Q. How do I use moss in a garden?
Mossy areas are usually regarded as a nuisance in the garden rather than a potential source of beauty. Think, however, of the famous moss gardens in Japan (for instance, the Saiho-ji garden in Kyoto) or the more modest one in the Humes Japanese Strolling Garden in Mill Neck. NY. These gardens show that this lowly group of plants can make attractive and interesting gardens in their own right. So if you have an area of your garden in which nothing grows well, for example under a tree or in a shady, damp area, consider turning it into a moss garden.
Here are some tips on starting a moss garden:
1. First choose a suitable location. Your best bet is an area of the garden in which moss is already growing. This is probably in a damp, shady area under a tree or in the shade of a hedge, bush or building. Some mosses will tolerate sun but most species prefer more shade. A steep bank susceptible to erosion can be a suitable location if it is not too sunny. Even a low-lying, flood-prone area can be suitable for moss if appropriate species are picked and it is not too sunny.
2. Second, collect your mosses. Do not collect moss from public places, private property or forests. If you look around your property you will probably notice patches of moss that can be harvested and moved to your to new moss garden. There may be sites in your neighborhood that are being developed; ask the owner if you can collect moss before the construction crews come. Most mosses can be harvested by hand. Start by peeling the moss carpet around the edges then place a hand underneath and move it back and forth to release the moss mat from the soil. You can then lift up the flat bed of moss.
3. If you cannot find moss locally there are also nurseries that can supply mosses, for example, Moss Acres (http://www.mossacres.com).
4. Moss can also be propagated to increase your supply. The easiest way is to fragment the moss into small pieces. This can be done by hand, using scissors, or in a blender. Some gardeners mix in buttermilk or beer to provide nutrients to encourage new growth.
5. To plant the garden, first remove all weeds from the area that you have chosen. We do not recommend using herbicides; if the area is large you can start by laying a tarp or newspaper covered with soil over the area. This will kill any remaining grass or weeds if left in place for a few months. A smaller area can be hand-weeded. Water the soil and place the mat of collected moss on top. Fragmented moss pieces should be scattered evenly on top of the soil. Use a lawn roller or simply walk on the plot to secure the pieces. The area should be watered regularly until it has become well established. Do not let the new moss dry out.
6. The most important steps in maintaining a moss garden are to remove any weeds that grow through and to keep the area free of debris, particularly leaves. Using a leaf rake may damage the moss, so a blower is probably better. A moss garden does not need to be mowed or fertilized.
Types of Mosses:
Mosses belong in the phylum Bryophyta. They are simple, non-vascular plants with neither roots nor seeds. They propagate by spreading and by spores. There are approximately 1800 different species of mosses that grow in the wild in the United States. However, only about six to twelve are found in moss gardens.
It’s not really necessary to be able to identify the mosses that you are growing but this information may help you to chose the best species for your site. There are two basic types of mosses: (1) acrocarps that have upright or vertical stems and (2) pleurocarps that grow flat or horizontally. A detailed reference book (e.g. H.A. Crum and L. E. Anderson; Mosses of Eastern North America; Columbia University Press. 1981) should be consulted for identifying mosses (which can be quite difficult). Here are a few common examples:
Brachythecium spp.. A few species of this moss are very common, particularly B. salebrosum. Commonly found in lawns. Low growing.
Bryoandersonia illecebra. This species is commonly called worm or spoon moss because of its appearance. It is a pleuocarp growing one to two inches in height.
Bryum argenteum. Called sidewalk or crack moss as it tends to grow in these locations.
Leucobryum spp.. l. glaucum is known as pincushion moss as it grows in lumps of thick, tight masses.
Polytrichum commune. This is one of the tallest mosses. (2 - 2 1/2 Inches). It is called hair cap moss because of its appearance. This is a good moss for a permanently wet area.
Thuidium delicatulum. The common fern moss is another pleuocarp suitable for very damp locations. Makes a good moss lawn.
A. Martin. The Magical World of Moss Gardening. Timber Press. 2015. This volume has beautiful photographs of moss gardens and specific mosses.
G. Schenk. Moss Gardening. Timber Pres.. 1997. A very detailed book covering many aspects of moss gardens and moss gardening.
R. R. Smith.New Methods in Moss Gardening. Chamberlain Press. 2010. This author proposes a three layer (plastic, felt and tulle) substrate on which to grow mosses.
A Useful Website: http://www.mossandstonegardens.com/blog/how-to-grow-moss/.
Courtesy of the NYBG Plant Information Service