If you want a green lawn in
the shade, grass is not the answer.
Groundcovers fill in the borders but are not very barefoot
friendly. Consider the lowly moss. It is green, lush, soft, and squishy
underfoot. It makes an ideal shade
garden lawn or pathway.
Really. There is no
maintenance to speak of, no mowing, no fertilizing. Occasional raking and weeding replaces these weekly
chores. Mark Dwyer, from the
Rotary Gardens in Wisconsin explains the wonders and uses of moss in the home
---Anne K. Moore, May 29,
Low-Maintenance Option for Shade
by Mark Dwyer, Rotary Gardens Wisconsin
Photos by Anne K Moore
people have that shady patch in their yard where they can't grow grass but moss
is abundant. Products and
techniques are promoted for the intent purpose of eradicating this primitive
member of the plant kingdom.
Before you eradicate moss, consider its potential in the landscape.
evolved over 390 million years ago and there are currently over 15,000
varieties of moss worldwide.
Wisconsin has close to 400 native species of moss and the odds are that
you have some of these on your property as well. Mosses have been used for thousands of years in Japanese
gardens for the effects of adding serenity and timeless beauty. Public moss gardens exist throughout
the United States although some of the best can be found in the Pacific
Northwest. Many gardeners have
utilized sphagnum moss as a soil amendment or to line hanging baskets. However, bogs around the world have
been drained and depleted of their sphagnum moss to satiate gardening
demand. Consider other materials
that accomplish the same goals.
These tiny plants don't produce flowers and
don't have actual roots that draw up any nutrients or water. Mosses have minute ducts that open when
moistened and become dormant with the lack of moisture and then become active
when moistened. Some mosses can
remain dormant for years until adequately moistened. Mosses do have chlorophyll and do photosynthesize regardless
of the temperature (hence there green color even in winter). Mosses carry no diseases and despite
popular belief, are not parasites on other plants.
Once established, mosses
can be a wonderful component of your shady areas. If you can't grow grass in a particular area, there is a
reason for that. Learn from your
frustrations and go with the resilient, virtually maintenance-free option of
mosses. Whether it's a moss lawn
or a composition of different mosses used in tandem with your other shade
garden plants, the decision to incorporate mosses into your landscape can be
Establishing mosses is the most important
step in moss gardening. Observe
mosses where they are currently growing on your property or in natural areas to
get an idea of their preferred habitats.
The majority of mosses prefer no direct sunlight and prefer an acidic
soil (pH between 5.0 and 5.5), although they will grow in a wide range of soil
types. As they have no true roots,
mosses will grow on logs, rocks and even on concrete or clay planters. There are essentially two popular ways
of establishing moss in your landscape.
The ideal moss planting time is from late
March until mid-June and from September to November. The summer months are simply too hot and dry to successfully
establish moss although sufficient moisture is the primary consideration. Transplanting patches of moss is the
most popular method. Collecting in
early spring immediately after a rain will increase your success, as they are
easier to loosen and have maximum moisture content. It is important to stress that moss should never be
collected from public areas, natural areas, state forests, etc., as they are an
important part of those ecosystems.
When collecting from acceptable areas, never take more than a small 3 inch
by 3 inch piece from each square foot of moss. Lightly loosen these patches and keep them damp. Never roll up moss patches. Collecting in this ''patchwork'' fashion
will allow the remaining moss to colonize open areas readily.
Before planting moss ''patches'' in the
garden, create a clear, bare, surface free of leaves, weeds and other
debris. You may need or want to
acidify the soil to promote optimum pH for establishing mosses. The soil should be tamped down and
compacted (not loosened) before planting.
Gently scratch this area with a rake and spray area until it is
damp. Moisten the bottom of
collected moss fragments and gently press these on the selected site, firmly
enough to remove air pockets under the patch. Use small sticks to secure patches to slopes. Mist these patches with water from a
spray bottle twice daily for three weeks.
Mist as needed through the growing season to keep moss slightly damp. These patches will double in size
within one year or so. Keep your
moss garden free of fallen leaves and debris and limit foot traffic to stepping-stones
or paths. Moss is not resilient to
repeated foot traffic or disturbance.
Another method of moss establishment is
typically used when moss is desired on rocks or containers. Take moss patches and remove all dirt
or rock particles from the underside.
Mix a handful of moss with 1 cup of buttermilk in the blender for two
minutes. This ''moss slurry'' can
then be smeared or painted over the desired area. The ability of moss to regenerate cell by cell will allow it
to grow from this concoction.
Continue to mist twice daily until you see a fuzzy haze of green
indicating new growth. The
appearance of moss on containers or rocks lends an ''antique'' feeling to the
mosses don't achieve in height and floral display in your landscape they make
up in durability and low-maintenance once established. No longer the bane of shady turf areas
under trees, mosses are a wonderful component of the home landscape and their
potential is just starting to become realized. The next time you are in the woods, enjoy this member of
plant kingdom and appreciate that what it has been doing for our ecosystems and
landscapes for millions of years can be easily enjoyed at home.
Gardens has a Fern & Moss Garden with native Wisconsin mosses and over 250
varieties and species of ferns from around the world.
the Rotary Gardens, Show 22-809
and related GardenSMART video tip