section out with your hands, exposing the soil beneath, then pull the edges of the moss left behind to partially cover the bare area. Water the area well and walk the feathered moss down to make good contact with the soil. New rhizomes will form and the bare spot will regenerate quickly. If done properly, you may not even notice this was done.

As for the mosses starting to die off or the new growth suffocating, that is a different matter. Mosses continually regenerate adding new growth to old, new shoots should not be effected by the previous generations in an adverse way, this is the natural course for acrocarp and pleurocarp mosses alike. Instead I might suggest a different take. When we create a somewhat unnatural growth of mosses by removing normal competition and promoting an homogeneous  carpet, we are also changing the natural cycle. A different approach is to introduce more than one species for a mixed moss lawn. For instance, Thuidium delecatulum can be mixed with Hypnum cuppressiforme or Plagiomnium cuspidatum. Each species will wax and wain at different times of the year, but one will always be thriving. This blending has proven to be the most resilient over the years and offers advantages that a single species cannot. Try introducing some different moss species and see if that doesn’t help with the problem.

David Spain a.k.a. Moss Rock

A blend of Thuidium delecatulum and Plagiomnium cuspidatum

 

Order your Moss Rocks!  online today.  Moss is grand.  Moss is green.  Moss is good. Make the most of it; order Moss Rocks! today.

By: Helen Yoest

Follow Moss and Stone Gardens – Where Moss Rocks! on Twitter @Moss_Rocks and our Facebook Like page Moss and Stone Gardens – Where Moss Rocks!

To learn more about Moss and Stone Gardens – Where Moss Rocks!, please visit our website.  Or email David Spain at info@mossandstonegardens.com.

Unless otherwise noted, all photo are credited to Ken Gergle.

Moss and ant mounds

Dear David,

Ant hills are taking over my moss lawn…is there a safe way to remedy this problem? It seems to be breaking up the moss and leaving spotty areas of sand. It has taken several years to fill and I hate to see it destroyed with ant hills.

So glad to find your website!
Michelle

Dear Michelle,

Congratulations on your moss lawn success! Your ant mound problem may be easy to remedy depending on the scale of the ant population and their activity in the area.

In my experience, ants will usually move their mounds out of an area where they are disturbed regularly. If you frequently water down the mounds, the ants will likely relocate to an area with less disturbance. If this doesn’t suit your needs or you wish to eliminate ants from an area without damaging your moss or using harsh chemical control, I suggest using diatomaceous earth. An ant mound is used as an entry or exit path from the colony below the surface–sprinkling diatomaceous earth around the mound and into the opening will aggravate the ants and deter them from that area without harming the moss.

I have heard of cinnamon or cloves also having an aggravating effect, so that may also be worth a try. Good luck and let me know how you fare.

David Spain a.k.a. Moss Rock

 

Order your Moss Rocks!  online today.  Moss is grand.  Moss is green.  Moss is good. Make the most of it; order Moss Rocks! today.

By: Helen Yoest

Follow Moss and Stone Gardens – Where Moss Rocks! on Twitter @Moss_Rocks and our Facebook Like page Moss and Stone Gardens – Where Moss Rocks!

To learn more about Moss and Stone Gardens – Where Moss Rocks!, please visit our website.  Or email David Spain at info@mossandstonegardens.com.

Unless otherwise noted, all photo are credited to Ken Gergle.