This page pulls together many posts from this blog as a convenient way to cover the basics of moss gardening. To gain a deeper understanding you can filter the blog post by choosing the category of Moss Education which will contain the information below but also include all of the posts that focus on cultivation techniques.
Our main mission at Moss and Stone Gardens‘ blog, is to educate those desiring to learn more about mosses. Our goal is to make it easy for you to understand mosses; to take the mystery out of moss – not the mystic.
As a landscape design group specializing in moss and stone gardens, we work with homeowners and design professionals designing with moss.
Particularly today, in what appears to be a movement towards moss, as designers and gardeners are looking for sustainable, shade loving options, either as a lawn replacement or as a sculptural backdrop to accent the grounds of commercial or residential properties, we feel it is even more important to help with this education.
Knowing your Acrocarp from your Pleurocarp
All mosses can be classified as 2 types: Acrocarpous and Pleurocarpous
Recently, I asked David Spain, our moss expert, to describe the two types of mosses we are so often writing about. I hope you learn as much about Acrocarps and Pleurocarps as I did. If you have further questions, please leave a comment and David will get back with you.
Acrocarpous mosses have an upright growth habit.
As defined by Encyclopedia.com, Acrocarpous Moss – A type of moss in which the archegonia (i.e. female sex organs), and hence the capsules are borne at the tips of stems or branches. Acrocarpous mosses may branch extensively; once they have fruited, branches take over the erect growth.
Acrocarps are usually unbranched and erect, forming a mounded colony. Acrocarps are slower growing than Pleurocarps. The sporophytes of the Acrocarps emerge from the tips of the plant. Acrocarps do not regenerate from fragments as quickly as Pleurocarps. Weeds are less likely to invade Acrocarps due to the thickness and tight packed stems.
Common Acrocarps for moss gardens are: Polytrichum commune, Dicranum scoparium, Campylopus introflexus, and Luecobryum glaucum.
Pleurocapous mosses have a prostrate growth habit.
As defined by Encyclopedia.com, Pleurocarpous – A type of moss in which the female sex organs (archegonia) and capsules are borne on short, lateral branches, and not at the tips of branches. Pleurocarpous mosses tend to form spreading carpets rather than erect tufts.
Pleurocarps are freely branching in a chaotic fashion. Pleurocarps spread out branches from the colony in a creeping fashion. The sporophytes of the Pleurocarps emerge mid stem. Most Pleurocarps grow faster than Acrocarps. Pleurocarps quickly regenerate from broken fragments. Pleurocarps quick attachment to stone and growth rate makes them better for colonizing hard substrates. Maintenance of Pleurocarps is easier due to their matting tendencies and low even profile, blowing debris off of them is easier. Pleurocarps can be used as a nursery for Acrocarps, once an area is colonized by these pioneer mosses, the slower growing Acrocarps can more easily colonize.
Common Pleurocarps for moss garden are: Thuidium delecatulum, Plagiomnium cuspidatum, Climacium americanum, Bryandersonia illecebra, Entodon seductrix, Hypnum cupressiforme, and Hypnum imponens.
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, provides a clear understanding on what is needed to begin creating your emerald carpet of moss.
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.
Understanding the growth rate of pleurocarps versus acrocarps
Anyone who has tried to start a moss lawn knows mosses are slow growing. Most people understand this, but many don’t understand why or just how slow is slow.
Mosses are very primitive plants without a higher evolved vascular system. They are limited to energy production by three factors: moisture, sunlight, and temperatures above 20 degrees Fahrenheit. If these three conditions are met, photosynthesis will produce the energy needed for growth. The energy produced is consumed but not stored for future growth. The only reserves that mosses have is a protein that allows for the repair of any cellular damage that may occur during desiccation. Upon hydration, the stored protein can repair the cell wall so that photosynthesis is again possible.
Mosses differ from vascular plants in that vascular ones may produce or consume energy under any number of different conditions–beyond the three factors limiting moss growth. Unlike mosses, vascular plants can store energy in their tissues, and continue to extract moisture and nutrients through their roots at night. You can water your wilted tomato plants after the sun has set and still have the benefit of that water perking her up. Mosses do not have this benefit; instead they have a simple on/off switch that allows their metabolism to produce and consume energy. If they are not producing or consuming energy, they become dormant.
While having the ability to be dormant or active within such a short period of time is an advantage, the disadvantage is not being able to extend your active period beyond the three strict factors. (We can, of course, provide the moisture if the other two factors are present and allow for growth. Learn about this in the next post.)
To obtain maximum growth from your moss, it should be moist as long as the sun is shining and the temperature is close to or above freezing, but, as always, we mustn’t generalize too much about such a large group of plants.
Now that we understand what it takes for mosses to grow, it is important to know about the different potential growth rates between the two types of mosses: pleurocarpous and acrocarpous. In general, pleurocarps can tolerate constant moisture, some even submerged, while most acrocarps must periodically dry out to prevent rotting.
Many carpeting pleurocarp mosses can be watered several times a day year-round, promoting growth that is on par with most evergreens. Their ever-branching and creeping horizontal habit will keep them expanding over new territory indefinitely. Under ideal conditions it is possible for the pleurocarps to double their size in 6 months.
Acrocarps, however, cannot be accelerated past a certain point. They are limited by their need to periodically dry out and their upright growth habit. You are more likely to have acrocarps spread over an area by their spores or fragments before the colony enlarges enough to double in size. Spores and broken leaf tips usually take 2 years under ideal circumstances to mature enough to be considered as “a carpet of moss.”
So there you have it, mosses take their sweet ole time to fill in. We can however give them a helping hand and significantly increase their growth rate and our goal of creating a moss garden by ensuring that the combination of their needs are met.
WHEN AND HOW-TO WATER MOSS
Transplanted mosses in a new location need a period of time for the moss to acclimate and become established. Acclimation is the process of the moss adjusting to the new location’s elements such as altitude, sunlight, water, wind, as well as the substrate the moss will be growing on.
Each of these will effect different mosses to greater or lesser degrees depending on the species, their growth rate and habit, which may increase or decrease depending on those changes. Establishment occurs after acclimation to environmental differences and when new rhizomes have re-attached the colony to it’s new substrate.
To help with the establishment, the wisdom is to provide water frequently after the transplant, but how often and for how long is the question. This will be different depending on the the type of moss being transplanted. An acrocarp has different requirements than a pleurocarp.
Acrocarpous mosses are slower growing and will not tolerate constant moisture for periods longer than 2 or 3 months, if moisture persists they will begin to rot and eventually fail. They can benefit from a rainy season or regular irrigation once a year, but after that they will need regular dry spells.
If you are unsure whether your moss is an acrocarp, monitor its condition carefully. Look for signs of the moss turning dark and if there is a reduction in height. These signs will indicate that it’s getting too much water, and a break from frequent moisture is needed.
Below is a helpful watering chart for establishing acrocarps.
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.
Pleurocarpous mosses can be watered daily, and even up to 6 times a day in small volumes. This consistent moisture will keep pleurocarps growing year round, if the conditions are right.
The caveat for a frequent watering schedule is to be careful and not create the conditions for problems to form. Too much volume can create soggy conditions that may cause root rot for other plants. Be sure the delivery and timing of the water moistens the moss but does not soak the soil.
Molds, mildews and fungus can also cause problems for Pleurocarps. When temperatures rise above 75 degrees, constant moisture can cause the development of molds, mildews or fungus. These may grow on the bare soils surrounding the mosses or directly on the moss itself. If any of these problems occur, allow the area to dry out completely and resume with a lower volume application of water.
After pleurocarpous mosses have filled in, and have become a thick and lush growth, watering can be reduced over time and allow rain to provide for the moss’s watering needs. If you are in an area with low rainfall levels, you may need to supplement during drought. Avoid creating a wet then dry cycle multiple times a day. The effect of drying out several times a day can produce a net loss in energy production.
HOW TO WATER MOSS
Watering using a hose and fine spray head is the most economical and accurate method for irrigation. Irrigation systems can also be used if they have the proper fine spray heads and are allowed to be scheduled. This usually requires a dedicated zone and programming. Hose end sprinklers are another possibility and can even be operated by a battery powered programable timer that attaches directly to the spigot.
If your water supply is from a well or a municipal system, you may want to have your water tested for chloramine or sulfur. High levels of each can have a negative impact on moss growth. You can also just water over a two month period to see if there is any negative effects. Using collected rain water will provide the best results over any other water source.
Since mosses must have sunlight in order to metabolize, the best time of day to water is early in the morning. Avoid watering your mosses close to dusk, so that they have time to accumulate net gains in their energy production.
When is the best time to plant mosses?
Mosses are evergreen plants. They will grow year round as long as moisture and sunlight are available at the same time. Photosynthesis is possible even below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Mosses do not have a seasonal growth habit, instead their dormancy comes anytime they are dry. They return to active growth as soon as moisture fills their tissue.
Mosses can be successfully transplanted anytime of the year. The requirements for their survival are the same no matter the zone or season. The difference in care however will vary depending on what Mother Nature is doing. In general the differences in the time of year come down to moisture. If temperatures are mild then moisture retention is higher than it would be if you were experiencing 100 degree days when evaporative effects are increased. The more rainfall, the less irrigation you will have to provide.
Other seasonal considerations come from other plants. If mosses are newly transplanted in the early fall, removal of leaf litter will be challenging if the moss wasn’t pinned or netted to the substrate. Using a blower to remove leaves from the moss may disturb unanchored or weakly attached colonies. Using artificial attachment like moss pins or netting is an effective way to deal with this issue. Regular blowing before leaf litter becomes deep and heavy with water will also make removal easier. Loose netting laid down over an area and then lifted once leaves have fallen is another low impact option. Transplanting in late winter or early spring usually means rainfall and temperatures are advantageous but annual weeds may be fighting for the same territory you have cleared for the moss. Mature and thick moss growth is naturally weed resistant but newly formed moss areas may still have exposed soils and minimal moss density. Controlling weeds are a necessary part of developing a moss garden, removal by hand is the best method and least harmful to the mosses. Pre-emergents are an effective control for annual weeds and can be used with moss gardens.
Dividing and Fragmenting Mosses
The best way to propagate moss is by taking a larger piece and dividing it into smaller pieces, then transplanting them apart from one another and encouraging them to grow together. Once moss has covered a surface it will begin adding new growth in the form of thickness, essentially growing on top of itself. While this mature thick growth is ultimately the goal and offers the best weed suppression, it does not maximize their spreading. If you are trying to increase coverage then dividing will speed the process.
To ensure the highest level of survival, larger divisions offer stability and control. These divisions could be as small as the center of your palm. Even smaller divisions are called fragments and offer the greatest expansion but the loose pieces are more difficult to confine. The size of the fragments are best if kept larger than 1/4 inch, the smaller the fragments the longer it will take to establish and fill in. Pinching and pulling to tease apart sections is preferable to using scissors or other instruments. One square foot of moss can be effectively spread to cover up to 20 square feet. Mind you this degree of fragmentation is extreme and may take several years to fill in.
The tearing and shredding to divide or fragment signals the moss to begin new growth. The first order of business for the divisions or fragments is to re-anchor themselves to the substrate. Until new rhizoids have formed, leafy growth will not resume. In order for a rhizoid to develop, the fragment or stem of the moss must be in contact with something. Rhizoids do not reach out to attach themselves by first growing into thin air and then happen upon a surface to connect with. Instead, they form on the stem when in contact with something.
Pleurocarpous mosses will respond to fragmentation techniques much faster than acrocarpous mosses will. By nature of their growth habit and response to moisture, pleurocarps will respond with new growth within 3 months if moisture is sufficient. Their stems will continually branch and lengthen making them superior for carpeting.
Any part of a pleuro is viable for regeneration. The larger the fragment the more quickly it will recover. Very small fragments (less than 1/4 inch) are likely to revert to a younger state of maturity called protonema. This fragile state is where the moss acts like an alga, and grows more like a film on the surface. Protonemal mosses are more likely to perish if they become dry and may take many weeks before developing into a mature gametophyte (fully developed moss with leaves).
Acrocarpous mosses that have been fragmented may need 6 months or more to anchor themselves and another 12 months to multiply. Since acrocarps spread by the growth of new individual upright stems, the pace of their spreading is slower. Since most acrocarpous mosses require periodic dry periods, they cannot stay in a growth mode everyday like pleurocarps.
The growing tips or outer layers of Acrocarps are more readily regenerated than the older lower parts of the stem. When fragmenting acro’s, be sure to crumble or cut the growing tips with scissors. Simply separating the stems will leave them less able to orient themselves upright and create new rhizoids.
Fragmentation should be done when the moss is dry. In their desiccated state, they have prepared themselves for possible damage, storing a small amount of protein that can be used to repair any cellular damage once moisture returns.
Spread the fragments onto a prepared and lightly scratched soil, water enough to wet the top inch of soil and then press them firmly, re-compacting the soils surface. This will provide good contact with as much surface area of the fragments and promote rhizoid formation. Compacting also acts to trap the fragments between soil particles keeping them from blowing away. Water the fragments 1 to 4 times a day depending on the conditions and occasionally walk on them to keep their contact with the soil.
Divisions can be held in place by netting, toothpicks or greening pins. Toothpicks can be inserted at opposite angles to work in unison with one another. Acrocarps are better held in place with netting. Securing moss divisions in place is useful for areas with water run-off or gusty winds. Securing also prevents unnecessary disturbance which can disrupt rhizome development.
Creating a Moss Lawn
The most common question I receive about moss gardening is from people who have decided to give up on their grass lawn in shady areas where naturally occurring mosses have crept in. They ask, “How do I eliminate the remaining grass?”
After attempting to grow a lawn in shade, only to fail in producing a satisfying amount of coverage to fulfill the ideal, frustration leads to an alternative–moss. Converting a grass lawn to moss where traditional attempts of growing turf were used; annual seeding, adding lime, selective herbicides, and watering are one of the most difficult scenarios to work with.
The mosses move in forming verdant green islands and showcasing their evergreen appeal. The homeowner begins to realize Mother Nature may be revealing a better plant for this location. At this point, the homeowner is typically pleased. Even if they can’t grow the grass they hoped for, the fascination that moss wants to grow offers them salvation.
Soon the moss is anointed and all the efforts to coax the grass is removed from the homeowners list of chores. The moss however proves stubborn and seems unwilling to hold up to the occupation of its newly bequeathed territory.
Then the question comes, “How do I remove the existing grass and get the moss to take over?” My standard answer underwhelms as I explain that it’s best to remove the grass by hand and water regularly. This is then followed by a plea, “Isn’t there some kind of chemical that I can apply?”
Many of us have become accustomed to gardening and cultivating our landscapes with the help of sprays and chemical controls. It’s a hard habit to break, potions line up like soldiers at the local stores to do the job once held by our sweaty hands. We want and expect to have an easy remedy in the form of a spray to rid dandelions, crabgrass, nut sedge, broad leaf weeds, and even moss (ouch). Pulling grasses and digging with a weeding tool seems like an impossible task for large areas, but tackled systematically it is manageable, and the least disturbing method that capitalizes on any gains the mosses have made.
Here are a few suggestions to create a moss lawn and to deal with a grass to moss conversion.
1. Where there is nothing–a clean slate
If you have an area where there is no vegetation, you are beginning with a clean slate. This is usually due to leaves and debris that have been allowed to cover the ground and prevent any plants from accessing the soil. The leaf litter can be removed and the area prepared soils for mosses.
You can also create a clean slate by applying a thick layer of leaf litter and allowing it to do the work of clearing any vegetation for you over several months. For a quicker approach, vegetation can be removed manually using a flat shovel.
Beginning with a clean slate is often the best way to promote a self-sustaining and weed resistant moss lawn.
After the area is prepared for moss, locate and transplant from your surrounding area placing patches of colonies directly on the prepared soil. Fragmenting the colonies will increase the coverage but also the time needed for establishment. After installation be sure to water deeply and step on the mosses to ensure direct contact between the mosses and the soil.
Begin a structured watering regiment and keep the area debris free. A pre-emergent such as Preen Vegetable Garden Weed Preventer can be used to prohibit weeds from geminating.
Alternatively you can follow these steps but not introduce mosses and allow airborne spores to develop into a selection of mosses that suit the conditions. In about 3 months you will begin to see what looks like a green coloring on the surface of the compacted soil. This is the early stage of moss growth and it will develop into a moss lawn in 12 to 24 months.
2. Where there are equal amounts of weeds and moss–join Team Moss
Join team moss and say goodbye to team grass. Every advantage given your new team will help turn the tide from grass (and weeds) to moss.
Capitalize on established patches of moss, encouraging their domination by removing competition (grass, weeds and debris) and using appropriate watering techniques. Carefully hand pull grasses and weeds, ensuring to get the roots.
If your weeds overwhelmingly outnumber the moss, place leaf litter or black plastic over the area. This will block sunlight and starve the vascular grasses and weeds. The mosses will tolerate this for a longer period of time than the grass and weeds, thus killing the unwanted growth while maintaining most of the moss. Check the progress every couple of weeks until the vascular plants have died.
3. Temporarily remove and store the moss–divide and conquer
Create a clean slate by temporarily removing the mosses. Think of it as taking your new moss buddies for a vacation while you do some spring cleaning. Collect all the mosses and store them off to the side for a couple of weeks.
Larger patches can be collected as a whole and sparsely covered areas raked out. Set the mosses aside in a shady location, laying out the patches and piling up the loose bits that were raked in a shady location. You should water the stored mosses daily and they will keep this way for a couple of weeks, if needed.
4. Apply herbicides—give in to temptation
If your volunteering mosses are pleurocarps, applying herbicides has fair odds of working. If they are acrocarps it is not advisable. On a dry warm sunny day, lightly mist the mosses with water, do this slowly on one area then another and repeat. Give the mosses time to absorb as much water as possible. Then allow the leaves of the grasses and weeds to air dry. The mosses will retain the moisture but the waxy leaves of the weeds and grasses will not. Apply a rainproof glyphosate, carefully aiming for the intended targets but avoiding a heavy application. A half strength mixture may even be enough to kill most invaders and reduce moss damage.
After the required drying time for the glyphosate, water the mosses again. After any damage to the mosses has healed, you can repeat the application. By watering the mosses and fully hydrating their cells before applying the glyphosate, the absorption rate is minimized. Watering afterwards will help further dilute any remaining chemicals.
Even though the herbicides may be easier, don’t try to accomplish this too quickly or in one application. It is also wise to test this technique on a small area first to check for success.
Let’s hope more of us change our perspective and go from saying, “There’s moss growing in my grass” to “There’s grass growing in my moss!”
How to Collect Mosses
Mosses can be collected by scooping, scraping, or raking. The technique for collection depends on the type of moss–acrocarp or pleurocarp
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.
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.
Moss and metals – the ins and outs of moss
At Moss and Stone Gardens, we are often asked about the type of containers best used for growing moss. As you consider the container or substrate selection for your moss dish, please keep the following in mind.
In – plastics, ceramics, seasoned concrete, stone, wood, soil, fabric or glass.
Out – galvanized or zinc plated metals, copper, pressure treated lumber, chemically unstable materials.
The low down from moss expert, David Spain:
Even though mosses don’t have a root system to draw nutrients or liquids from substrates they are growing on, they are still capable of conduction. This means that direct contact with moisture, which is also in contact with a substrate or material, can transmit dissolved particles to the moss. One of the things mosses are sensitive to is heavy metals and some chemicals.
I have observed a healthy and spreading carpet of moss, stop in its tracks, as it approaches the drip line of a deck constructed with pressure treated wood. When water comes into contact with the pressure treated wood, some of the chromated copper arsenic will leach into the water and be dispersed. This will have negative effects on any moss that is in contact with this contaminated water.
The same effect can be observed with other materials like zinc, which is attached in strips on roofs to retard moss growth. Having said that, I have also observed moss grow on top of, or over pressure treated wood. Admittedly it was always decades old pressure treated wood and not new. However, there is a difference, in terms of the moss being “upstream” from the contamination source, growing on top of pressure treated wood, is a little different than growing beneath it.
To investigate further, mosses living on top of soil that is in a pressure treated planter will fair better than ones planted at the foot of the same container. They are buffered by the soil and basically, upstream from the water that contacts the pressure treated wood.
It is also possible to have soil in a zinc coated container with mosses growing on the soil, but there will certainly be a zone of peril where soil stops and zinc begins.
In a container using an inappropriate material for mosses, good draining soil and drainage holes would be essential to keep the mosses downstream of contaminants.
Damage to mosses from zinc or pressure treated wood may not be visible for weeks or more depending on the species, water volume and contamination levels, the metabolism rates of mosses are very slow and so visual evidence of damage takes time.
In summary, it’s best to stay on the save side and use what’s in for moss — plastics, ceramics, seasoned concrete, stone, wood, soil, fabric, or glass.
Editor: Helen Yoest
Mosses for sun
Can you advise me which moss prefers sunlight? I have a path and the 10 foot stitch of it that gets about 4 hrs of direct noon sunshine keeps dying out while the rest of the shaded path looks lush and green with moss. Which variety I have I am not sure. I live in northern Illinois. Thanks much. Love your pictures. Roxanne.
Giving you the names of sun tolerant mosses is easy, the hard part is identifying them. Entodon seductrix is the top of the list. Entodon seductrix is a pleurocarp that grows on soil, wood, and stone. Other sun tolerant mosses include Climacium americanum, Leucobryum glaucum, Aloina aloides, Ceratodon purpureus and Bryum argentium. These are listed in order of usefulness for your application.
One way to find a good fit is to look for mosses growing in the same conditions you have.
Good luck Roxanne and please follow our blog for more useful tips!
Moss – squirrels, birds, and other moss meddling critters
The squirrels have been digging up my attempts to grow a moss lawn. What do you suggest? I have so many unpleasant thought about ways to eat the squirrel.
I feel your pain. squirrels can be a troublesome animal in a garden.
There are several approaches to deter squirrels and you may need to incorporate one or more, to be effective. Once the problem is under control, the squirrel population seems to remember the areas they are unwelcome.
The first line of defense is with netting. This technique is effective and is left in place permanently.
Using 3/8″ grid netting, (see above) sold as pond netting, you cut to size and cover the area being disturbed, pin down using landscape staples. I recommend cutting the staples and modifying the cut end into a hook. This is easier to install and it gives you twice the number of pins for the same price.
Start by pinning the edges, then pin the netting in the middle, especially where the terrain is lower and the netting is lifting above the surface. Contour the netting to the moss, making as much contact as possible. The netting will practically disappear after installation and the moss will grow through, and incorporate the netting into, the colony. This technique is also used to hold down newly transplanted mosses and in particular where water run-off or a slope is present.
I have also used a material called tulle which is used for wedding veils and such. It can be purchased at any fabric store. There are several weaves and the best is a 1/8″ size double threaded in matt black. Although not as strong as the pond netting, it’s more effective against birds. The installation technique, and it’s being left in place, is the same as with the pond netting.
The third option is again using the pond netting, but the netting is suspended 4 to 5 inches above the moss. This height range makes it difficult for the squirrel to get under or climb on top and push it down to gain access to the ground. I make stakes from non-pressure treated wood about 8 to 10 inches in length to stretch the netting from and allow the ends of the netting to drape down at the edges. Obviously this is an eyesore and temporary, but some squirrels are attracted to a specific area and will chew through anything even metal to access their favorite spots. I have seen squirrels return to an area over and over, tearing up the moss and digging for their bounty. This method seems to be enough of an agitation to deal with persistent visitors.
I have also had success using animal repellent products, such as i must garden either by itself, or in conjunction, with the above methods.
Growing Moss Between Flagstones
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.
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.
Moss misconceptions abound. Is it true a rolling stone gathers no moss? To better understand moss, I asked David Spain with Moss and Stone Gardens, Raleigh, NC, to enlighten us with the truth about mosses, dispelling many common moss myths.
False -Most mosses are not particular about the pH or nutrients of the substrates on which they grow.
It would be more accurate to understand that mosses thrive where there is little or no competition, which often occurs in acidic and poor, compacted soils, or for that matter, on stone.
False -Mosses have the greatest range of light exposure than any other land plant.
This doesn’t mean that all mosses can tolerate sun, only certain species can. Mosses are found growing in all climates and exposures, from full blazing desert sun, to almost undetectable amounts of light found in caves. Mosses can also be found on all 7 continents.
False – Moss does grow on the north side of trees, and it also grows on the south, east, and west sides of trees, as well.
Moss may grow only on a north side of a tree if that’s the shadiest location as the sun tracks the sky. If there is something else providing shade (or moisture), the moss will grow in those places just as well.
False – Moss spores are everywhere, even if there aren’t any mosses on your property. The spores travel on the wind to extreme distances, therefore proximity doesn’t mean density.
Moss will grow anywhere the conditions are appropriate for successful germination and can develop into a mature plant.
False – This is very unlikely to happen satisfactorily without intervention.
In most regions, the conditions necessary for moss to dominate vascular plants isn’t adequate. For example, in rain forests or areas like the Pacific Northwest, moss can over grow the under brush of existing plants; the abundant moisture gives the moss enough growing potential that it can blanket everything.
For other regions, something else needs to tip the scale in favor of the mosses, like abundant moisture, in this case I am referring to irrigation by man. To be more specific, one would have to water the moss lightly throughout the day in order to give it maximum growth potential, but not enough to give the existing plants (grasses, weeds) enough to sustain themselves.
False – Despite this common impression, moss is actually one of the most drought tolerant plants. Also, there are a number of species that need regular periods of dryness to survive.
Mosses need moisture to reproduce sexually, but not asexually. Water is needed for photosynthesis, but not for survival. Moist areas allow for faster growth, but isn’t necessary for existence.Acrocarps mosses tend to be more drought tolerant than Pleurocarps.
Spreading or spraying diluted yogurt, buttermilk, beer, or manure tea will promote moss to grow. True or False?
False -The key here is not what substance will create moss in an area, but what allows moss to develop. The most important things to allow mosses to develop are moisture and lack of competition. Competition can be other plants, debris, or loose and irregular surfaces. Moisture is always needed to begin moss establishment. When mosses are beginning to colonize in an area, moisture is what allows the young mosses to perform photosynthesis, which in turn allows for growth.
Leaf litter, pine straw, twigs, loose stones, and such, make it harder for moss to find a stable substrate on which to attach. Moss prefers to have direct contact with whatever it is spreading onto; therefore, a smooth substrate will allow the mosses easier contact.
Mosses do not draw nutrients or sustenance from the substrates they are attached too; therefore, anything you apply to the substrate is not utilized by the moss since it does not have the root structure necessary to benefit from such applications.
False -Although widely reported to work effectively, this technique is usually met with failure and a moldy mess.
The best way to grow moss is by division of a colony or fragmentation, buttermilk is not needed.
False -Moss spores may be as common as mold spores or pollen at times, but they are generally non-allergenic.
You can be allergic to anything, but the likelihood that moss or it’s spores will give you allergies, is extremely low.
If you walk on moss, it will die. True or False?
False – Most mosses tolerate foot traffic, but it’s a question of how much foot traffic?
As a non vascular system, mosses don’t need protection from being compressed. With some foot traffic, their cellulose remains flexible, allowing mosses to be compressed without the kind of damage that occurs when vascular plants are trod on. The key difference is that their flexible structure and small scale are susceptible to breaking, if stretched. As such, walking flat-footed is greatly tolerated, while running or shuffling isn’t.
False – When moss grows on trees, wood, or shingles, moss does not feed on the material it attaches too.
Mosses may keep substrates they are growing on damp for longer periods of time, and thus, this moisture retention is capable of deteriorating some non-living materials.
False – The misconception that moss and molds are related isn’t true. Moss and molds are rarely found together, except when molds are attacking the moss as they might anything organic. With molds present, moss dies or decays, as does most anything else it attacks. If you have heathy moss, you do not have mold.
False – Including moss in the common name, does not mean it’s a true moss.
Spanish moss is an epiphyte, Reindeer moss is a lichen,club moss is a lycophyte, sea moss is an algae, Irish and Scotch mosses are vascular plants that look similar to mosses.
Growing moss is beneficial to my garden. True or False?
True – Moss is a beneficial addition to the garden in many ways: it retains moisture content, similar to mulching, it is superior to mulches in that it is a living layer that processes nutrients and contributes organic material, it does not become compacted, and doesn’t need replacing annually, and it provides a healthy habitat for beneficial insects and promotes the evolutionary symbiosis of
mycelium and plant roots.
False – Ticks prefer tall plants, where they can perch to better position themselves to catch a ride on their next meal. Fleas don’t dwell in moss, and mosquitos need plants to provide shelter from wind and sun. Mosses are too short and dense to support resting mosquitos.
And finally, I needed to know —
True – A rolling stone gathers no moss. If the stone is rolling, moss grows too slowly to get started on it and the friction of rolling would abrade or wear off any mosses that were on it.
There you have it! If you want to learn a truth about moss missed here, let us know!
As we move you toward mosses, we hope you visit with us again and feel free to visit our website at Moss and Stone Gardens to send us an email.
The Moss Farm at Moss and Stone Gardens – Where Moss Rocks! is a cultivation nursery for native moss species from the Piedmont area.
We believe that responsible and sustainable cultivation of mosses is the next step for their continued use in the landscape and the preservation of our natural resources.
By cultivating mosses at an elevation of 250 feet above sea level, they are well prepared to be relocated to other regions without transplant shock. Mosses will adapt easily to higher elevations but may have trouble if their elevation is lowered quickly by more than 250 feet.
Moss and Stone Gardens has three varieties of moss currently available from our online store as well as our now famous Moss Rocks!