Moss, the ‘Other Green Groundcover,’ Grows During Cold Weather
It may seem odd to write about moss in a season of garden endings and holiday beginnings. But consider this: Moss is the one groundcover we can continue to cultivate when the rest of the landscape is dormant. As long as the growing surface is free of leaves, snow, and ice, we can develop moss beds throughout the fall and winter. Moss has its own sort of antifreeze and it lacks roots in the conventional sense.
“We may be the only landscapers in the country who could care less when the temperature goes below freezing,” says Annie Martin, a North Carolina author who runs a “mossery” and calls herself “Mossin Annie.” Martin’s new book, The Magical World of Moss Gardening (Timber Press, 2015) provides everything you need to know about moss as a landscape plant.
How hard is it to grow moss that is pleasing to see?
“A moss lawn or garden is not totally carefree, but it is not nearly as much work as a conventional lawn,” says Martin.
Moss requires no mowing and takes only a tiny fraction of the water demanded by grass lawns. It requires no fertilizers or amendments. Moss has very few diseases or pests compared to turf-grass.
“It is so much better for our environment than a grass lawn,” she says.
Its major drawback, if it has one, is its slow-growing nature. Martin shows how to get quicker results in her book.
“Moss thrives under trees, and it grows well on tree roots,” she says. “It will even grow under walnuts, oaks, and maples.”
Anyone who has dealt with those trees knows the difficulties.
Contrary to what many believe, moss can tolerate light foot traffic.
“Footsteps don’t hurt the plant,” says Martin.
In fact, she recommends walking or sitting on newly installed moss daily to help the moss rhizoids attach to the growing surface. Rhizoids are anchors for these tiny plants, but they are not true roots.
Martin offers these pointers: • Site selection is important. Observe areas where moss is already growing and note the conditions. These—and areas similar to them—are likely to produce good results. While moss is often associated with deep shade, “some species are perfectly happy in sun,” says Martin. For sunnier sites, harvest or purchase moss species that grow in sunny sites. Martin’s book describes more than 25 moss species that are well adapted to a broad range of landscape uses. • Soil preparation is minimal. There is no need to apply compost, lime, or other soil amendments. In fact, moss will grow on bare, compacted soil. Some moss species grow on cement, asphalt, rock, and other solid surfaces.
“It even grows on old shoes,” says Martin. • Eliminate weeds or grass in the area. At this time of year, hand-pulling is probably best. Keep the area free of leaves with a light broom or with a leaf blower. (Dense, matted leaves are bad for moss.) Never use a rake over mossy areas. • As for planting methods, forget about moss milkshakes.
“They are more urban legend than reality,” says Martin.
For most home growers, she advises the “cookie sheet” method: Lift handfuls of moss from other parts of your yard or from places where you have permission to take samples. (Don’t disturb moss in public parks and forests.)
Place moss “cookies” on the growing surface, water it, and “walk it in.” She advises walking on it frequently for the first month. Make sure that it is moist, but not soaking wet. Moss is capable of holding ample water.
The natural moisture of late fall and winter make it possible to install and grow moss well after temperatures have driven everything else into dormancy.
Annie Martin’s main point is this, “Quit fighting it and enjoy what moss has to offer.”
Learn more about her mossery at www.mountainmoss.com.
Kathy Connolly is a landscape designer, garden writer and speaker from Old Saybrook. Website: www.SpeakingofLandscapes.com; email: Kathy@SpeakingofLandscapes.com.