Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How Does My Moss Garden Grow?

More and more people are becoming interested in growing moss gardens. I've been asked how I grew mine, so I will share.

I started my moss garden just last winter when I came to terms with the fact that there was one spot in my garden where no plants were ever happy. It's an area that drains poorly, and has rich silty soil that is packed down. Water pools in the area when it rains a lot. It's on the north side of my house and is shaded by a small live oak tree.

I prepared the area by adding some soil acidifier for good measure, and packing the soil back down. I collected the first pieces of moss from my parents' property, which has a large area of beautiful ferny looking moss. Their soil has lots of clay, whereas ours beneath the amended topsoil is pure sand. I collected large pieces in zip-lock bags, brought them home, and planted them immediately.
The picture above shows the fairly-new planted mosses, still looking a bit choppy. Below is a recent picture showing it having anchored itself down and filling in nicely. Note that the moss on the pots has receded somewhat. It's not that easy getting moss to survive on pots, but the surviving moss has attached itself to its surface.
The rule-of-thumb is that you should plant moss on a similar surface to where you find it growing naturally. So, moss found growing on wood, I planted on wood. Moss growing in dirt, I planted in dirt. I even found moss growing in sunny areas on sand, which I planted on the side of my little plot that gets afternoon sun.
Where did I find my mosses? Everywhere! I started taking walks around the neighborhood and found the most amazing mosses. I found mosses growing along drainage ditches, on the side of the road, I went into some woods and found some hiding under pine needles, and I found them growing on the banks of my own little creek. I strolled onto a piece of property that had been abandoned since our big hurricane, and found the most beautiful mosses--some a lush velvety green and some with star shapes that grew a few inches tall. I found mosses whose spores made them look so beautiful and delicate. Eventually, I ran out of room for them.
While the dominant moss is the ferny-looking moss, if you look closely, you can see the other types in between. I planted the pieces together like a living patchwork quilt.
On my daily walks, I carried a small spoon and a plastic bag. I don't know what people thought I was doing. Most people who walk with plastic bags pick up dog poop, but I don't have a dog. They'd see me bent over in abandoned lots, and straddling drainage ditches digging, things up and putting them into a plastic bag.
I kept my moss garden moist by making sure it was watered every day. We have a well for irrigation, so there was no worry of killing it with nasty chemical-laced city water. When the oak tree dropped its leaves, and the sun was beating down on my poor little mosses, I cut strips of window screening and laid them over the area. This allowed diffused light and water in, and also seemed to hold the moisture in a bit. I knew that once my tree filled in again, and the sun moved farther north that I could uncover them again. (See Moss Under Wraps)

I do sometimes have a problem of critters flipping over my mosses, so I have to check them often. Check out how Isadora has solved that dilemma in her moss garden:  Outwitting a Robin, Hawk Wars and Birds in Concert

13 comments:

Sunny said...

Deb, I love your moss garden...we live near an area by a river and in the spring the moss covers nearly every rock and cliff. It is absolutely beautiful...I have a river rock patio that I previously filled with corsican mint.... unfortunatly it does not do well with lots of foot traffic...I wonder if the moss would do better here?

mya said...

I have no expertise to make any suggestions regarding the cultivaton of mosses, but I would like to relay 'a moss tale'.
The property behind our church is heavily wooded and directly behind the church is a natural runoff that was always messy. A couple of us decided to try our hand at transplanting moss to this 2' X 15' gully and not too deep, maybe 12 inches at the deepest. Most of the moss we found on the same property. After shaping this runoff into a few 'stair steps' we defined the margins of those levels with rocks. Using a spade we were able to scoop up sheets of moss and cover most of the ground. We thought it looked better and crossed our fingers that the moss would thrive, and survive any rain runoff. It did, and now several years later it is still looking just fine.

Deborah said...

Sunny, it might be worth a try. Perhaps if you keep the level of the moss just below the stones it could work.

That's a good moss tale, Mya. I've tried other moss gardens that didn't work at all. Sometimes it's just trial-and-error.

Ami said...

I love to read the part how you carry a bag and a spoon during the walk and looking for moss! That is what I called passion! Love your moss garden, the velvet feeling on touch much be wonderful. Great informational post1 Thanks!

Noelle said...

I enjoyed this post very much. I do love the bright green of moss. Unfortunately, it is a bit too dry and hot where I live to grow any. But, I love it just the same :-)

Andrea said...

Hi Deborah, i am new here just followed your comment. The idea of a moss garden is lovely, it fascinates me too. However, here we have a long dry season which eliminates not only the mosses but also the common plants. They come alive again in the rainy months. I envy yours. I am inviting you also to my blogsite. thank you.

Deborah said...

Yes Ami, there is something about a moss garden that draws you in and makes you want to touch it. Passionate is better than crazy lady with a spoon.

Noelle, I agree that you'd be pushing it out in Arizona trying to start a moss garden. Maybe in a terrarium...

Hi, Andrea. When it gets hot and dry here, it is rough on the mosses.

Floridagirl said...

I love moss in the garden. I inadvertently started some in my "Hawaiian Garden" when I dumped a pot there. It looks so green and lovely there, though never intended. I also have it growing on trees here and there, where it's just appeared over time.

debsgarden said...

Hi Deborah, I laughed at the thought of you straddling that ditch! What we gardeners get ourselves into! Your moss garden is charming,. I love the fact that you have different kinds of mosses growing together.

Amber said...

I moved from the swamps of Virginia to the mountains of NC, and moss just IS! I've never cultivated it, but I love it's soft and silky presence in the garden. :)

I'll be visiting Florida next week and I look forward to the warmth and growth all around!

Dirty Girl Gardening said...

I love fresh moss on terra cotta... your garden must be fabulous.

catmint said...

Hi Deborah, I love moss, and your moss garden looks great. You are very dedicated to make sure it gets watered every day. And a very protective mother - defending your babies from oak leaves, critters and other hazards. (lol) cheers, catmint

Deborah said...

Ha, Catmint! That's me--Moss Mother.