Back to previous page


Post Most

Think moss to halt mowing

By Joel M. Lerner,

With the fall weather already setting in, you might be wondering how to plan ahead for the spring.

Have you considered a moss garden? They are beautiful and unique and, once established, provide ground cover that never needs mowing.

In dryness, moss will turn into a brown mat, but when it receives moisture and warmth, this minute soft plant renews itself into a green ground cover overnight and will grow in sun or shade.

Moss was the first plant to grow on the earth’s mineral crust. It has been dated through fossil records to exist at least 400 million years ago.

These minute plants have a velvety texture and grow into thick coverings by catching dust and utilizing their own decaying debris for a growth medium. During the prehistoric age, these carpets were the basis for all topsoil. As moss grew thicker, the bottoms of these masses formed rich compost, and in this environment ferns had their beginnings.

Creating a moss garden isn’t an exact science. One method requires making a slurry of moss, eggs and buttermilk, then pouring it over the soil, and then picking up pieces and pressing them in place on a moist site in the garden.

A good time to plant moss in this region is early spring, with the onset of milder temperatures and rainfall. But fall is the time to evaluate your property and consider if moss would work well on the moist areas of your landscape.

Here is one recipe for a slurry method of moss propagation, from George Schenk, author of “Moss Gardening: Including Lichens, Liverworts, and Other Miniatures.”

Place a pound of very fine particulate, well-aged leaf mold or manure into a jar. Fill it two-thirds full with water. Shake well. Allow it to settle and pour off the water and floating debris, retaining the mud remaining in the bottom. In a blender, mix several pancake-size, moistened pieces of moss with a cup of mud from the jar. It should be about the same consistency as pancake batter. Tip: Use screened soil to cause the least amount of damage to the blades and motor of your blender. This will become your medium for painting onto soil or unglazed bricks.

Moss slurry can be painted onto surfaces and used as a filler when you transplant pieces of moss to soil, bricks, clay pots, rocks or stone amenities. Here are some techniques:

• Mix water and moss for application to the soil.

• Make a potter’s clay mix using three parts potter’s clay, one part fish emulsion fertilizer and a liberal amount of moss fragments (good for clay pots and rock surfaces).

• Mix buttermilk and/or egg for added sticking power on clay pots, rocks or other surfaces.

If moss is already doing well on your property, you are fortunate and will have to do little other than transplant and supplement it by purchasing some to make it the dominant ground cover. Experiment with different varieties until you find your favorites.

Acidify with aluminum sulfate to create conditions where the moss will grow well. Do not use more than nine pounds per 100 square feet in a single application of iron or aluminum sulfate or you are taking the risk of creating aluminum or iron toxicity.

Follow directions listed on the package of aluminum or iron sulfate. Use caution because iron sulfate can stain concrete, brick and flagstone. Another method of acidifying soil to make it more hospitable for moss is elemental sulfur, which also is an acidifying agent.

When moss appears to be happier than the lawn, encourage it to create a dramatic design effect. Instead of raking it up and discarding it, cut pieces and plant them where they might look good in other areas of your property. Sprinkle with water to help it establish. As with any ground cover, one of the greatest challenges for establishing moss are weeds. In the case of moss, this is a meticulous process. Count on plucking seedlings on a regular basis to maintain a rich carpet-like appearance. In particular, keep it clear of leaf debris.

The perfect environment for moss can be sun or shade in acidic or alkaline soil. For many mosses in this region, shade and acidic conditions are common, and moisture is key to success. Moss doesn’t have a root system; it has a rhizoid, which is a tiny root hair on the underside of the moss that anchors the plant. It doesn’t have a hollow tube or stalk. Moisture climbs the stem by osmosis from one cell to another. In addition to spores, moss spreads by growing new stems and colonizing patches of land, rocks, bricks and other materials. Centuries-old colonies can cover an entire property.

Joel M. Lerner is president of Environmental Design in Capitol View Park, Md.

© The Washington Post Company