How to start a moss garden

The Ultimate Guide to Moss Gardens

Easily recognizable, yet highly underrated; moss is the unsung hero of many ecosystems. Moss species can be found nearly everywhere in the world, and now you can have it in your garden as well. In this article, we’ll be talking about moss gardens: why you should want one, what kind of moss you should grow, and how to successfully transplant moss into your garden. Read on to learn more!

What is Moss?

“Moss” refers to the general term for over 12,000 species of nonvascular sporing plants. Despite their small size, moss is the largest group of land-plants. Moss evolved from algae, and is one of the first species of plants to grow on dry land. 

Because they are non-vascular, moss does not have the typical root system we’re often familiar with. Instead, moss derives its nutrients and moisture from its leaves. 

Why Should You Have a Moss Garden?

Sure, moss looks very beautiful and adds a fairy-like aesthetic to your garden, but adding moss to your garden has a multitude of practical benefits as well. 

Cost-Effective. 

It is extremely cost-effective to raise and maintain moss. While moss does enjoy moisture, they do not require constant watering, as they are capable of holding in moisture for long periods of time. 

Soil Benefits. 

Moss is rich in soil nutrients, and acts as a natural mulch for other plants in your garden. As a mulch, you’ll find that less weeds grow in your garden as well. 

Improve the Garden’s Ecosystem. 

By adding moss to your garden, you’ll attract more beneficial insects such as worms, spiders, and ants. These insects benefit your garden by preying off of the pests that you don’t want hanging around your garden. It’s truly a win-win-win scenario. Your plants get protection, the insects get food, your garden thrives. 

What Do You Need to Get a Moss Garden Started?

In order to get a start on your moss garden, you’ll need to take into consideration some of the hallmark growing preferences of moss. The key to growing any plant successfully is to artificially replicate the natural environment it comes from, and moss is no exception. 

Shade

Moss thrives on shady or semi-shady areas. In nature, you’ll almost always find moss under the protection of wooded areas. Living under the canopy of trees allows moss to thrive in a shady area where they are protected from direct sunlight, which can be rather harsh on 

Moisture

Moss can be found in nearly all climates of the world, with a few glaring exceptions. Moss does not survive in locations that are dry, sunny, and hot; don’t expect to see moss growing in the desert! 

Acidic Soil

Moss depends on acidic soil conditions to survive. The ideal soil range you want for your moss is between 5.5 to 6.0. Please do not allow the soil pH to go above 6.0, that should be the absolute limit. Alkaline soil will inhibit plant growth.

When is the Best Time to Build a Moss Garden?

The ideal time to start building your moss garden is in the early spring. When planting in the early spring, you will have the benefit of additional moisture that is left behind from the melted snow. 

While early spring is the best time to plant moss, it is important to be aware of your local area’s spring frost date. Wait to transplant your moss until after the last spring frost date; this will vary from location to location, so double check with your local weather advisory. 

The reasoning behind transplanting moss in the spring is that we want the moss to become accustomed to its new environment in time for the summer heat to roll in. As we’ve discussed before, moss can be heat-sensitive. By allowing the new moss a couple of months to establish itself, you will have a more fortified plant that can withstand stronger weather conditions. 

What are the Two Main Types of Moss?

Generally speaking, moss primarily grows in two ways:

  1. Acrocarpous or Upright

This is called a “drier” variety of moss. Unlike the prostrate version, this form of moss is more sensitive to being disturbed or stepped upon. 

  1. Prostrate or Pleurocarpous

This type of moss grows flat on the ground, and spreads much faster than the upright variety of moss. This moss is preferable for walking on, as it does not take as much damage. 

What Are Some Specific Moss Species?

  1. Cushion Moss (Leucobryum glaucum)

Cushion moss is a very convenient choice for those who are new to moss gardening. Unlike other species of moss, cushion moss tends to be more forgiving of sunlight. Don’t be afraid to plant this moss in areas of partial sunlight, as this variety is capable of withstanding it, as long as it still has some shade. 

In addition, cushion moss prefers to grow in sandier, looser soil, rather than the traditional heavy, compact soil most moss species tend to thrive in. This allows for a wider variety of surfaces that you can plant this moss on. 

  1. Hair Cap Moss (Polytrichum commune)

Similar to the previous cushion moss, hair cap moss is very unique in that is it extremely tolerable of sunlight and sandy soil, as long as the moisture level is right. This particular variety of moss can withstand full sunlight under the condition that its soil remains consistently moist. This can come as a convenience for gardeners who don’t have a lot of shaded areas to plant moss in. 

Don’t be afraid to place this moss in areas with light foot traffic, it can withstand some light damage to the foliage. 

3.  Sheet Moss (Hypum)

This is a very common species of moss among moss gardeners. It has a high rate of success for transplanting, which is why I highly recommend this for newcomers. Sheet moss prefers to grow in deep shade. It has a very dense growth pattern and is capable of withstanding light foot traffic. 

What Materials Do You Need to Grow Moss?

The most basic materials needed to grow a successful moss garden is:

Gardening gloves
Sprinkler hose
Spatula
Garden trowel
or a rake
Spray bottle
pH test strips
Landscaping pins
Small rocks

Steps to Building Your Moss Garden

1. Clear out all debris and weeds

Using your trowel/rake, dig up all weeds and other debris that is in the location you would like to plant in. Your moss will need a nice, cleared area to establish itself before it really starts to grow. 

2. Check to make sure the soil is properly acidic.

As we’ve discussed previously, moss depends on acidic soil to grow in. Checking the pH balance of your soil prior to transplanting is extremely important as an unbalanced pH can make or break your garden. 

Using the pH test strips, test the pH level of your soil in the intended garden area. On average, most lawns tend to be in the 6.0 to 7.0 range, but moss requires a pH that is less than 6.0 (ideally we’re aiming for 5.5). 

If you find that your soil is a little too alkaline, you can organically help raise the soil pH by adding in more organic compost or manure, which are naturally acidic. In addition, garden lime is also a fast and effective way to lower that pH level. 

3. Moisten the soil

Take your sprinkler and moisten the soil; going over the soil a few times using the sprinkler to make sure the water really permeates the ground. After using the hose, wait at least 15 minutes to a 30 minutes to allow the water to soak in the ground. Failure to adhere to this waiting period will sabotage your moss garden; you want to transplant your moss onto moist soil, not mud. 

4. Lay down your moss

Gently lay down your moss on the soil and press it down. You can fasten the moss in place by using either landscaping pins or small rocks

5. Maintain moisture

Previously we have discussed that moss can be drought-tolerant and does not require frequent waterings. However, during the first few weeks post-transplant, it is very important to make sure that you maintain a damp soil for the moss to become accustomed. 

The goal here is that we are trying to mitigate something called transplant shock, which is brought on by natural stress caused by a plant being transplanted. By maintaining a consistently moist soil, the newly transplanted moss will stay comfortable while it establishes itself. 

6. Moving Forward

After three weeks, you can reduce your watering to only twice a week. Moss is famously low-maintenance and there is not a lot to do once your moss has established itself. Moss spreads easily on its own with little intervention from the gardener. 

There is no need to treat your moss with any pesticides or fertilizers, though you may have to do minimal weeding and picking stray leaves off of your moss. Simply allow nature to do its work and enjoy the beauty of your new moss garden! 

In Conclusion

Moss is much more than the fuzzy foliage you usually see running wild throughout the forest; it provides a great service to the ecosystem of our world. Adding moss to your garden is extremely beneficial as well as aesthetically pleasing. The best part is how easy it is to install moss in your garden and how easy it is to maintain.

Necessities:

Gardening gloves

PH test strips

Works Cited

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