How To Use Moss In Garden Designs

Moss garden design

In this article, you can learn how to use moss in garden designs. First, we will help you understand the impact of moss plants in garden landscapes, we will explain how to incorporate moss in the garden before we talk about more advanced garden concepts. The last three chapters will how you can create your moss lawn, the plants that can used with moss, and how you can increase the local biodiversity with moss plants.

1. Understanding Moss in Garden Landscapes

Mosses are more and more used in garden designs because they can thrive in areas where grass or (most) plants struggle. It is also a great alternative to traditional grass gardens because it is so low in maintenance. But not everyone wants to grow a complete moss lawn, some want to incorporate moss as a design element in gardens, some want to use it for their ecological benefits while others use moss in garden designs to improve local biodiversity.

1.1 The Role of Moss as a Design Element

Moss can add some mystery and ancient beauty to garden landscapes and it can create a feeling of connection and calmness. There are many types of mosses but most are plush, velvety, and have different shades of green which can compliment the hard surface of paths or rocks and improve the overall design of a garden. It can also fill in gaps where other plants can not survive.

1.2 Ecological Benefits of Using Moss

Some homeowners learn how to grow moss to maintain an ecological balance in their garden landscape. Moss acts as a natural bioindicator, indicating the overall health of a garden ecosystem.

Mosses are responsible for;

  • soil formation;
  • preventing erosion;
  • retaining large amounts of water;
  • maintaining soil moisture levels;
  • contributing to biodiversity as a habitat and food source.

The ecological benefits of moss is often overlooked. They played a massive role over 400 million years ago when they covered our planet and were (partly) responsible for the formation of soil before the plants, grasses, and trees took over.

They are still extremely important because, without them, many plant and animal species simply die out because of a loss of habitat or food source. Also, as a colonizing species, they form soil in soil-poor areas so other plants can follow.

1.3 Moss Species for Garden Diversity

Besides the obvious ecological benefits, different moss species can increase the diversity of a garden. There are many different moss species (some estimates say 12,000, others say even more) and they are all specialized in their niche. Mosses such as Sphagnum moss (Sphagnum platyphyllum) are masters in retaining water while species such as Tree moss (Anomodon attenuates) are great at covering the bases of trees.

There are two main types of mosses, namely; Acrocarpous and Pleurocarpous mosses.

Acrocarpous mosses have an upright growth habit and can add dimension and height to flat surfaces. Examples are PinCushion moss (Leucobryum Glaucum), Mood moss (Dicranum Scoparium), or Hairy cap moss (Polytrichum commune).

Pleurocarpous mosses grow in lush, spreading mats and are perfect for creating uninterrupted green carpets and they are mainly used for moss lawns as an alternative to grass. Examples of this kind of moss are Sheet moss (Hypnum Curvifolium) or Carpet moss (Hypnum Cupressiforme).

2. Incorporating Moss in Garden Designs

This section will explain how you can use moss as natural ground cover but also how you can use moss rocks, how you can use it in shady areas, with water features, or how it can be used in combination with ferns.

2.1 Moss as Natural Ground Cover

You can use moss as a natural ground cover instead of grass. It requires little maintenance and is very sustainable.

Moss as a natural ground cover
Moss as a natural ground cover

Here are some tips on how you can grow your moss lawn:

  1. Selection and Preparation: Choose the correct moss varieties that suit your garden based on the moisture, light, and soil conditions and, last but not least, the usage. Prepare the area by clearing away debris and make sure that the soil is moist and has a PH between 5.0 and 5.5. You can buy live mosses from our webshop but you can also collect them from nature (but do it sustainable).
  2. Installation: Install the moss by pressing it lightly onto the substrate. You may want to use fragmentation for larger areas.
  3. Moss Care Tips: Make sure that you keep the newly installed moss damp through regular watering during the first few weeks until it is well established. If the moss turns brown or yellow, check the moisture levels, and shade but also the PH of the soil.

2.2 Using Moss Rocks in Garden Design

Moss rocks are stones that are covered with moss. For this application, you want to use Rock cap moss, Tree moss, or Mood moss. Sheet moss or Carpet moss can also grow over rocks but they prefer soil as a substrate.

Here are instructions on how you can use moss rocks in your garden design:

  • Making: You can use chicken wire to attach the moss to the rocks. It will attach itself within a couple of weeks. Ensure that it receives enough moisture (preferably rainwater or tapwater).
  • Integration: After the moss is attached to the rock, position it thoughtfully within your garden and make sure that it complements the surrounding vegetation. Moss rocks should appear they’ve always been part of the landscape.
  • Maintenance: Keep an eye on the moss during the different seasons. If the moss turns yellow or you find black moss, then you need to check if the moss receives enough moisture and shade. Move the rock to an area where the conditions are better for moss plants.

2.3 Designing with Moss in Shady Areas

Moss thrives in shady areas, making it an ideal plant for spaces where sunlight is limited. Use moss to:

  • Create a Lush Backdrop: Plant moss under tree canopies or in the shadows of buildings to add greenery where other plants might not flourish.
  • Highlight Shade Plants: Pair moss with shade-loving plants such as ferns to create a rich, textured understory.

2.4 Moss Garden Water Features

Moss with water
Moss garden with water

Moss is also often used around water features. One of the most popular moss species for this application is Fern moss. Other mosses you can use are Sphagnum moss (even though it’s not very pretty but good at retaining water) or you could use Hedwigia Moss or Haircap Moss.

Make sure that the area around the water feature remains moist but it should not waterlogged because moss plants need moist but well-drained soil.

2.5 Moss and Fern Garden Designs

A lot of landscapers incorporate ferns in the design of moss lawns because they like similar conditions and the combinations of ferns and moss create a verdant woodland feel that is perfect for shaded gardens.

You can start with growing moss as a ground cover before you buy the ferns. Once the moss is established, you can make gaps and plant the ferns. Waiting to plant the ferns is preferable because you don’t want the mosses and the ferns to compete for the same nutrients and water. At least not until one of them is well established.

3. Advanced Moss Garden Concepts

This section will cover ways to enhance your moss garden with paths, and use moss for erosion control, we’ll cover sustainable garden designs, Japanese moss gardens, and how you can create texture with moss in landscapes.

3.1 How to make Moss Garden Paths

There are two kinds of moss paths you can consider. You can either place moss in the middle and have stones on both sides or you can use pavers as stepping stones and use it to make a pathway through your moss lawn.

A pathway thorugh a moss garden
A pathway through a moss garden

3.1.1 Stepping Stones

This is my favorite option because protects a moss garden from heavy foot traffic. This is how you make a moss path with stepping stones.

1. Soil preparation: Carefully lift the moss in the area where you want to place a stone or paper with a flat tool and replant it before you loosen the soil. You can use a rake or a tiller and make sure that the soil is evenly distributed. Repeat this process until you can lay down the pavers along the pathway.

2. Placement: Place the stones or pavers on the soil and press lightly down.

3. Repeat: Repeat this process until you have a beautiful path through your moss garden.

3.1.2 Path of Moss

A moss path through your garden can be beautiful but make sure to use a kind of moss that can deal with the foot traffic that you expect to have. This is how you can make it.

1. Choose the right moss: As I mentioned before, you need to choose a moss that can deal with the conditions of the pathway. The best options are either Sheet moss or Carpet moss.

2. Prepare the soil: Remove any debris of the soil and remove grasses or plants that will compete for the same nutrients and water as the moss. Loosen the soil and check if the PH of the soil is between 5.0 and 5.5. You can adjust the PH if it isn’t within the same range.

3. Plant the moss: Replanting moss is pretty straightforward. Press it down softly so there are no air pockets left. You can cover it with a net if you want to keep it in place.

4. Wait: Now you have to wait a little while until the moss is well established. If you walk on the moss before, you might kill it because it needs time to attach itself to the substrate.

3.2 Using Moss for Erosion Control

Mosses are often used by landscapers for erosion control. Especially in areas where other plants and grasses don’t grow. Especially Pleurocapous mosses are great at keeping the soil together because they grow as mats over sloped or bare areas of a garden.

This creates a natural barrier that reduces runoff and stabilizes the soil. It also supports moisture retention and it will increase the visual appeal of a garden as a bonus. It is becoming a more popular choice by homeowners and landscapers because it reduces the need to use artificial erosion control and it is also a very low-maintenance approach. Once the moss is established, no erosion control is needed anymore because the moss will do all the work.

3.3 Sustainable Garden Design with Moss

Garden designs are inherently more sustainable when they incorporate moss due to the ecological benefits that we described before. But moss plants also don’t require as much water as grass, they don’t need fertilizers or pesticides and the air quality will be improved because of the filtering qualities of these plants.

3.4 Using Moss in Japanese Garden Design

The use of moss in Japanese gardens is deeply rooted in the Japanese culture for centuries. They believe that moss plants represent age, tranquility, and naturalness which are values highly valued in their aesthetics.

A Japanese moss garden
A Japanese moss garden

Whenever you decide to create a Japanese garden, carefully select the mosses and other elements to create a garden that has a balance between wilderness and formality by incorporating stones, water features, and pathways to create that sense of peace and tranquility.

3.5 How to Create Texture with Moss in Landscapes

You may want to use moss to create texture in the landscape of your yard. This offers more contrast to typical foliage because of the large variety of different mosses.

Moss species range from fine delicate fronds (for example Fern moss) to more cushion-like mosses such as Pincushion moss. Other species such as Tree moss can cover the tree bases while rocks and boulders can be covered with Mood moss or Rock cap moss. If you want to have more upright growth, Hairy cap mos or Hedwigia moss might be a good choice.

Whenever you design the garden, keep in mind that these mosses need different conditions but if there is enough shade and moisture, they can often be planted together. This can create more texture and depth in the garden design.

4. How to use Other Plants with Moss

Combining moss with other plants can be a great choice to create a diverse lawn design. You may want to use living mulch around shrubs and trees and you should choose plants that grow in similar conditions as moss. But they also shouldn’t be too competitive at the same time.

We wrote an article before about moss companion plants and we covered the following 13 plants that grow well with moss.

  1. Azure Bluet
  2. Japanese Painted Fern
  3. Barrenwort
  4. Lady Fern
  5. Canada Wild Ginger
  6. Sum and Substance Hosta
  7. Virginia Bluebell
  8. Liverwort
  9. Lungwort
  10. Coral Bell ‘Tapestry’
  11. Celandine Poppy
  12. Mayapple
  13. Strawberry Geranium

5. Creating an Outdoor Moss Garden

Growing a moss lawn begins with selecting the right location with enough shade and moisture. You also need to check the PH and adjust it if it isn’t between 5.0 and 5.5 Next you want to follow the the steps below.

  1. Selection: Before you buy any living mosses, make sure to choose the right kind of mosses before you prepare the area. Considering factors such as climate, sunlight, moisture, and usage.
  2. Preparation: Make sure that the area is free of any debris and remove (the roots of) grass and plants. You don’t want them to compete for the same nutrients and water as the moss plants.
  3. Planting: After you have received the moss, you can plant the moss by slightly pressing it down. You can use an adhesive or pin it down it is not necessary if you plant the moss on a flat surface and it won’t be disturbed until it is well established.
  4. Maintenance: The first couple of weeks are important because, during this period, the moss will attach itself to the soil. Don’t walk on the moss yet and keep it moist and well-shaded.

TIP: We wrote more in-depth articles on how to grow your own moss lawn and how to grow moss.

6. Moss Cultivation for Biodiversity

In this article about ‘What is moss‘, we have explained how important moss plants are for local ecosystems. Whenever you decide to use moss in your garden, you will increase the local biodiversity because moss acts as a natural habitat and food source for microfauna.

To maximize the biodiversity of the garden design, you may consider the following tips:

  • Diversify moss species: Use different types of mosses to support an ecosystem where different insects, microorganisms, and plants can thrive. By incorporating different moss plants into the design, you will increase the biodiversity already.
  • Creating microhabitats: You can use different moss species to create niches and habitats; for example, moss-covered logs or trees covered with moss. These microhabitats will attract a range of organisms and increase the biodiversity of the lawn.
  • Naturalizing garden areas: Do not control the growth of the moss too much. Of course, you want you keep the growth and spread in check but the moss will spread into areas where it naturally thrives.

7. Conclusion

Using moss in garden designs isn’t only aesthetically pleasing but it will also have an ecological benefit for local (micro)habitats. You can create ordinary grass lawns into beautiful moss lawns that can act as spaces of peace and tranquility.

In this article we explained the role of moss in garden designs, how you can incorporate it into your designs, what kind of plants you can use with moss, how you can create your moss garden, and in the last paragraph we covered the benefits for the local biodiversity.

Feel free to contact us with questions about designing a garden with moss and if you are interested, you can buy living mosses from our webshop.

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