Many gardeners and lawn-tenders view moss as a nuisance – akin to a weed – rather than something desirable to be cultivated for its own sake. This is a shame, because moss carpeting in a landscape can create a mellow and soothing tone; it can be a great source of visual comfort and relaxation. This was the intent behind the first moss gardens that originated in Japan. Surrounding temples and other places of reflection, these carpets of velvety green, which ranged from vibrant to soothing hues, helped to promote states of deep meditation and repose. We can achieve similar effects in our own landscapes if we invite moss to stay instead of fending it off.
This is especially true if it seems that nature intends for various mosses to be there, which we can judge if they keep cropping up despite all our efforts to curb their growth. If grass and/or other types of ground cover fare poorly in areas of our yards, it may be that mosses are better suited to these places. Moss is typically sacrificed for the sake of lawns, but nature at times may cast her vote for the former. Acidic soil, for example, is favorable to mosses and adverse for grasses. Shade, also, can be a benefit rather than a liability.
Over 1,200 species of mosses exist in North America, so there is a wide variety that can be utilized to create varied textures and patterns in a landscape. Unfortunately, there are few “pet names” used to distinguish species of mosses, as opposed to nearly any other kind of flora. Those interested in cultivation will typically be obliged to research different kinds according to their scientific names. A simpler solution exists, however: we can simply take advantage of the species that are native to the areas that we live in. These types of mosses will be the ones most ideally suited to the climatic and soil conditions that we have, anyway.
There are a number of ways of doing this. We can allow – encourage, actually – what we consider to be “weed” mosses to take over the ground where the grass is declining. Or, we can take a more active role and actually transplant moss – for example, from the woods – and set it down at spaced intervals in the hopes that it will grow together into a seamless carpet. In this case, we want the soil, lighting and moisture conditions of our landscape to be as close as possible to those of the place where we retrieved our moss.
Use a spade or a stiff and sturdy knife for transplanting. The object is to capture the plants’ roots as well as enough soil to keep those roots from drying. This might mean sods of 1/2 inch depth for shallower mosses and sods of 2-3 inches of depth for more sizable ones. These plots should also be at least the size of one’s outstretched hand.
Planted moss will need to be watered whenever rainfall is scarce and the ground surface begins to dry. By the second summer it should be settled enough to endure without watering, though it will probably still appreciate it. Mosses are sturdy flora: once established, they can thrive indefinitely with minimal care.
Another option requires a great deal of patience but can also insure that the mosses we grow will be most ideally suited to our landscapes. We can prepare the ground, by weeding and racking it clean, and then simply wait for self-sown spores to come down and do their work.
Whichever method we choose, we can embellish nature’s work by arranging various ornamental trappings like logs, shrubs, ferns, or man-made decorations to augment the simple pastoral beauty of our moss carpets. Moss also makes superb edging for gardens, lawns and hardscape features. Keep in mind that is it not nearly as durable as grass, however. Feet, and even wire rakes can cause at least minor tearing. This will be minimized during freezing months, however, so it can be beneficial to leave off raking fall foliage until this time or else use a leaf blower. In any event, moss beds usually recuperate if left in peace for a reasonable period of time.