Before you start growing moss, you might wonder what the best time is to plant moss. Mosses grow all year round because they are evergreen plants. The most important factor is moisture.
Photosynthesis is possible in mosses below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Mosses will stop growing and turn brown (we call it the dormant state) when there is not enough water available. Once moisture fills their tissue again, they return to active growth.
Now you know that you can grow moss all year around, you can dive into the step by step guide on how to grow moss.
Step 1: Learn The Difference Between Acrocarpous And Pleurocarpous Mosses
TIP: Read this article about the difference between Acrocarpous and Pleurocarpous mosses.
Acrocarpours mosses do not regenerate from fragments as quickly as pleurocarpous mosses, and weeds are less likely to invade due to the thickness and tight-packed stems.
Examples of Acrocarpous Mosses are:
- Haircap Moss (Polytrichum Commune)
- PinCushion Moss (Leucobryum Glaucum)
- Broom Forkmoss (Dicranum Scoparium)
Pleurocarpous mosses can be recognized by freely and chaotic branching. The branches spread out from the colony in a creeping manner. The sporophytes of this moss type emerge mid-stem and grow faster than their acrocarpous counterparts.
Pleurocarpous mosses regenerate quickly from broken fragments and attach well to stone. Their rapid growth rate makes them better for colonizing hard substrates.
Examples of Pleurocarpous Mosses are:
Step 2: Buy Or Harvest The Right Moss
TIP: You can find the guide on how to harvest moss here.
Mosses can be collected with three different techniques. Which one you use depends on the type of moss.
Harvesting Acrocarpous Moss
Harvesting acrocarpous moss should be done with the scooping technique. Once you have found the moss, you can clean any loose debris or weeds before you harvest it.
After that, you can use a flat-bladed hand (kitchen) tool underneath a moss colony to harvest a thin layer of soil along with a patch of moss. This way you preserve the rhizomes and the integrity of the moss colony.
Harvesting Pleurocarpous Moss
Raking pleurocarpous mosses are used to remove moss from areas where it is mixed with weeds and or grasses. With this technique, you leave the root-anchored plants behind and harvest the fragments of moss.
Step 3: Prepare The Soil
To prepare the soil in an area where you want to grow moss, you will need to start from the ground up.
Remove Plants And Weeds
Start with removing any plants you do not want, especially grasses and weeds. A pre-emergent weed preventer can be applied to discourage germination of any existing seeds.
Mosses are not particular about the type of soil they grow on in terms of soil composition. Loam, clay or richly amended soils will all work fine.
The exception would be soils with a high sand content preventing a stable surface; ever-shifting loose sandy soils make attachment difficult, but not impossible.
Smooth The Soil
The most important aspect of encouraging mosses to establish is texture and particle size. If you imagined yourself to be less than an inch tall and had to move across the surface of the soil, you would understand the importance of smoothness.
Grade and contour the area if needed; remember that moss will follow the small undulations that are normally not noticeable until a smooth carpet of green is hugging the ground.
Smoothing the surface will also aid in rhizome attachment which will speed up the establishment and growth.
Keep in mind that mosses will first need some rhizome attachment at their growing edge before they will send out new branching. Mosses do not like being unattached or exposed to air without some surface below them.
Preparing smooth soil speeds up rhizome attachment and encourages faster branching. Even though mosses may overcome almost any obstacle in their path, such as a fallen tree, they don’t do this quickly, nor do they simply just run up the side and over.
Remove Depressions, Pebbles, Leaves, Or Loose Material
Watch also for small depressions that will end up collecting debris and water. This includes depressions up to three feet in diameter.
Pebbles, leaves, or any loose material will need removing, and also ensure that the soil leading up to any trees, roots, or hardscaping is slightly ramped up to meet the obstruction.
This will prevent debris or dead zones where mosses resist meeting vertical surfaces and attaching to them.
Be aware of any water run-off paths that you may create or that already exist. Mosses are great soil stabilizers and will filter water run off, but first they need to be established to withstand flowing water.
If you have these areas, pre-filter run off from sediment and debris that may deposit onto newly installed areas.
One way to do this is by placing stones and gravel as a barrier upstream or temporarily diverting the run-off. Mosses laid in the path of run-off can be pinned or netted in place until established.
With regards to soil pH, moss will grow in most pH conditions. Adjusting the pH is usually not needed. If you suspect your soils are alkaline (greater than seven on the logarithmic scale), you should get the soil tested.
If it is above 7.0, you may consider adding aluminum sulfate or elemental sulfur to bring it down somewhat. Alkaline conditions like this may have been created by years of lime applications to sustain grasses in the shade.
In our experience, mosses will grow on soils of a wide range of pH. The common practice has been to adjust soil pH to 5.0 or 5.5 for the benefit of the moss, but since mosses don’t have roots that feed from the soil, pH is not a major criteria.
Step 5: Plant Companion Plants
Plant the companion plants before introducing mosses. If you want to add any foundation plants, perennials, or hardscaping, it is best to do that first and add the mosses last.
TIP: Do you want to know what grows well with moss? Read this article about 13 Moss Companion Plants
Prepare the soils to suit the vascular plants and then smooth the surface for the mosses to create a living mulch around them.
Seven plants that grow well in combination with moss are:
- Azure Bluet (Houstonia Caerulea)
- Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium Niponicum)
- Barrenwort (Epimedium)
- Lady Fern (Athyrium Filix-Femina)
- Canada Wild Ginger (Asarum Canadense)
- Virginia Bluebell (Mertensia Virginica)
- Lungwort (Pulmonaria Officinalis)
Step 6: Scratch The Soil
Even though you have smoothed the soils before introducing the mosses, you may need to lightly scratch the surface to create some loosened soil to make good contact.
This is helpful when transplanting mosses that are collected by scraping or raking. After the mosses have been placed on top of this loosened soil, they will be watered deeply and then walked on.
This will re-compress the fluffed soil as a temporary mortar to hold the moss down. If scooped moss colonies are transplanted, scratching can create a slight depression to keep the soil level.
All areas under and around the transplants will need to be tamped down by hand or by walking on them after installation.
Step 7: Propagation By Dividing And Fragmenting
Fragmenting moss is the most effective way of propagating. You can take a large piece and divide it in to smaller pieces so you can transplant them the pieces apart from each other. With this method they will be encouraged to grow together.
TIP: Read this guide of How To Propagate Moss first.
The moss will add new growth over time by growing on top of itself and thicken the layer of moss. This will stop weeds to grow.
Propagating Pleurocarpous Mosses
Pleurocarpous mosses will propagate much faster after fragmentation than acrocarpous mosses. Their growth habit is quicker and it will respond with new growth within three months as long as there is enough moisture and shade. This makes them ultimately the best type of moss for a moss lawn.
Propagating Acrocarpous Mosses
Acrocarpous mosses need at least six months or more to anchor themselves after fragmentation and need another twelve moths before they start multiplying. The pace of growth is much slower than Pleurocarpous mosses. They also require a dry period for growth and won’t grow continuously like Pleurocarpous mosses do.
Step 7: Water The Moss
This sounds like an easy step but watering the moss needs to be done in the right way to encourage growth and prevent the moss from drying out. Acrocarpous moss needs a different watering schedule than Pleurocarpous mosses.
TIP: This guide explains When And How To Water Moss.
Transplanted mosses need time to establish and become acclimated. With the establishment, we mean the process of attaching to the soil, and with acclimating, we mean adjusting to elements such as the altitude, water, wind, substrate, etc.
To help the moss with the establishment, water should be supplied frequently after the transplanting. But how often and for how long depends on the type of moss.
Watering Chart For Acrocarpous Mosses
Below a chart for watering acrocarpous mosses.
- Months 1 & 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 until the area is fully covered in moss.
Watering Pleurocarpous Mosses
Pleurocarpous mosses can be watered up to six time per day in small volumes. Do this with a misting device to prevent drowning the moss.
The constant flow of moisture will keep them growing and helps them to attach quickly to the soil. Be careful not to water the moss too much when it gets hotter than 75 degrees Fahrenheit. This can develop mold, fungus and mildews and will ultimately kill the moss.