GardenSmart :: EPISODES :: 2004 show42
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Show #42

This week we learn how to design, install and care for a moss garden.

Meredith Renfroe is the curator of the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Trail at the Gardens of Callaway. Meredith likes a moss garden because it provides a cool, moist, serene landscape look. A moss garden will flourish in places that are often hard to garden - deep shade or compacted soils. It makes a great substitute for turf, it has a rich green color, is very low maintenance and never has to be cut. It can't tolerate heavy traffic but can withstand foot traffic. What is the difference between moss and lichens? Lichens have a symbiotic relationship which means they live with other organisms. One might see them on rocks. Plants that flower produce seed. Mosses are more like ferns in that they produce spores. If one turns over the leaf of a fern, spores will often be visible. When the spores are released they pollinate one another and form a Gametophyte. This is how they reproduce. Mosses are non-vascular plants, meaning that they don't have some sort of system running through them to transport water and nutrients. They actually take in moisture and nutrients in individual cells. Moss likes compacted soil. If your soil is loamy or well aerated you must pack it down with foot traffic or by tamping. Moss anchors itself using Rysoides, similar to roots, and compacted soil is necessary. Moss will anchor itself on logs, rocks, stone steps or it will even grow on asphalt. If you want to encourage moss to grow in a specific area you might want to gather moss from someplace in your garden, put it in a blender with buttermilk, then paint it on structures like rocks. Then mist it several times a day and in about 5 weeks it should take hold. Moss prefers moist conditions but will tolerate periods of drought. After it dries out, wet it down and it will perk back up. Some types of moss will grow in very dry conditions. Moss likes a low PH. While most garden plants like a PH of about 6 to 6.5 moss likes a PH of 5 to 5.5. If there is an area of your yard or garden with a Pine tree that could cause a low PH and be an ideal area. Check your soil PH with your local county extension agent, if too high add aluminum sulfate or sulfur to your soil to lower the PH. Adding organic matter will help because the breakdown of organic matter will increase acidity, but the soil will then need to be compacted. Some moss will grow in full sun, most prefer a deeper shade. Mosses are very low maintenance. Unlike turf, moss doesn't need to be mowed to keep a low appearance. When it shrivels it needs to be watered. If it looks a little yellow, fertilize it with Myracid or aluminum sulfate or sulfur, something with a little acid. There are hundreds of different mosses and they grow all over the U.S. Different mosses have different textures. With Plume Moss the individual pieces look like ferns. There are different colors, Reindeer Moss, for example, has more gray tones. It is easy to pick up moss on your property, reach underneath and lift it with your hand almost like a piece of sod. Then place it on compacted soil, step on it firmly, making sure there is great contact with the soil. This won't hurt the moss. Home improvement stores are starting to carry moss. Even check with neighbors or friends to see if they have moss you can use. The internet is a great place to find mosses. Never collect moss from state or federal land. Dr. Rick notices some moss has a shoot coming from the top. Meredith says that is an indication that the moss is happy. That is the way it produces spores. The stalk will come up and there will be a capsule at the top. The capsule will turn brown - when the humidity is low, the capsule will open and release the spores allowing the moss to reproduce.

It is important when creating your own garden to consider traffic circulation. It must be functional and easy to move around. Many will use concrete or asphalt for these walkways. As an alternative consider brick chip material. It is something that we can do ourselves. It's not permanent, so if we need to change the traffic pattern, we can. It provides an attractive, practical way to move around your yards and gardens.

Companion plants to mosses include ferns. They too, reproduce by spores and like similar conditions. Resurrection Fern is very small. They deal with drought conditions by turning brown, they look like they're completely dead. However with the next rain they unfurl and turn green. It's amazing. Meredith has found an example growing into the bark of a dead, downed tree. She rescued it and placed it on a log. Over time it will produce spores, will send off new plants and begin to grow on the new log. All she did was take the fern with the bark and place it in a new location. You, of course, wouldn't want to take the bark from a live tree. Christmas Fern is a semi-evergreen fern, it will stay green in mild winters. In very cold winters it will turn purplish bronze. Early pioneers would use it to decorate at Christmas and if you look at the frawn it looks like Santa's sleigh or by looking from another direction it looks like a Christmas stocking. Northern Maiden Hair Fern is a gorgeous fern that goes nicely with moss. It will grow to about 18 inches tall. Cinnamon Fern and Royal Fern will reach 3 and 1/2 feet to 4 feet tall. Scale is important in a moss garden. If your garden is bigger, use bigger, taller plants, if smaller, use smaller plants. Since moss is a very fine textured plant don't use plants with large leaves. Other companion plants for moss include Ginger. Callaway Ginger has nice rounded heart shaped leaves that contrast nicely with ferns. Arrow Leaf Ginger has a nice heart shaped leaf with mottled variegation on the top. It's larger than the Callaway Ginger and provides a different texture. Meredith doesn't like a lot of color in a moss garden. She feels green is the color that should be emphasized but whites or purples or blues go nicely. Brook Saxifrage has nice white flowers that don't overpower, they're in scale. Another white flower companion plant is Pipsissewa, it has white, waxy flowers and dark green foliage. It grows to 6-8 inches tall, thus is in scale with the moss garden. Foam Flower or Tiarella works well in a moss garden. It has a wonderful light green color but has some burgundy streaking through the leaf. In large masses it looks like a beautiful white foam going through the forest. Huchera or Alumroot or Coral Bells have flowers ranging from white to dark purple and reds. The bloom spike will reach 18 inches tall but the plant remains low. It does well in a wide range of conditions and is evergreen. Climbing Hydrangea provides vertical interest. It has a white bloom that appears in late May, early June and is similar, but not kin to Hydrangea. It attaches to the tree with root like hairs, similar to Poison Ivy, but is not poisonous. It is easy to grow and a fast grower, put it next to a tree or anything you want it to climb and it will move. Some larger shrubs compliment moss and live in similar conditions. Leucothoe Fontanesiana or Dog Hobble, got its name because it would allow bears to go through, because of their power, yet cause dogs to slow because it is so dense. It has a mass of stems at the base. It likes a lot of moisture but will tolerate some drought. It has beautiful urn shaped white flowers, doesn't loose it leaves in winter, they turn a gorgeous purple color in the fall. It has an attractive weeping habit. A lot of Leucothoes will get a bacteria leaf spot. It is unsightly but doesn't kill the plant except when really bad. To prune it remove the long stems growing straight up and keep the mounding, low growing, arching effect. Calicanthus Floridus or Sweet Shrub or Carolina Allspice is a native to areas in Virginia, south to Florida. It grows to 6-10 feet tall, the leaves are oval, about 5 inches long, they have a glossy dark green top with a grayish-green underneath. The plant blooms in April till May, even sporadically till June, providing flowers throughout the season. It is ericaceous, meaning it loves acid soil. Kalmias or Mountain Laurel are elegant flowering shrubs related to Rhododendron. They need moist air and well drained soil, they like a rich organic environment and don't take much sun. They are great as a border plant or to frame a moss garden. Few deciduous shrubs can equal Azaleas for their show and range of color. Colors range from red to yellow to orange. Fall foliage is often brilliant orange-red to maroon. Deciduous Azaleas tend to be less particular about soil and watering than most evergreens. In high rain fall and high humidity Powdery Mildew can be a problem. Itea or Sweet Spire is native to the eastern U.S. It's an upright shrub, grows to 3-5 feet tall, has a spreading form and tends to sucker in rich, moist soil. In the fall the leaves turn purplish-red or bright red and they tend to hang on the plant for a long time, in fact they may persist all winter in mild winters in coastal areas.

Many find themselves needing to divert or capture water. This is a great place for moss. In this case Meredith has a creek bed with stones. The moss breaks up the harshness of the stones and slows the water. The moss will capture soil particles and filter the water and it is pretty. When it is raining see where water is naturally flowing in your yard. When it is dry build something similar with rocks and moss. Dr. Rick feels Meredith has created a pastoral place, very serene.

Meredith has created a dish garden. If someone doesn't want a large moss garden, they don't have the space or may want to bring something indoors a dish garden may be the way to go. With the exception of the pot everything can be found in the yard, it isn't expensive. Fill the pot with heavy clay soil, no potting mix, add several drainage holes because it shouldn't become water logged. Meredith compacts the soil with her hands, then puts in the plants because it is easier to place those first then fits the moss around the plants. In the back of the arrangement is a Christmas Fern, then Callaway Ginger, then Tiarella cascading down the pot. This creates movement down and away from the top. Some Tiarellas are clumping plants, some are trailers. Combined these provide an upright form, rounded forms and cascading forms. Add a rock, Meredith thinks nothing looks better in a moss garden (landscape or container) than a beautiful rock strategically placed to be a focal point. Then add the moss. This dish garden has different textures, different forms, a very simple color scheme and it is beautiful. Meredith has done a wonderful job of creating these gardens and in showing us around.

Link: Callaway Gardens

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