Emerald green, rolling mounds, stillness enticing, and barefoot begging, mosses are finally getting the recognition they deserve.
Primitive plants, evolving 450 million years ago — 70 million years before ferns and tens of millions more years before the first dinosaur, mosses are finally getting their due.
There has been a marked trend towards moss within the past year. As homeowners look to less maintenance and more environmentally friendly practices, mosses for a shady spot are the epitome of green. With few demands, moss, once established, rarely needs watering, needs no fertilization, plus it will eventually knit together, suppressing weeds.
When a power house like Anthropologie, a leader in new mythologies, uses a mossgarden as their backdrop for entire catalogue (December, 2010), you know moss is trending. The catalogue is so popular, it can be bought on eBay.
The same could be said for Garden Design magazine. The April 2011 issue, featured an 11 page spread on the famous moss gardens of Japan. That’s a lot of ink. No doubt, Garden Design magazine is filling the need to satisfy their readers. I know David Spain, Ken Gergle, and I read every word, taking notes in hopes of one day seeing the many moss gardens of Japan.
Martha Stewart has had a long love affair with moss and in the August 2011 issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine, Martha features a nice story on moss dish gardens.
As a nonvascular plant, so primitive they get what they need from the environment — moisture from the boundary layer of the soil, rain, dew, and even fog; nutrients and water move from cell to cell by osmosis. During times of drought, mosses go dormant.
As a lawn replacement for shady locations, as the ground cover in a woodland garden, or even used in decorative dish gardens, mosses are gracing more home gardens today than ever before.
Mosses come in both clumping (Acrocarpous) and spreading (Pleurocarpous) forms.
For lawns, the spreading forms, or the Pleurocarps, are generally recommended for their ability to a form a seamless carpet. Hypnum imponens (sheet moss), Plagiomnium cuspidatum (woodsy mnium), Thuidium delecatulum (fern moss) are good choices for shady lawn replacement and for sunnier areas, Entodon seductrix. These have low profiles, producing spreading, fast growing colonies, and a prostrate habit. Adding more than one species is recommended to increase the chances of a moss liking it’s location, forming a dominate colony.
The clumping forms, or the Acrocarps, are generally recommended for borders, as living mulch between plants or under trees — in areas where their quilting, mounding, three dimensional effect can be appreciated.
In spite of a preference for moist sites, we can encourage mosses to colonize in places that aren’t naturally moist, by lightly irrigating the area to allow for colonization. Once established, mosses don’t need irrigation. Keeping them irrigated will hasten the growth process and add intrigue, watching various mosses vie for fiefdom.
For even more interest, add woodland wildflowers to your moss, such as creeping phlox (Phlox subulata), foam flowers (Tiarella spp.), Oconee bells (Shortia galacifolia.)
Mosses’ tiny leaves are vulnerable in that they don’t have the waxy cuticles of vascular plants, absorbing rain or dew directly on the leaf surface. Mosses convert sunlight into energy, using chlorophyll, but because moss is on such a small scale, even the tiniest leaf can inhibit their potential. As such, keep mossy areas free of long standing debris.
As a young plant, while mosses are establishing, it’s recommended to weed by hand, carefully removing a young weed so as not to disturb the colony.
Mosses reproduce through spores and leaf fragmentation. Spore season is one of the most magical times in a moss garden. Getting low to see a stand of moss spores is a rewarding moment, engaging even the most studied moss experts.
In planning a design, know that moss gardens tolerate occasional foot traffic; moss is not as delicate as they look. However, in areas of frequent traffic, stepping stones are recommended.
Adding moss to your garden, being green as it was in the beginning, will garner you a new perspective, making what is old, new again.
The Ins and Outs of Moss
At Moss And Stone Gardens, we are often asked about the type of containers best used for growing moss. As you consider the container or substrate selection for your moss dish, please keep the following in mind.
From Moss And Stone Gardens
In – plastics, ceramics, seasoned concrete, stone, wood, soil, fabric or glass.
Out – galvanized or zinc plated metals, copper, pressure treated lumber, chemically unstable materials.
The low down:
Even though mosses don’t have a root system to draw nutrients or liquids from substrates they are growing on, they are still capable of conduction. This means that direct contact with moisture, which is also in contact with a substrate or material, can transmit dissolved particles to the moss. One of the things mosses are sensitive to is heavy metals and some chemicals.
I have observed a healthy and spreading carpet of moss, stop in its tracks, as it approaches the drip line of a deck constructed with pressure treated wood. When water comes into contact with the pressure treated wood, some of the chromated copper arsenic will leach into the water and be dispersed. This will have negative effects on any moss that is in contact with this contaminated water.
The same effect can be observed with other materials like zinc, which is attached in strips on roofs to retard moss growth. Having said that, I have also observed moss grow on top of, or over pressure treated wood. Admittedly it was always decades old pressure treated wood and not new. However, there is a difference, in terms of the moss being “upstream” from the contamination source, growing on top of pressure treated wood, is a little different than growing beneath it.
To investigate further, mosses living on top of soil that is in a pressure treated planter will fair better than ones planted at the foot of the same container. They are buffered by the soil and basically, upstream from the water that contacts the pressure treated wood.
It is also possible to have soil in a zinc coated container with mosses growing on the soil, but there will certainly be a zone of peril where soil stops and zinc begins.
In a container using an inappropriate material for mosses, good draining soil and drainage holes would be essential to keep the mosses downstream of contaminants.
Damage to mosses from zinc or pressure treated wood may not be visible for weeks or more depending on the species, water volume, and contamination levels, the metabolism rates of mosses are very slow and so visual evidence of damage takes time.
In summary, it’s best to stay on the safe side and use what’s in for moss — plastics, ceramics, seasoned concrete, stone, wood, soil, fabric, or glass and avoid what’s out for moss – galvanized or zinc plated metals, copper, pressure treated lumber, chemically unstable materials.