How to grow moss?

How To: Grow Moss

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There are two main types of mosses—acrocarpous and pleurocarpous. The former grows vertically and resembles strands of hair, while the latter is characterized by a close-cropped horizontal growth habit. Gardeners have been cultivating both types for centuries, particularly in Japan, for a host of reasons: Not only does moss excel as a ground cover, but it also lends a sense of maturity to the landscape, helping a planted environment look less manicured and more natural.

How to Grow Moss on Soil
Planning to grow moss on a bed of soil? I recommend transplanting from elsewhere in your garden or a neighbor’s property. The goal is to relocate a patch of moss that’s been growing in circumstances similar to those in the spot where it will be planted. Transplanting requires no special removal techniques. Once you’ve identified the moss you want to transplant, simply use an old knife or garden spade to free up the amount of moss you’d like to—or have permission to—take.

Back on your home turf, prepare the ground with a rake. Next, dampen the soil and lay the moss on top. Once the moss is in place, press down on it firmly, pinning it down with enough rocks to ensure that the moss maintains a high level of contact with the surface of the soil. Over the next few weeks, be sure to keep the moss consistently moist. This is critical. You’ll know the moss has successfully established itself only when you can give it a light tug without shifting the material.

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How to Grow Moss on Rocks, Bricks, or Pots
To grow moss on objects in your garden, such as dry stones on a retaining wall or a collection of clay pots, you need to take a different, slightly trickier approach. First, combine plain yogurt or buttermilk (two cups) and chopped moss (one and a half cups) in a bucket. Mix until the concoction becomes easily spreadable; add water if it’s too thick, additional moss if it’s too thin. Now spread the mixture wherever you would like the moss to grow. Over the next few weeks, make sure to keep the burgeoning moss moist. Within six weeks, so long as it’s been properly cared for, the moss should begin to grow rather vigorously.

How to Care for Moss
Moss likes moisture and acidic (pH 5.0 to 6.0) soil. It also likes shade. There’s no getting around it: Because moss draws nutrients via filaments, not through a root system, it dries out very quickly in the sunshine. Bear in mind that weeds can steal the moisture that moss needs, so in order to grow moss successfully, you must be a vigilant and ruthless weed killer. Finally, come fall, remember that moss cannot survive under a blanket of dead leaves. Rake—and rake often!

Looking to plant a gorgeous moss garden outside or indoors? Wondering how long it’s going to take those seeds to break through?

Moss has multiple uses. You can use it as a low maintenance alternative to grass, as a decorative touch to your garden, or as a decorative wall in your office lobby. However, although many people are excited about the prospect of using moss, they often wonder how long it will take to grow. This is a frequently asked question, so I have researched the topic and found the answer.

When moss is grown properly, you will see it begin to thrive and grow on its own within six weeks. Some moss varieties can take longer to fully flourish – even up to two years. However, you will see a healthy moss begin to prosper within this six week period.

The main caveat of having moss successfully grow within six weeks is proper planting and maintenance.

How to Grow Moss

In order for your moss to grow within six weeks, it has to be grown correctly. Moss needs a few prerequisites in which to thrive. Moss grows best in acidic soil in areas where there is no direct sunlight for long stretches of time.

The reason that moss can not grow in hot, direct sunlight is that instead of having roots, moss attaches to surfaces through filaments that supply nutrients. Because of this lack of roots, moss can fry out faster than other plants.

Moss is the true lone wolf of the plant world. Because moss has these small filaments, it is unable to compete with the roots of nearby plants or weeds. So the best place to plant moss is in a clean, weed-free area that is free of debris.

When Should You Plant Moss?

While moss can be grown and transplanted all year round, due to its pension for shade and moisture, the ideal periods to plant are during spring between March through mid-June and the autumn months of September through November. For the best results, avoid the hot summer months as they supply the least moisture.

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Where Can You Plant Moss?

There are two primary places that are the best for growing moss: on soil and on solid masses like rocks and bricks.

How long would it take to Grow Moss On Soil?

Since moss does not require extensive maintenance, many people opt to plant moss in their yard instead of grass to conserve their water bill. Moss is also good for the environment and can add an extra design element to your house and lawn.

When growing moss on soil, the best method is to take existing moss from somewhere else (your garden, a neighboring property, a nursery, or online) and transplant it into your yard.

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For the best results, you want to find a patch of existing moss that has been living and growing in an environment similar to the new place where you will be planting it. For proper transplanting of moss, you will need a rake, a knife or garden spade, and a few rocks.

When you have found the moss that you want to transplant, use your spade to loosen and free up the amount of moss you will want from the ground. Bring it to the destination. Before laying it down, use a rake to prepare the new soil and make a nice flat surface area. All you do next is dampen the ground and lay the new moss down upon it.

With the moss precisely where you want it, press down firmly and put the rocks on top, so the moss lays with a high level of solid contact with the soil below it. You want the filaments of the moss to be absorbed in the soil to a high degree so it can correctly attach and thrive.

During the next six weeks, keep the moss moist. When you cannot remove the moss with a light tug, you will know that it is secured and growing properly.

How long would it take to Grow Moss on Rocks and Bricks?

In the wild, moss grows on solid objects like rocks and trees because moss is partial to damp and sheltered areas. Rocks are also acidic in texture which is an attractant for many forms of moss.

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Since this is usually a natural process, it will take a little more effort to grow your own moss on the rocks and bricks in your yard. To complete the job, you will need some luck along with some unique tools to stick the new moss to the rocks in hopes of having it thrive in its new environment. For this method, you will basically be making your own moss.

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The trick is to take a bucket and add two cups of plain yogurt or buttermilk and one and a half cups of chopped up moss which can either be fresh (from your garden) or dried. Take a spoon and mix up the concoction until it is creamy and spreadable. If you find it is too thick, add some water. If too thin, then add more moss.

Let the mix settle for a day or two and then use a brush or your hands to spread the mixture on the rocks. Moisture will be needed until the moss has officially established itself. Add a light mist of water, just enough to not wash away the moss.

Do not be alarmed if it looks like mold is growing on the rocks. If you are successful, you will see the moss start to thrive in six weeks.

How long would Different Types of Moss take to grow?

There are several different types of moss, each of which needs particular environments in order to thrive. These many types of moss can be broken down into two parts: pleurocarps and acrocarps.

Pleurocarpous mosses are known for their growth habits which have them spreading out into a carpet rather than growing upward. Over time, they grow in a creeping fashion, and because of their flat surface area, this moss is easier to maintain.

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Acrocarpous moss grows upright and will branch out extensively and grow slower than pleurocarps. When broken up, acrocarps also do not regenerate their fragments as quickly as other moss.

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When it comes to moisture, both species react differently. Pleurocarps tolerate constant moisture and will even continue to grow when submerged which allows them to continue growing. Acrocarps, on the other hand, must dry out periodically to prevent rotting, which is why they grow more slowly.

Because pleurocarp mosses constantly utilize moisture and continue branching out indefinitely, they can double their size in six months.

Acrocarpous moss has a slower growth period due to the drying out and the fact that it grows upwards before branching out. In order for it to stretch out enough to become a carpet of moss, the process of growth could last as long as two years.

Rock Cap Moss

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Dicranum or rock cap moss is a dense, dark green plant that grows well on rocks and bricks. In order for this moss to survive, a deeply shaded growing environment is necessary as direct sunlight can “burn” the moss and turn it an unattractive brownish yellow.

To ensure that it grows properly within six weeks, plant it during the early spring or the late fall before leaves fall off of the trees and litter the ground as this moss needs direct contact with the soil to thrive.

Hair Cap Moss

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Also known as Polytrichum, hair cap moss is a bit more robust than the other options with a more leafy appearance that is often used in yards in place of grass.

In this case, the filaments more resemble roots, so they have an easier way of adapting to the new soil. It can be grown in slightly sunnier environments, but partial shade is best.

Cushion Moss

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Going by the scientific name Leucobryum, cushion moss is usually lighter green in color with a mix of silvery-white, which is why it is sometimes known as white moss.

The ideal planting environment for cushion moss is within a sandy soil with plenty of shade. However, if it gets partial sunlight during the day, it will be fine. You will know that this moss is thriving when you see it growing in a round “cushion” shape.

Sheet Moss

Sheet moss, or Hypnum, is one of the most popular mosses used in yards due to its high transplant success rate, and many homeowners also use it instead of grass. This kind of moss is most successful in shady yards as it will not fare well with frequent periods of hot direct sunlight.

Many people also use this moss in between stepping stones or any other area with light to medium foot traffic. Although it will thrive by six weeks, this moss does not grow tall, which also makes it ideal for moss walls.

Scotch Moss

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Although it is technically a perennial, scotch moss is popular in yards and around stepping stones. It can tolerate warmer weather, but shade and ample water will help it grow properly.

This is another moss that grows outward in a sheet-like form.

Small patches of this moss will reach proper health and their true color in six weeks and it can grow several inches during the year. However, when it grows outward, it takes more time, creating a healthy mat in two to three years.

Reindeer Moss

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Reindeer moss is technically a lichen, but it resembles a moss due to its low growth. This “moss” is typically found in Arctic lands and grows much slower than the other real mosses. Even under ideal circumstances of high humidity and cool temperatures, it only grows at around 3 to 5 mm per year.

Moss Grows Quickly and Looks Great

Due to the low maintenance nature of the various types of moss, many homeowners find it to be an easy endeavor to transplant moss to their yard or as a decorative feature. The process is simple, and within six weeks, you’ll have your own moss!

Related Wonders for You to Explore

Long, long ago (about 540 million years ago, to be exact), a special group of plants with a sense of adventure began making the journey from water to land. The plant? Moss!

There are thousands of known species of mosses. A hardy plant, it has been found in habitats ranging from the humid tropics to the polar regions, fallen logs to lakes, rivers, and streams. In fact, moss has been found just about everywhere, except in salt water.

Moss is a relatively uncomplicated plant, lacking the leaves, stems, roots, and buds we often associate with “vascular plants” such as ferns, pine trees, and flowers. As a non-vascular plant, the body of moss has no roots; rather, it uses tiny threads to anchor itself to the stones, trees, or ground where it grows.

If you asked moss to describe its dream home, it would likely reply: cool, moist, and dark. Most species prefer shady ground, rock ledges, or tree trunks. Though moss prefers moist environments, it has adapted to survive periods of dry weather.

If you come across a patch of moss that has turned brown or black, it may appear dead, but add a little water and you might be surprised. Many times the plant will turn green and begin thriving again once moisture is reintroduced!

Conventional wisdom has long proclaimed that moss clumps grow on the north side of a tree, but this is only partially true. In the northern hemisphere, the Sun shines from the south, which means the north side of a tree trunk is typically the shadiest.

This, of course, makes moss happy, but don’t pack your compass away just yet, or you may find yourself WONDERing which way to turn. If conditions are favorable, moss will grow just about anywhere. In a shady forest, it can thrive on all sides of the tree — north, south, east, or west.

Though they may not make reliable compasses, mosses are very helpful plants. The first to establish themselves on rocky land, they break down rock and soil, creating a more hospitable environment for vascular plants to move into the neighborhood. Their ability to absorb moisture also allows them to act as sponges, soaking up rainfall and helping prevent erosion of the landscapes where they live.

People have used mosses for a variety of purposes. During World War II, Sphagnum, a certain variety of moss, was used to dress soldiers’ wounds. In addition to absorbency, it was also found to have mild antibiotic properties. In Mexico, moss is used as a Christmas decoration, and many Japanese gardeners cultivate mosses to add a sense of age and calmness to their gardens.

Garden Myths – Learn the truth about gardening

I love moss on rocks and trees, and even growing on the ground, provided it is in the right spot – as determined by my aesthetic sensibilities. It is not nearly as welcome in the lawn although I don’t really mind having it there. Moss in the lawn is considered by many as a big problem and this has led to a number of myths about moss.

Some people try to grow moss, but that is not as easy as it sounds. Moss is kind of strange that way; some people are constantly trying to kill it, while others are trying to grow it.

My goal for this post is to understand moss better by exploring the many moss myths.

Moss Myths Every Gardener Should Know

A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss

This is a very old proverb that was tested by the MythBusters TV show. Stones were covered with a buttermilk-moss solution. Half were tumbled continuously for six months, the equivalent of rolling 100 miles, and the other half were left stationary. It was the longest test in the shows history.

Sure enough, the rolling stones gathered no moss while the stationary ones started growing moss. This proverb is not a myth, but it is such a cool story I had to include it.

Use Buttermilk to Propagate Moss

Moss adds a nice touch to rocks especially near a waterfall. It ages a stone wall or arbor, and makes the garden look more mature. Some people even use moss to replace their lawn.

How do you propagate moss? A simple and common method is to take some live moss, put it in a blender with some buttermilk or yogurt, and blend it up into a slurry. Then use a paint brush to cover any surface where you want moss to grow. Keep it misted until the moss is well established.

You can easily find people on the internet who say this method works, but keep in mind some people live in very humid environments and moss will also grow without the blender and buttermilk. In fact it grows so well it covers everything, even where you don’t want it.

This method sounds great on Pinterest, one of the worst online sources of information, but it does not really work, except in high humidity areas.

The best way to grow moss is to divide an existing clump of moss, and place pieces where you want the moss to grow. If you provide enough moisture, and a stable surface, moss will take hold.

Moss Kills a Lawn

This is a common moss myth. Moss tends to grow where other plants don’t grow. It is a slow grower and has a very hard time out competing other plants. As a result of this, moss in a lawn or garden usually means that the other plant is not growing very well. Fix that problem to make the other plant grow better and the moss will slowly disappear.

Moss Needs to be Kept Wet

Most types of moss grow best in a wet or humid environment. Remember they have no roots to absorb water and need to get it through the green leafy part of the moss.

However, moss is also one of the most drought tolerant plants there is. It has to be, in order to grow on rocks in drier locations. Moss on rocks around here is bone dry most of the summer, but when fall rains arrive, they green up and grow. They are also green during the winter as they absorb melting snow. The moss around my waterfall stays green all summer because it is constantly sprayed with a fine mist of water.

One type of moss, Anoectangium compactum, can survive 19 years without water.

Moss Only Grows on the North Side of Trees

Knowing this fact can keep you alive in the woods, or will it?

Moss myth – moss only grows on the north side of a tree

Moss grows where it gets the essentials of life and it has no internal compass. The north side of trees tend to get less light and therefore will hold moisture longer. The excess moisture makes moss grow better. But in areas with enough moisture, moss grows all around the tree.

Moss growing on a tree may keep the bark wetter, which could lead to problems, but for the most part the moss does not harm trees. It simply lives on the surface to the bark.

There is of course another issue here. In the southern hemisphere, moss tends to grow on the south side of trees – the shady side.

Dish Soap Kills Moss in Lawns

Mix 2 ounces of Dawn Ultra dish soap into 1 gallon of water and spray your lawn. The moss is reported to go brown and die.

Here is a common problem with many of these recommendations – how big of an area does this gallon cover? Without an area specified, it is a useless recommendation.

Penn State did some testing using Dawn Ultra and reports that, “during summer and fall, using different rates, timings, and water dilution rates yielded poor moss control. Inconsistent results and burning of turf may be a concern when using Dawn Ultra. This product is not labeled for moss control in turf and probably never will be.”

Translation – it does not work very well. You can expect other dish soaps to be just as ineffective.

Baking Soda Kills Moss in Lawns

This is a common recommendation, and it does work, to some extent.

Testing by Penn State found that it is suitable for spot spraying, but that it will also burn your lawn. If you are going to use it, try a solution of 2 to 3 tablespoons baking soda/quart of water and apply it on warm, sunny days.

No coverage area was specified, but it is probably not needed since this is only used as a spot spray.

Moss Doesn’t Absorb Nutrients from Soil

Mosses do not have roots and for this reason it has long been thought that they do not absorb nutrients from the soil. Their source of nutrients is the water that runs over the green parts of the plant, essentially a foliar feed.

This is a long held moss myth, but it has now been shown that mosses can absorb nitrogen directly from the soil.

Walking on Moss Will Kill It

Moss does not have a vascular structure and is therefore fairly flexible and springy. A limited amount of walking on it will not break its stems and does little harm. Too much foot traffic can do harm, but will not likely kill it unless it is very extreme.

Moss is Parasitic

Moss does not have roots or any other type of structure that can penetrate another organism, so it is not parasitic.

Moss Will Only Grow in Acidic Environments

Moss growing on rock

It is common advice to add lime to a lawn that has a moss problem. The thinking here is that moss needs an acidic environment and lime will make it more alkaline, resulting in death of the moss.

There are more than 12,000 species of moss and many like to grow in acidic conditions. But many will grow just fine in alkaline environments. They will even grow directly on alkaline limestone rocks.

Moss Indicates a Shade Problem

Tell someone you have a moss problem in your lawn they will automatically assume you have heavy shade. It is quite possible that this is part of the problem, but some mosses will grow in full sun.

Moss Spores Aggravate Allergies

Moss spores are not generally allergenic.

Moss is Not Always Moss

There are some garden plants that look like moss and some that even have ‘moss’ in their name. The following are not true mosses

  1. Spanish Moss (is an epiphyte)
  2. Caribou Moss (is a lichen)
  3. Iris Moss (is a vascular plant)
  4. Scotch Moss (is a vascular plant)

Caribou moss, National Park Service photo

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Moss Propagation: Learn About Transplanting And Propagating Moss

If you’re frustrated at trying to grow grass in the shady moist parts of your yard, why not stop fighting nature and turn these areas into moss gardens? Mosses thrive in areas where other plants struggle, and will cover the ground with a soft and gentle layer of color. Moss doesn’t actually have a root system or seeds like most garden plants do, so propagating moss is a matter of art more than one of science. Let’s learn more about moss propagation.

Transplanting and Propagating Moss

Learning how to propagate moss is actually quite easy. Prepare the area for a moss bed by removing everything that’s growing there now. Dig up grass, weeds and any plants that may be struggling to grow in the meager light. Rake the soil to remove any stray roots, and then water the ground until it is muddy.

You can spread moss to parts in

your yard using two different methods: transplanting moss and moss spreading. One or the other method may work best for your area, or a combination of both.

Transplanting moss – To transplant moss, pick bunches or sheets of moss growing in your yard or in a similar environment. If you don’t have any native moss, look near ditches, in parks under trees and around fallen logs or in shady areas behind schools and other buildings. Press chunks of the moss into the soil and push a stick through each piece to hold it in place. Keep the area moist and the moss will begin to establish itself and spread within a few weeks.

Spreading moss – If you have a rock garden or other place where transplanting won’t work, try spreading moss slurry on the proposed garden spot. Put a handful of moss in a blender along with a cup of buttermilk and a cup of water. Blend the ingredients into a slurry. Pour or paint this slurry over the rocks or in between chunks of transplanted moss to fill in the empty spaces. The spores in the slurry will form moss as long as you keep the area moist to allow it to grow.

Growing Moss Plants as Outdoor Art

Turn moss into a piece of outdoor art by using the moss and buttermilk slurry. Draw the outline of a shape, perhaps your initials or a favorite saying, on a wall with a piece of chalk. Brick, stone and wood walls work the best. Paint the slurry heavily within this outline. Mist the area daily with clear water from a spray bottle. Within a month, you’ll have a decorative design growing on your wall in soft green moss.

If you think succulents are the only hot plant right now, think again. There’s a growing trend in the “growing” world, and that’s moss. Once regarded as a nuisance to kill in the garden, the beauty of moss is now being celebrated. Moss gardens have been used in the stunning traditional Japanese gardens for centuries, but are just now gaining popularity as a water saving plant that offers sustainability, erosion control and low maintenance. Want to know how to grow moss? Read on!

Ok, so you read that part about it being a water saving plant, and you are calling my bluff, right? Yes, moss requires water to spread and flourish. However, the amount of water that moss requires is a fraction of the nearly 10,000 gallons of water a season (outside rainwater) an average suburban lawn requires. According to Christine Cook, who lectures at the New York Botanical Garden, less than one percent. A tiny fraction. So if you have shade and an interest in never having to mow a lawn or replace dead annuals or ground cover again, than consider learning how to grow moss gardens!

Growing Moss

When doing our research on how to grow moss, it became immediately apparent that the leading expert is David Spain, owner of ‘Moss and Stone Gardens‘. While his site is full of amazing information, photos and inspiration, we’re going to try to break it down here for you in a simple to follow primer. Whether you want to grow a moss lawn, add moss between pavers, or use it as a ground cover/ accent plant in the garden, here are some basics on how to grow moss!

Photo below by ‘HGTV‘.

Types of Moss

There are two basic types of moss, prostrate and upright. The prostrate version is faster growing, tolerates more moisture and is better at erosion control. It is also more tolerant to foot traffic. The upright variety will also tolerate lots of moisture, but prefer to dry out occasionally or they will rot. They are slower growing and slightly harder to transplant than prostrate varieties as well. All mosses are evergreen and can be grown in most zones. Most thrive in partial to deep shade.

Non-Moss, Mosses

Many of the plants that we know well as “mosses” such as ‘Irish Moss’ and ‘Scotch Moss’ are not really mosses at all. Though they require some similar requirements and look somewhat the same, they are actually evergreen perennials hardy down to zone 4. The ‘Scotch Moss’ below flowers in the spring. These plants require brighter light than moss, and spread a bit more quickly.

Photo by ‘Kristen Rudger Landscape’ via ‘Houzz‘.

How to Prepare for a Moss Garden

To prepare a garden or lawn area for a moss garden, the best way to get the moss rhizomes to colonize is to provide a smooth surface. This basically means removing all existing plants and debris. According to David, you can use a pre-emergrent herbicide such as “Preen” safely where you plan to transplant the moss. Moss will not attach if it does not have good contact with the soil, so take your time with this step. If you are replacing a lawn with moss, its best to remove all the existing lawn first. If you are planting a garden bed with moss as the ground cover, plant all the other companion plants first. Then you can prepare the rest of the area to the smooth surface the moss requires. As your moss gets established, make sure you maintain the area by hand pulling any weeds and removing any fallen leaves.

How to Transplant Moss

Moss can be transplanted from any area near your home that has matching conditions, or you can purchase it by the square foot from either ‘Moss and Stone Gardens’, or other specialty nurseries. You can gather moss by scraping, and then fragment and divide it to spread it over a larger area. A square foot of purchased moss can be divided to cover up to 20 square feet. The rhizomes must have contact with the ground in order to take hold, so using netting or pins can be helpful in getting a colony established.

“Mood Moss“.

How to Water Moss

As we mentioned, moss gardens are actually quite drought tolerant once established. Here is the watering schedule David suggests…

For the prostrate varieties, water frequently, daily even. Remember, it doesn’t take much water to soak the moss.

For the upright varieties, try this schedule.

  • Months 1 and 2–-water daily for up to two months to promote growth.
  • 3rd Month–-water every three days for one month.
  • Month 4–-water once a week for one month.
  • 5th Month–-water twice a month then until the area is fully covered in moss.
  • After that, water only when rain has been absent for three weeks or more.

Moss garden, photos by ‘Moss and Stone Gardens‘.

Mosses are a slow growing plant, but if you take the time to prepare and transplant properly, you could have a magical look to your yard with little further upkeep. If you have any further questions, and we mean any, please refer to David’s information page on how to grow moss, which is a compilation of lots of the guidance on their blog. Also, if you decide waiting on an outdoor moss garden is beyond your patience level, then start small and try an indoor ‘Moss Rock‘. You might just be hooked! Ordering one for my office desk, BRB…

We came across this public domain photo and just had to include it!

How can you not want to learn how to grow moss gardens? Right? You may want to pop on over to our post on How to Grow Lavender or Stepables: Perfect Plants for Paths and Walkways as well!

Image Credits: Houzz, HGTV, Moss and Stone Gardens, Moss and Stone Gardens

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  1. Cut the felt to fit the container

    Using a sharp knife and a fabric cutting mat cut the felt using the bottom of your container to make an appropriately sized piece of felt.

  2. Put your drainage stones in container

    These stones are to keep the felt from sitting permanently in the wet. With this bit of drainage in place you can keep your felt wet without being too wet.

  3. Add felt and moisten

    Pop your felt on top of the stones (I use tweezers for this) and water with dechlorinated water (you don’t want to risk any contaminants on these young moss hopefuls!)

  4. Cut up your moss

    Using scissors cut the moss you have collected locally (a very small amount is fine) into tiny amounts.

  5. Moisten the cut moss thoroughly

    The one thing moss needs to propagate is water, water, water. Use dechlorinated or rainwater where possible.

  6. Add to felt

    Pop your moss on to the already damp felt and spread evenly across.. taking care to press in (with tweezers or bottom end of chopsticks) to the felt gently.

  7. Keep moist

    There is no need to cover these containers (unless you are going away for a few days) – simply keep them moist with a light spraying from time to time.

Do you want a soft, wildlife-friendly, lawn that uses minimal water, requires no pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers, and will never need to be mowed? Grow a moss lawn!

Cathy Burk is a Habitat Network user who majored in biology before raising four daughters. Cathy now enjoys hand-quilting, making whimsical creations for moss gardens, and doing yard work with her husband. She has been experimenting with moss lawns for the past several years in an effort to attract more lightning bugs, whose numbers are declining. Explore her map and see where she has created extensive moss lawns and gardens, visit Where the Fairies Dance with Fireflies in the Moonbeams.Photo © Cathy Burk

The secret to a successful moss lawn is to make sure you have the correct species of moss growing for the specific conditions in your yard. The easiest way to know which moss will grow in your yard is to look around and see what is there already.

Photo © Cathy Burk

Look closely, you might be surprised by the diversity of moss growing just under the grass. Moss doesn’t always need a damp and shady environment; in fact, different mosses will grow in sun, shade, and every light condition in between.

Green Roof

Photo © Cathy Burk

The variety of colors and textures of mosses allows you to use them in creative and interesting ways. If you keep in mind the ideal environmental conditions of each moss, they can be used to enhance fairy gardens, or to paint pictures on a roof, or small areas in your yard. Moss is an excellent choice to consider when installing a green roof

Photo © Cathy Burk

There are several ways you can create a moss lawn. Whether you choose to do it yourself, or pay to have one installed, I’ll share with you how I made mine. If you have moss present under your lawn, you can begin by removing any grass where you see moss growing. When I started mine, I’d sit on the ground and casually hand pull any grass growing in the mossy areas and also remove the grass at the edges of the moss to allow the moss to spread out further.

Photo © Cathy Burk

Even though this moss was hidden under the grass growing in the sun, and therefore shaded well, I wasn’t sure it would survive under the intensity of the sun until after I removed the grass. When I did see it thrive, I continued to remove more grass.

Photo © Cathy Burk

When my husband questioned why I was sitting on the ground and pulling out the grass, I looked at him, smiled, and said I was decreasing the amount of yard work he’d have to do. When I pulled out some grass I’d tell him, “You won’t need to mow that anymore!”

Photo © Cathy Burk

I won’t say it was easy to convince my husband that it would work, yet I finally did, and now he gets excited when he sees the amount of sporophytes that seem to suddenly pop up from the moss. Spores means the moss will become thicker and thicker means less weeding, no mowing, much less pollution, and more time to enjoy the numerous song birds and other fauna that are appearing in the healthier habitat we are creating.

Word of Caution: Dogs and Children

Photo © Cathy Burk

If you have dogs or children, I recommend leaving a portion of your yard free of moss. Dog nails will easily tear through the moss, making maintenance more challenging. Similar to dogs, children running on the moss, will possibly result in tears and damage that make upkeep more time consuming. For my grandchildren, I’m setting up a moss area that will have mushroom stools made out of tree trunks and calm play things. Our dog enjoys a large patch of lawn in our backyard. Everywhere else, moss is fair game

Photo © Cathy Burk

With permission, you can collect moss from a neighbor who wants to get rid of theirs. It is usually illegal to collect moss from parks, nature preserves, and any public areas without a permit. Fortunately for us, our neighbors, who had half of their backyard covered with moss, wanted to seed grass. No matter how much I tried to convince them about the advantages of a moss lawn, they still wanted a traditional lawn, so they allowed us to collect as much moss as we could before they started seeding grass.

Photo © Cathy Burk

We carefully removed the moss while noting the locations, light intensity, and substrate where it was found. This was so that we could try to duplicate the same conditions when we transplanted the moss to our own yard. We only collected moss from the ground, as that is where we were looking to expand our moss garden. We avoided mosses that grow on rocks, trees, etc.. Luckily our neighbors had several different species of mosses, mostly sun moss, which our yard needed.

Photo © Cathy Burk

We sorted through the moss, removing debris, and tore dry moss in half to promote growth.

Pro-Tip: Tear the moss only when it’s dry, which will stimulate it to grow. When moss dries it stores up a small amount of protein that it uses to repair itself when it is moistened again. Since the moss senses damage, naturally it wants to repair itself and in doing so it heals itself by growing! Photo © Cathy Burk

To transplant moss, its best to clear the soil by scraping the area free of debris, then moisten the soil and add your moss on the area you plan to convert. Press down on the newly transplanted moss with a flat shoe to help with attachment. Be careful not to spread the moss too far apart, which can encourage weeds.

Photo © Cathy Burk

Once the moss is in place, walk slowly on the area daily, allowing your weight to adhere the moss in place. Walking on moss actually helps it, so I encourage all visitors to feel free to walk on the moss. After light rainfalls, walk on the moss as much as possible until it’s securely attached. The time it takes for moss to attach depends on many variables. To play it safe, attend to a new section of moss for five months or until you see sporophytes rising from the moss!

Photo © Cathy Burk

Applying a light mist daily helps moss, especially in hot weather. Once large areas of moss are in place, consider how you will keep the moss moist while it is establishing, especially in arid climates or during peak summer months. We installed a semi-permanent irrigation system on a timer that would mist the moss periodically.

Photo © Benjamin Balázs

Once the moss establishes itself and starts to reproduce, the rain and morning dew will provide all of the necessary moisture. Only in extreme periods of dry weather will it need any help in the form of an occasional light misting. Never add so much water that the soil gets wet or saturated.

Shade Moss Tip

Photo © Cathy Burk

Due to the structure of Acrocarps, shade moss is denser and can hold more soil. In our shade moss gardens, we keep a close eye for any weeds that emerge. When we see them, we hand pull them before the weeds get too large. To encourage Acrocarps to grow, we snip off the tips and add them to the moist soil and step on them. Growing Acrocarpus this way is always slower and requires more patience. Some Acrocarps require a drying out period and keeping them consistently moist will kill them.

Photo © Cathy Burk

In areas of the yard where you are uncertain of the types of moss that would grow there, try mixing up different species in one pile and sprinkle those around in the area. Above is an area in my yard where I experimented with this approach. Depending on the number of species in the mixture, expect at least half to establish themselves, especially if both shade and sun mosses are included. Some moss species will thrive in both.

Photo © Cathy Burk

You will discover squirrel damage in a moss lawn easier than in a traditional lawn. They’re just planting those acorns, which occasionally are forgotten, and then you are gifted with wonderful oak trees. Just push the misplaced moss back with your toe and step on it. The squirrels will never know the difference.

Photo © Cathy Burk

If you can afford it and want someone to place a moss lawn for you, or help guide you with this process, there are online resources. They also offer helpful information for those DIYers. With approximately 12,000 species of moss, it will help to try to learn the binomial nomenclature when discussing or purchasing moss.

Photo © Cathy Burk

If you buy moss you will purchase boxes or trays of clumps and sections of moss or carpet mats as large as 6 ft by 6 ft. Make sure you are purchasing live moss and not moss for craft projects. Live moss usually is shipped overnight providing the best outcome of your moss purchase. After purchasing your weed-free moss, prepare the area as described earlier in this article.

In Summary: How to Grow a Moss Lawn

1) Prepare the soil by removing all debris, scrape the surface, and moisten slightly.

  • If you have moss present under your lawn, instead of clearing the surface, manually remove the grass from the moss patch and continue to follow the other steps.
  • If a neighbor has moss they are willing to let you have, obtain permission first and then proceed as above.
  • If you need to purchase moss or want to add another species to your collection, there are several websites that will help you receive the proper moss for your climate and location.

2) Place the new moss on the clean soil and press down firmly.
3) Harvesting and transplanting moss for new patches can be done anytime. If, however, you are tearing established moss into smaller pieces, the moss needs to be dry, so the moss will recognize ‘damage’ and when moistened, start to repair itself and grow.
4) Lightly mist when needed (depending on your climate) and remove weeds as they appear.
5) Do not walk on moss except in bare feet or flat shoes. This will help to adhere the moss to the substrate.

Photo © Mario Quevedo , Jessica Lucia, Jack Dean

I created a moss lawn to provide a place for lightning bugs to raise their young, as lightning bug populations are declining, likely due to air and light pollution. There are many other advantages to creating a moss lawn, as outlined in The Benefits and Ecology of of a Moss Lawn. The rewards of this work are a soft, peaceful turf that provides excellent habitat, beautiful mulch around your flowering plants and shrubs, and a very low-maintenance lawn. In the spirit of Dr. Seuss (who we assume also loved lighting bugs), “Try it, try it, and you will see! A moss patch is the thing birds need!”

Coming later this summer: How to Maintain a Moss Garden

Do you have experience with a unique habitat feature you’d like to write and share with other Habitat Network users? Contact us at [email protected]

Moss Guide

Our basic guide to growing moss, with photos of four of our favorite varieties. By Deb Schwartz


Photo by: Ippei Naoi/Getty Images.

Anyone who has happened upon a velveteened log in the woods or glimpsed emerald-draped statuary is likely to be seduced by moss’ color-saturated sumptuousness. But it is essential for those hoping to lay a carpet in their own backyards or coax the spread of an existing patch to understand the quirks of this ancient plant.

Like many 400-million-year-olds, moss is particular about its environment. Shade or semi-shade is usually a necessity. So are a consistent source of ambient moisture and vigilant maintenance to keep it free of weeds and debris (because mosses are nonvascular-no roots-they rely on their leaves for transportation of nutrients and moisture). Experts suggest setting down netting on top of moss in the fall and regularly emptying it of fallen leaves.

Even so, “a moss lawn requires far less maintenance than grass,” says Andy Navage, director of horticulture at the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island in Washington. It’s not bothered by compacted soil, doesn’t require pesticides, and is remarkably resilient when it comes to drought and cold, going dormant when conditions are less favorable, and rehydrating when things improve. “With a grass lawn you’re looking at mowing once or twice a week,” Navage says. “But with a firmly established moss garden, you really only have to keep the majority of the leaves off and make sure weeds don’t encroach.”

Photo by: Michael Kraus.

Rock cap moss (Dicranum) will prosper in deep shade. Transplant it when leaves are already on the trees, as sun can quickly inflict harm. This plant will grow on top of rocks and boulders. Adopt it as a ground cover instead of grass for shady areas.

Photo by: Michael Kraus.

Hair cap moss (Polytrichum commune) prefers medium shade to partial sun, and sandy, acidic soils. If the soil is sufficiently moist, it can tolerate almost full sun. This variety can handle light foot traffic.

Photo by: Michael Kraus.

Cushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum) favors shade but can tolerate partial sun. Grow it in sandy rather than dense soils. The plant grows in clumps and appears a light green with a silvery white cast.

Photo by: Michael Kraus.

Sheet moss (Hypnum), one of the most common types of moss, thrives in deep shade and has a great transplant success rate. Its dense green mats can handle light foot traffic. Use it between stepping stones or, because of its low growth habit, as a ground cover to highlight other low-ranging plants.

Grass can be tough to keep at bay, says moss ecologist Dr. Robin Kimmerer, author of Gathering Moss (Oregon State University Press; 2003). “Unless the conditions are sufficiently moist and shady, in a competitive situation between grass and moss, the grass is generally going to win.”

Moss gardens can be established in three ways:

  • First, by clearing ground and waiting for airborne spores to land. “In the right habitat mosses will naturally colonize.” says Kimmerer, who advocates a let-them-come-to-you approach.
  • Second, by encouraging already-present mosses by pulling out grass and weeds and acidifying (or in some cases, liming) the soil.
  • Third, by cultivating it (see A Moss Milkshake).

Though moss coveters have been known to irresponsibly harvest or pull up patches willy-nilly, says Nancy Church, a partner at Moss Acres, one of the nation’s few suppliers of live moss, such practices invite invasive species and could render a particular species extinct in a given area.

Whichever method you choose, you can count on one thing: waiting. “The most important things to understand are the need for an established moisture cycle…and patience,” says Church.

Read about the moss in Japan’s gardens in A World Apart and learn more about cultivating moss in A Moss Milkshake.

Looking for a rare plant? Try one of these mail-order nurseries.

There are over 10,000 species of moss. Mosses are amongst the oldest plants to be successful on land. Mosses are classified as bryophytes, a group of nonvascular plants without internal tissues for circulating liquids. Instead of using roots to absorb nutrients, as many plants do, mosses absorb water and nutrients from their outer surfaces.

In this activity, to learn about the biological needs of mosses, students will grow and maintain their own moss terrarium. Through daily maintenance and observation, students will identify those factors necessary for the successful cultivation of moss.

Grade Level: 6 – 8th Grade
Subject Matter: Life Sciences
National Standards: NS.5-8.1, NS.5-8.3

Ready to Cut Out Grass?

Summertime doesn’t have to mean hours behind the lawn mower, at least for shade-dwellers. David Benner, horticulturist and moss enthusiast, cut grass out of his life 40 years ago. In its place, he cultivated moss. He now has 25 different species of moss growing on his property near New Hope, PA. Benner, whose son Al Benner runs Moss Acres, shares tips for moss cultivation.

Activity Materials
Digital cameras – one for each student or group of students
Terrariums (transparent plastic or glass containers) – one for each student or group of students
Small plastic magnifying glasses – one per student or group of students
One bag of topsoil – available from nurseries or plant suppliers
One bag of pebbles – also available from nurseries or plant supply stores You will need enough pebbles and topsoil cover the bottom of each terrarium.
Water – two to three cups per terrarium
Small spray bottles – one per student or group of students
Moss specimens – these can be collected outdoors or bought from a florist or horticulture supply store
Alternative: Terrarium Moss Kit – order from You may want to use one of these kits as a model for students.

Moss: a type of nonvascular plant with short stems that usually inhabits moist shady areas.
Nonvascular plant: a plant that lacks fluid-carrying vessels for transporting nutrients.
Rhizoids: thread-like anchoring structures found on mosses.
Spores: small, usually one-celled reproductive structures produced by seedless plants.
Substrate: the surface on which an organism grows or is attached.

What To Do

1. Start the lesson by having the students watch the Science Friday Video, “Ready to Cut Out Grass? Try Moss.” Ask students if they have noticed any mosses growing in their local neighborhood and what they look like. Review the information given in the Science Friday Video on where mosses are found and how they absorb nutrients.

2. Have students search for mosses in their local neighborhood and take pictures of the various locations and types of mosses they find. Mosses can be found in sidewalk cracks, driveways, under trees or on tree branches or bark, or in local parks, especially in rocky areas. Instruct students to record observations such as the location where the moss was found, moss color and appearance.

3. In the classroom, review their pictures and observations. Discuss with students any similarities and differences found. What conditions do mosses favor? What conditions do they think are needed to cultivate moss?

4. Hand out moss specimens to students and have them use the magnifying lenses to observe the parts of the moss. How are mosses different than other plants? Where are the rhizoids located and what is their function? Tell students that they will be growing and observing their mosses for the next few weeks.

5. Have students place pebbles along the bottom of their terrarium to form a layer about an inch deep. On top of the pebbles, pour a layer of soil about three inches deep. Why do students think that there is a layer of pebbles underneath the soil?

6. Have students place their moss on top of the soil, ensuring that the rhizoids are in contact with the soil by patting down on the moss.

7. Have students pour about two to three cups of water on top of the moss, ensuring that the water fills a pool or reservoir within the layer of pebbles. Why is soil and water necessary if moss acquires its nutrients from the air?

8. Fill a spray bottle with water. Gently spray the top of the moss with water until the moss becomes moist.

9. Have students place their terrarium in a secure area that receives indirect sunlight. Why is the terrarium not placed in an area that receives direct sunlight?

10. Over the next few weeks, have students observe and record any changes in the growth of the moss. Students should track how many times a day they water the moss and how much direct or indirect light the moss receives. Does the moss grow quickly or slowly? Does it spread to other parts of the terrarium and if so how does it reproduce? Under what conditions does the moss demonstrate optimal growth? What variables may have caused the moss to grow differently or not at all?

What’s Happening?
Mosses are simple non-flowering plants that thrive in moist shady environments. They are believed to have evolved millions of years ago from the first plants that were able to survive on land and out of water. Mosses lack true roots. Instead, they have small filaments called rhizoids that they use to anchor themselves to surfaces. Instead of using roots to absorb water and nutrients, mosses absorb them from the air. Mosses reproduce through spore germination, and require thin films of water or moisture for spores to travel.

Although mosses can be found in many environments, they require specific conditions in order to thrive. Successful cultivation of moss will depend on how well these conditions are simulated and maintained. Even though mosses absorb water from the air, a moss that is fully or partially enclosed in a terrarium or placed indoors might need additional watering in order to thrive and reproduce.

Topics for Classroom Discussion
• How are algae and mosses different?
• What would happen if a different substrate other than soil (sand, mulch, etc.) were used?
• What would happen if other plants were added to the terrarium?

Extended Activities and Links
Have students observe detailed imagery of their moss under a microscope, and have them draw a colored diagram labeling the various parts of the moss.

Have students research and explain how mosses are ecologically important (soil erosion prevention, soil builders, mineral cycling, etc) for the environment and other beneficial uses of moss to humans other than landscaping (packing materials, peat, fuel, filters).

View images of various types of mosses:

Explore general information on bryophytes:

How long does moss take to grow from spores?

This lesson plan was created by the New York Hall of Science in collaboration with Science Friday as part of Teachers Talking Science, an online resource for teachers, homeschoolers, and parents to produce free materials based on very popular SciFri Videos to help in the classroom or around the kitchen table.

The New York Hall of Science is a science museum located in the New York City borough of Queens. NYSCI is New York City’s only hands-on science and technology center, with more than 400 hands-on exhibits explore biology, chemistry, and physics.

Moss Acres is the One Stop Resource for Gardening with Moss.

In business for fifteen years from our Northeastern Pennsylvania location, Moss Acres ships several varieties of live moss throughout the U.S. and Canada. We also offer a complete line of accessory products for growing moss as well as an extensive technical information section. For anyone interested in exploring all the wonderful benefits of moss, Moss Acres, is now also offering a wide range of Moss Starter Kits.

Why Consider Gardening with Moss?

The color green has been proven to reduce stress, and there are few, if any, shades more vibrant and revitalizing than those found in cool, lush moss. For centuries the Japanese have known what we are finally realizing – gardening with moss adds an amazing degree of serenity and timeless beauty to any garden.

Moss is utilized in rock garden design, in conjunction with water gardens, ponds, or ferns, or simply in that shady spot where grass won’t grow. Growing moss has fast become an increasingly desirable and low-maintenance alternative to grass lawns and conventional shade gardening plans. With Moss Acres, growing moss has never been easier!

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