The truth about moss – dispelling moss myths

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.


Moss prefers acidic or nutrient poor soils. True or False?

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.

Moss only grows in the shade. True or False?

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.

Moss only grows on the north side of trees. True and False?

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.


Moss will invade my garden if I am growing moss on my property. True or False?

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.

You can convert your moss-infested lawn into a moss lawn by letting nature take it’s course. True or False?

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.

Moss needs to be kept moist. True or False?

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.

Blending moss and buttermilk into a slurry is the best way to grow moss. True or False?

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.




Moss spores will add to my seasonal allergies. True or False?

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.

Moss is a parasitic plant. True or False?

False – When moss grows on trees, wood, or shingles, moss does not feed on the material it attaches to.

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.

If you have moss growing on your property it means you also have molds. True or False?

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.

Spanish moss, Reindeer moss, club moss, sea moss, Irish moss and Scotch moss belong to the Phylum of Bryophyta. True or False?

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
and plant roots.

Moss attracts ticks, fleas, and mosquitos. True or False?

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 —

A rolling stone gathers no moss. True or False?

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!


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

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

36 thoughts on “The truth about moss – dispelling moss myths

  1. Carol

    Great information! I’d love to have more moss in my garden and am always happy when it shows up in a few places on its on. I like how it softens the edges of my edging stones.

    1. Helen Yoest Post author

      Thanks, Carol. I’m trying to get it to grow in more places. I love how it gives the feeling of age and wisdom. It’s a good way to smarten up the garden!

  2. Guy

    I had just about given up on growing moss until I started using bird netting to keep debris and animals out. One myth I’m still not sure about, is if tap water kills moss.

    Last year I watered a lot, with no net and the results were not very good. This year I am letting my moss dry out and keeping a net on it and it is doing much better, but I’m not sure of how harmful tap water is, and if I should think about watering it.

    1. David Spain

      We recommend using rainwater for the best results, you can also “age” your tap water to reduce the chloramines. Tap water is different for each city and we can’t speak for each one, however our experience in NC has been that tap water is fine to use straight from the hose, without detriment to the mosses. We have achieved superior results in vitality with higher quality water sources like harvested rainwater, so water chemistry does matter. Pay attention to volume, frequency and time of day as well for the optimum results. Drenching can lead to problems, frequent misting is better. Watering in the morning or afternoon is better than in the evening. Depending on the species your growing, regular drying out may be required for long-term health. Avoid creating a constant” wet then dry” cycle over the course of hot summer days, it’s better to keep moist all day then dry all day, this avoids having the moss go into dormancy multiple times in a 24 hour period which uses as much energy as it produces, resulting in a net loss for the mosses growth. Good luck and let us know how you make out.

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  4. David Spain

    Dear Tom, your question is not so simple to answer. Mosses have a natural anti-freeze that allows them to survive extreme cold, they can however become encrusted in snow and ice, which would impede collection. In general, mosses can be collected year round, it is only the conditions and presence of ice that will complicate things. There are many species that can grow on stone, some of them will be easy to remove even when temperatures are below freezing. If the moss growth is thick and you are able to peel it away from the stone without tearing, it is likely you will meet with success. Some species are specialized and grow only on stone, these species attach themselves firmly to the surface and are difficult at best to collect without shredding. Furthermore, these stone specific species are very slow growing and almost impossible to reattach to a new location. My advice is to collect a small amount and test to see the success of your technique and intended use. Remember to collect responsibly, leaving more behind than you remove. Be sure to have permission from the land owner before collecting and never collect from public property or protected areas. Best wishes, David Spain

  5. Bonnie Patman

    Thank you for dispelling the myths. I have an infestation of sagina in my turf and have yet to discover a permanent solution to its removal. Do you have any suggestions?

  6. David Spain

    Hello Bonnie, Sagina refers to a long list of plants, many of which can be invasive to our cultivated landscapes. Sagina subulata whose common name is Irish moss and Sagina subulata aurea (Scotch moss) are two plants that are very often thought to be a moss. With an appearance that resembles some acrocarpous species of moss and plant labels to back up their borrowed pedigree, many people simply assume they are real moss. Both of these moss-mimickers need full sun to thrive, produce small flowers and have roots which is unlike any true moss. If a species of Sagina is invading your moss, I advise removal by hand before they set seed, if Sagina is invading your turf grass you will probably need chemical control as most turf problems do! Best of luck, David

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  8. john

    I recently built a patio using 2inch thick random flag stone pieces. I filled the cracks between them using dirt. My intention is to grow moss in between them. My two questions are:
    1) are there any mosses that can survive full sun? if so what types are they?
    2) What is the best method for growing it?

    I live in Southwestern Ontario, Canada

  9. Daryl

    I was thrilled to find this site, but I am still confused. Almost every site I go to says to use the “buttermilk or beer mix” to grow moss. Why is that? I want to grow it indoors and want to find a source to buy it from, but when I go to some sites (that sell it) they sell the “starter” cartons of the solution. I live in ND and also am concerned about being able to have moss shipped in the winter season. I plan to have two large 2 x 6 feet, beds indoors. Will that be hard to start?

    1. David Spain

      Hello Daryl, the buttermilk blender recipe is not a technique we recommend. Although it can work in theory, we have found that most folks end up killing the moss they are trying to propagate and growing mold instead! It is far easier to just propagate thru division and fragmenting rather than mincing in a blender. As to the question of “why is that”, we can only speculate that the popularity of the moss milkshake recipe is due to it’s unique and appealing proposal to create a concoction that will then grow into the mysterious and until now, misunderstood plant we call moss. There has been so little factual information about moss cultivation available to people that the one set of instructions that was in circulation became the default, even if it doesn’t work well and really works only for certain species under specific conditions.
      Winter temperatures are not a concern for mosses which are evergreen plants that grow in all seasons. In regards to growing moss indoors, it is not advisable unless you are talking about a ventilated greenhouse. Some mosses will tolerate indoor conditions but will not really thrive or grow indoors without specific conditions being created, like a specialized terrarium or an enhanced grow room. Growing moss in your living room like you might grow tropical houseplants would be challenging to say the least, but possible if tended to correctly.
      Best of Luck with your enterprise!
      David Spain

  10. Anita Sanchez

    Great information. I’d always leaped to the conclusion that moss liked acid soil under pines–it makes more sense that moss likes the lack of competition. I hope to start a moss garden soon!

  11. Heather Parker

    I just love the beauty of moss and plan to make moss terrariums in the near future. I know that it may be difficult to keep them thriving indoors but could you give me some insite as to this “specialized terrium” you spoke of? I would also like to plant them with other plants that need similar lighting and mositure. I have seen this in terrarium guides and books, but is this misleading? I am also from North Carolina, Southport specifically. Thank you!


    Hi there, I am living in South Africa. How do I start growing moss without anything at all? Where can I get moss then to start with my project? Can I use dead moss or must it be living moss?? Do you sell moss?? As we have very high temperatures here, will it work?? Thank you so much for this information. Yours faithfully…. Johann

  13. M. Claire

    Your information is fascinating. We have lots of moss and are eager to help it thanks to you.
    QUESTION: I am working with a group of preservationists. After removing overhanging plants, we have discovered a beautiful brick wall that is 100 years old. It has moss all along the mortar lines and cracks have developed that also have moss. The moss looks beautiful, but we want to repair and preserve the wall. Is the moss causing damage and if we should remove the moss before all the repairs start, what is the best method? After the wall is repaired, is it OK to let moss grow back over the wall? Thank you for any help.

    1. David Spain

      Thank you M. Claire, moss is not damaging to masonry in the way rooted or climbing plants would be, forcing tendrils or roots into any voids. Moss does not feed on or secrete any corrosive chemicals that dissolves masonry. Moss can however retain moisture longer than the masonry would alone and so can be a variable in the long term performance of a masonry structure, particularly during freeze thaw cycles.
      My opinion is to allow the moss to colonize the wall after any repairs have been effected.

  14. Jennifer

    Hello, I love your website. Have a question. I just planted some plants like sage, catnip, camomile, etc.. I put some moss at the base of the plants, mainly because there are small leaves stuck in dirt and water, and because I thought it looked cool…. I also thought that maybe it would keep more moister right at the base. Is this healthy? I tried looking for an answer on line with no luck, so it’s probly not something anyone else does. Just thought I’ld ask.
    Thank you for any advice.

  15. Fritz Reuter

    This stuff is sweet! I got some pics I want to send you of a cool moss project I’m working on (few years now) that I bet you’ve never seen before.. Would love your advice or two cents on the ordeal
    and yes, sadly I was a sucker of the buttermilk trials
    Great page thanks again

  16. Hello David

    I am about to purchace some Java Moss for my aquarium but I’ve notice I have areas in my yard that are covered in moss, whats the possibility that I may get away with putting this ground covering in an aquarium and have it survive?

    Thank you

    1. David Spain

      There are very, very few terrestrial mosses that will survive for long in an aquatic environment. Some pleurocarps will last a while but loose their form and become long and stringy. ~David

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  18. ML Carle

    I have a bunch of ugly cement stepping stones that came with this house. I am creating columns out of them to place plants upon. They are still ugly, so I thought I’d get moss going on them. I was going to use the buttermilk thing, but obviously that’s not an option now that I’ve read your site. I’ve got some hunks of moss, but of course they aren’t going to latch on to a vertical surface. Could I nail them into place at the junctions of the “stones” to get them started?

  19. ML Carle

    The comment disappeared when I pushed post so here I go again:
    I have some ugly stepping stones I inherited. Can I nail scraps of moss onto the columns I am making to hold plants at the places where the stepping stones meet?

  20. emily

    What is the best way to grow moss on a vertical area? I have a ton of moss in my yard but would like to grow it on the faces of some steps. Thanks. I’m wondering if just trying to stick spores on with water would work (I’ve already made a mess trying the yogurt miss milkshake)

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  22. Sam


    Great article, thanks for posting. I am trying to find the correct spot to ask the following question, so I will try here:

    I have rocks (25-100lb) seperating a concrete and my yard- stacked about 2-3 high. I am trying to achieve Irish moss growing throughout and ontop of some of the surface area. Will it naturally grow upward? Or is there something I can do to achieve this?

    Any info would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

    1. David Spain

      Sam, Irish moss is not a real moss but a normal plant that looks similar to some species of moss. It does not have the same characteristics as a true moss which can grow on stone without soil. The only way to grow Sagina Subulata (Irish Moss) is in a soil medium. Maybe you can create pockets with your stone work and fill the crevices with soil. Best ~ David


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