If you think succulents are the only hot plant right now, think again. There’s a growing trend in the “growing” world, and that’s moss. Once regarded as a nuisance to kill in the garden, the beauty of moss is now being celebrated. Moss gardens have been used in the stunning traditional Japanese gardens for centuries, but are just now gaining popularity as a water saving plant that offers sustainability, erosion control and low maintenance. Ok, so read that part about it being a water saving plant, and you are calling my bluff, right? Yes, moss requires water to spread and flourish. However, the amount of water that moss requires is a fraction of the nearly 10,000 gallons of water a season (outside rainwater) an average suburban lawn requires. According to Christine Cook, who lectures at the New York Botanical Garden, less than one percent. A tiny fraction. So if you have shade and an interest in never having to mow a lawn or replace dead annuals or ground cover again, than consider growing a moss garden!
When doing our research on how to grow moss, it became immediately apparent that the leading expert is David Spain, owner of ‘Moss and Stone Gardens‘. While his site is full of amazing information, photos and inspiration, we’re going to try to break it down here for you in a simple to follow primer. Whether you want to grow a moss lawn, add moss between pavers, or use it as a ground cover/ accent plant in the garden, here are some basics on how to grow moss!
Photo below by ‘HGTV‘.
Types of Moss
There are two basic types of moss, prostrate and upright. The prostrate version is faster growing, tolerates more moisture and is better at erosion control. It is also more tolerant to foot traffic. The upright variety will also tolerate lots of moisture, but prefer to dry out occasionally or they will rot. They are slower growing and slightly harder to transplant than prostrate varieties as well. All mosses are evergreen and can be grown in most zones. Most thrive in partial to deep shade.
Many of the plants that we know well as “mosses” such as ‘Irish Moss’ and ‘Scotch Moss’ are not really mosses at all. Though they require some similar requirements and look somewhat the same, they are actually evergreen perennials hardy down to zone 4. The ‘Scotch Moss’ below flowers in the spring. These plants require brighter light than moss, and spread a bit more quickly.
Photo by ‘Kristen Rudger Landscape’ via ‘Houzz‘.
How to Prepare
To prepare a garden or lawn area for moss, the best way to get the moss rhizomes to colonize is to provide a smooth surface. This basically means removing all existing plants and debris. According to David, you can use a pre-emergrent herbicide such as “Preen” safely where you plan to transplant the moss. Moss will not attach if it does not have good contact with the soil, so take your time with this step. If you are replacing a lawn with moss, its best to remove all the existing lawn first. If you are planting a garden bed with moss as the ground cover, plant all the other companion plants first. Then you can prepare the rest of the area to the smooth surface the moss requires. As your moss gets established, make sure you maintain the area by hand pulling any weeds and removing any fallen leaves.
How to Transplant
Moss can be transplanted from any area near your home that has matching conditions, or you can purchase it by the square foot from either ‘Moss and Stone Gardens’, or other specialty nurseries. You can gather moss by scraping, and then fragment and divide it to spread it over a larger area. A square foot of purchased moss can be divided to cover up to 20 square feet. The rhizomes must have contact with the ground in order to take hold, so using netting or pins can be helpful in getting a colony established.
How to Water
As we mentioned, moss is actually quite drought tolerant once established. Here is the watering schedule David suggests…
For the prostrate varieties, water frequently, daily even. Remember, it doesn’t take much water to soak the moss.
For the upright varieties, try this schedule.
- 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.
Mosses in the garden, photos by ‘Moss and Stone Gardens‘.
Mosses are a slow growing plant, but if you take the time to prepare and transplant properly, you could have a magical look to your yard with little further upkeep. If you have any further questions, and we mean any, please refer to David’s information page on how to grow moss, which is a compilation of lots of the guidance on their blog. Also, if you decide waiting on an outdoor moss garden is beyond your patience level, then start small and try an indoor ‘Moss Rock‘. You might just be hooked! Ordering one for my office desk, BRB…
We came across this public domain photo and just had to include it!
Image Credits: Houzz, HGTV, Moss and Stone Gardens, Moss and Stone Gardens