How to Plant Moss - And Why You Should

Moss has the ability to blanket even the most ordinary objects with fantasy and wonder; turning a boring rock into an ancient stone with a storied past, or a patch of dirt into a fairy-tale clearing in the woods. In this age of instant gratification and short attention spans, moss encourages the viewer to enjoy life on the smallest of scales and offers the opportunity for the stressed to reach out and explore nature in an instant. For those who've grown apart from their childlike sense of wonder and kinship with the natural world, moss is a cure for cold feet.


Moss is also incredibly practical. We lay out lawns of grass so that we can have a soft and clean surface to rest our bare feet, but moss is infinitely more plush and supple. Comparing a course lawn of St. Augustinegrass to a carpet of moss is like comparing a sack of burlap to 1000-count bed-sheets. Sure, those luxurious sheets take more time to produce, but your toes will know the difference. Even the smallest space can benefit from a touch of moss growing on the trunk of a tree or the surface of a terra-cotta flowerpot, so there's really no need to sacrifice any space at all.

I also feel that moss represents a valuable investment for those raising children. It is true that a child can play baseball or football in a grassy lawn, but with a well-established moss lawn, that child can explore the infinite possibilities of nature in their own backyard without getting their shoes muddy, especially with the assistance of stepping stones. In moss, your imagination can run rampant, making out the forms of bushes in lichens and trees in saplings; growing together alongside a stream of smooth pebbles, in the shadow of a mountain of a rock.


Remember the joy that could be provided to you as a child by nothing more than a water hose to carve a river out of dirt; or the thrill of discovering a stream in the woods? Such journeys, though imaginary, gave us as children the courage to dream and to stake our claim in the world by taking chances rewarded with delight. Do you remember turning over moss-covered logs and rocks with trepidation, just to see what could be found underneath? When we were kids, it seemed like all of the best stuff was covered in moss.




Despite my biased views towards this most benign of organisms, some see moss as a weed and will even purchase products to poison it out of their lawns. If you have this problem yourself, your soil is probably either moist or shady enough to encourage a host of infections that will make growing turfgrasses more trouble than they're worth. Weeds aren't usually a problem in healthy lawns, so the first thing you should do is figure out why something as slow as moss is beating your grass to the finish line.

Before planting
In my own case, the grass was failing because the middle of our new yard was badly eroded, leaving nothing more than maple roots, compacted soil and weeds. Piling more dirt on top of the roots could injure or weaken the mature maple trees overhead, so planting grass or other traditional groundcovers wasn't an option. One thing that I did see thriving beneath the weeds, however, were pockets of moss that could eventually spread to form a lush weed-suppressing mat of velvety green if I was willing to wait a few years. Since I'm admittedly not that patient, I ordered a box to get started.


When I asked David Spain of Moss and Stone Gardens for his recommendation for starting a moss lawn over maple roots, he enthusiastically sang the praises of a moss in the Hypnum genus known as 'fern moss' for its lacy and delicate spreading fronds. I was expecting to receive thin sheets like the fern moss that I found creeping over my concrete path, but was thrilled to open a box stuffed with carpets of soft and spongy moss ranging one to two inches thick. He even included little metal moss pins to help attach them to the ground!

Though it was difficult to avert my eyes (and hands) long enough to read the planting instructions, I followed them and will share them here so that you can get a head start on giving your own moss a helping hand. The most concise instructions can be found on Moss and Stone Gardens' own website, but here's a summary of the instructions I followed to plant these patches of spreading pleurocarp mosses into my garden.

I've removed weeds, placed and watered the moss before tamping it in place with my feet.
Here you can see how I've pinned the moss in place to help it attach.
Prepare the area by removing weeds and debris, and gently loosen the soil to help the moss attach more quickly. Place the moss in the desired location, water thoroughly and press the moss into position with your feet. To get the transplanted moss to establish sooner and to keep it from drying out, either tuck the edges into the soil or pin it down with pins, toothpicks, or landscape staples. Water thoroughly with a fine mist at least once a day and keep the area free of weeds or debris until the moss has noticeably begun to spread or attach.



Because I am still something of a kid at heart, I've arranged lava rocks, lichen, branches and river rocks on the moss while I wait for it to establish.



As it turns out, the moss makes an ideal backdrop for enjoying and photographing subjects such as these lichens and Tillandsia bartramii on fallen branches. When the moss itself is in the background, it glows in the sunlight and glistens with the morning dew. Even Salty the Snail seems right at home.



5 comments:

  1. Beautiful photos. Way too hot and way to dry for me to try here in Fort Worth. I will live vicariously through your photos. I love "Salty the Snail"; best name ever!

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  2. Will the moss turn brown in the winter? I'd love to add some to my front yard but fear the hoa would have a fit. btw I also live in North Florida. thanks for your inspiring views!

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