Moss is a flowerless, spore-producing plant that grows in carpet-like
patches on the ground, roofs, rocks and other surfaces. Typically
green, moss is often specifically cultivated by gardeners as a
decorative plant that drapes over landscaping designs, such as rock
gardens, fences and statues. Others find it an attractive, low
maintenance alternative to a grass lawn.
The Technical Explanation of Moss
Mosses are classified as Bryophytes, and those that study mosses are
called bryologists. Beyond mosses, other bryophytes include liveworts
and hornworts. There are about 12,000 species of moss.
Since mosses reproduce with spores, they don’t need to grow flowers.
They also differ from regular plants in two other ways in that they
don’t have an extensive root system and their leaf-and-stem system
rarely grow more than an inch tall.
Depending on where you live, moss might actually be hard to find.
Moss often grows in shaded areas or on compacted ground or rocks that
remain moist. That description aside, here’s a few ideas of places to
- Along a creek bed. Walk up a creek that has cut through a
hillside. The higher the shoreline’s walls, the better chance you will
- On mostly shaded portions of roofs. It’s hard to
believe, but moss can grow on a roof, particularly on slopes facing
north that don’t get much sun.
- On fallen logs. A walk through a
nearby forest is sure to turn up a fallen tree or two. Circle around the
tree to find the most shaded area. Moss thrives on moist and
- On old buildings. Moss doesn’t care if an old building is abandoned or just not kept up. It just needs some moisture to survive.
- In your own lawn. Look under bushes and in shadowed areas of your lawn.
the exact opposite places of all the above. Yep, although moss prefers
moist, shaded areas, it can struggle along for years in dry, sunny
locations. If you find some move it to a more ideal placement and watch
Once you’ve found some moss, make sure it’s okay with the property
owner to remove it. Once you’ve got his approval, take a simple paint
scraper or putty knife and slide it under the moss. Since moss has
rudimentary roots at best, it’s easy to extract.
It’s best to extract moss that feels moist and heavy. Some will
actually peel up in patches that contain a small amount of dirt or top
soil. (If you make the moss puree below, you will have to remove this.
Until then, it’s vital to keep it moist.)
The most trouble you’ll have is if it has lodged itself in a non-flat surface.
Moss carpets are actually a number of smaller plants, so if you break
it up, you’ll still have a plant that can be moved. Still, keeping it
together in patches will help you in the next step.
Make a Moss Puree
Now that you have all this beautiful moss, you need to destroy it — kind of. This process simply prepares it for its new home.
- Put your moss in a blender. (Yes, a kitchen blender)
- Add a liquid, ideally buttermilk or yogurt, in a 4 parts liquid to 1 part moss ratio.
- Blend thoroughly. This pulverizes the moss, but its spores will survive.
- Apply to your surface (see below).
Applying Moss to All Surfaces
You can apply your moss puree to a wall, piece of pottery or rock.
To apply it directly to the ground, you pour out the moss puree and
spread it around. You can also try transplanting your un-pureed moss
patch, though your results will vary..
For all surfaces, select a location that generally avoids afternoon
sun. Sure, moss might establish itself there, but you have little chance
of getting it to “stick”.
Once you have your moss in place, regular watering is a must. The
area should be kept damp for at least the first three weeks after your
Applying Moss to a Hard Surface
For hard surfaces, such as a rock or wall, apply your moss puree with
a brush and then place your moss on top. Keep it wet, and wait for your
moss to appear.
Applying Moss to the Ground
For ground application, you’ll need to do a little prep work. First
off, get the soil packed firmly. This helps keep out weeds and other
plants, while providing optimal conditions for your moss. Next check
your soil’s pH value. Moss prefers a pH between 5.0 and 5.5. A testing
kit will determine this, and then a liquid sulfur powder mix should be
applied at the appropriate concentration.
Once that’s all set, thoroughly soak the area and apply your moss
puree or firmly press your moss patch into place. If you’re starting out
with a small batch of moss, leave a foot or so ring of soil around it,
which you should keep weeded and moist. This will give your moss room to
Maintaining Your Moss
While moss can survive a dry period, its best to keep it in its ideal
state: Moist and shaded. Additionally, you’ll want to keep it free of
debris which can kill it. Foot traffic on moss should be kept to a
minimum, and when it does, try going barefoot or on smooth, flat treads,
which limit tearing.
Sources and Resources
- Moss Acres
- The Artistic Garden
- The Australian National Botanic Gardens
- The International Association of Bryology
- The American Bryological and Lichenological Society
- Book: Reader’s Digest Illustrated Guide to Gardening, Carroll C. Calkins, Reader’s Digest, 1978
- Power Point Presentation: Moss Info (link triggers powerpoint download.)