Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
March, 2008
Regional Report

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A collection of moss can enhance a small area of your garden. (Photo courtesy of Henry Tenenbaum)

Moss Madness

We planted a moss garden yesterday. When I was a kid, I had a moss terrarium on my windowsill, but I hadn't thought of it in years until a box of different mosses arrived at Henry's house (where we shoot Henry's Garden) from Moss Acres, a nursery in Pennsylvania.

My favorite is the cushion moss (Leucobryum) that sits above the soil like little green velvet pillows. The fern moss (Thuidium) will be the quickest to cover large areas of soil. We had fun with the haircap moss (Polytrichum) but Henry made Buzz mad when he placed it on top of his head. The mosses were different in texture and color and made a very nice display very quickly in the Asian corner of Henry's Garden.

In Your Garden
Planting moss in your own garden is very easy, but the right soil pH is crucial for success. An ideal pH is 5.0 to 5.5, but shade and moisture are the most important factors in growing these unusual plants. Mosses are native to areas that receive frequent summer rains, which generally have acidic soil. Soils east of the Mississippi are acidic, and much of the western half of the country has alkaline soil because it remains dry during the summer months. The notorious poisonous wells in old Western movies were highly alkaline. Thankfully, it's easy to adjust an alkaline soil; all you have to add is liquid sulfur or aluminum sulfate, the same stuff that makes hydrangeas blue.

You don't have to do any fancy soil prep to plant moss, all you need is a shady area that stays moist. Since moss doesn't have roots and takes what it needs from the air, all you have to do is scuff up the soil with a metal rake and then place the moss plants on the surface. Make sure the moss has good contact with the surface of the soil. Water the moss well after planting to remove any air pockets in the soil and keep it well watered for at least three weeks until it becomes established. After it settles in, moss can withstand drought, but it grows better with regular watering.

You can plant moss any time of year, but early spring is best because the moisture in the air eases them through the transplanting process. Cold weather won't hurt your moss, it overwinters under snow in its natural habitat.

Moss is used in landscapes to prevent erosion, as an alternative to turfgrass lawns, and as ground cover in areas too shady to support other plants. Moss requires little care once established, other than removing fallen leaves that can cause the moss to rot. Our cameraman, Art Takeshita, told us that his dad grows moss to use as ground cover under his potted bonsai trees. When Mr. Takeshita is getting ready to take his trees to a bonsai competition, he dresses the pots with fresh moss.

Moss can also be grown in containers in combination with other moisture-loving plants such as ferns. If you have a shady patio area, this type of container display will add interest and variety.

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