Holly Berger, Extension Master Gardener, Anoka County
Most of us can appreciate moss in a woodland forest or a Japanese garden. It’s green, lush, and even a bit enchanting. Outside of such surroundings, this whimsical plant may seem to have a mind of its own, appearing wherever it chooses. In our own yards, moss is sometimes seen as an intruder. But there is likely a place for moss in your garden or landscape.
Moss is easy to grow and maintain; there are more than 1,000 species currently recognized. Most species prefer moist, shady areas and acidic, compact soil, but a few can tolerate full sun and dry conditions.
Adding visual appeal with beautiful year-round color, moss is also resilient and can survive in harsh conditions and dry seasons. Moss is non-invasive and it does not appeal to insects or animals. Moss is environmentally beneficial and can be used to help reduce erosion and improve drainage. And since moss doesn’t get nutrients from the soil, it can flourish where most plants are unable to grow.
Moss is captivating on garden paths and around stepping stones. Moss can prosper on trees, rocks and walls. It grows well in containers and can be featured in gardens of its own. Moss can even be used as a low-maintenance alternative to grass. The main drawback of moss is that it grows slowly.
There are two basic types of moss. Pleurocarpous moss spreads horizontally and grows low to the ground. Acrocarpous moss grows in height and thickness before spreading, creating clumps. To create interesting color and texture combinations, you can grow both kinds together.
Since moss reproduces by spores, there are two ways to acquire it. If you want advice about the right moss for your location, you can buy it from nurseries or online sites. The other option is to collect moss yourself. Moss is plentiful in ditches and woods, but get permission before removing it from private property. Since moss has no root system, harvesting requires little effort. Simply pull or dig a patch from the area where it's growing. When removing moss, take small amounts so the colonies can recover.
To plant your moss, prepare the area by clearing it of debris and weeds and water it well. Then press the moss patches down firmly where you want them to grow. Water the moss daily for 2-3 weeks until it gets established. Another planting method is to divide the moss into smaller fragments and space them an inch apart. The fragments will eventually grow together.
To grow moss on vertical structures like planters and trees, you can try the milkshake method. Blend clumps of moss with one part buttermilk and one part water until it has a milkshake consistency. Use a brush to paint the moss mixture on the desired areas, and then wait. While this method is reportedly less successful than fragmenting, it can produce unique results.
Moss might take some time, but your patience will be rewarded with the beauty and charm it brings to your garden.