The quest for native plants and more natural landscapes is leading many gardeners to rediscover an often-overlooked jewel -- moss. In favorable conditions, moss forms velvety emerald cushions and richly textured carpets and tapestries that grow happily in containers as well as on posts, rocks, trees, and ground. Homeowners increasingly cede the turf battle to mosses, too. Carpet mosses create a no-mow ground cover that often thrives in shady, acidic soil, and other places that grass abhors.
Now that moss in the garden is being seen more as an asset than a pest, specialty nurseries are growing and selling trays of common and exotic kinds for instant gardens or as plugs for starting naturally spreading colonies. If you plant clumps, give them the same soil, light, and moisture conditions they enjoy in the forest. Keep them moist for the first year until they become established and begin to spread. If skunks or raccoons frequent your yard, cover newly planted patches with a net to prevent the animals from digging in search of insects.
Christine Cook -- a landscape designer and owner of Mossaics, a design firm specializing in mosses in Easton, Connecticut -- suggests that, instead of digging up and moving patches of wild mosses or buying moss plugs, gardeners should encourage species that are native to where they live. Look for mossy patches, then carefully pull the grass and weeds out of the moss colony, and pick up fallen leaves and other debris that can smother it. That's often enough to invigorate the native mosses.
Most mosses prefer moist, acidic soil, and many will readily colonize disturbed or bare earth. To encourage new spores to grow, spray a mixture of 1 quart buttermilk and 2 gallons water over the soil in mid-spring. Water as needed in summer to keep moss green and lush.
Photo by Suzanne DeJohn/National Gardening Association