What stays green all winter, shrugs off snow and cold, needs little to no care, and comes in a variety of textures and forms?
Why moss, of course.
Moss is a plant choice we often overlook for winter pots and baskets. And it doesn’t just work in winter.
Moss is a useful ornamental plant in all seasons.
I’ve experimented with moss before, but most often for inside plantings. While it stays green for many weeks, when properly watered; moss really doesn’t like life in a dim and heated home.
A moss garden I constructed in February of 2012 using stones picked up on the beach in Oregon.
Moss is happiest out of doors.
Which is why I’m planning a patio planting using mainly a dwarf evergreen shrub, moss, and stone. Think Zen garden in a pot….
Another moss garden made for a table centerpiece in February 2012.
Have you ever used moss in a potted planting?
I’ve seen a few interesting photo essays in gardening magazines in recent years, but they are few and far between.
Moss pairs well with ferns, as their needs are nearly the same. Lichens may also be incorporated in the design.
One of the simplest of plants, the 12,000 or so species of moss are grouped into their own phylum, known as Bryophyta.
Moss has no roots and no vascular system. Leaves are a single cell thick.
Mosses are different from other plants, like grasses, because they have no vascular system to carry water and food from one part to another.
Their leaves and stems are usually only a single cell thick, and each cell takes moisture and carbon dioxide directly from the air which touches it.
Airborn spores collect on a tree’s bark and begin to grow. They don’t harm the tree in any way.
Like all plants, mosses produce sugars from water and carbon dioxide, using the energy of sunlight.
Mosses growing on trees aren’t parasites. They anchor themselves in the tree’s bark, benefiting from the moisture which collects there, but don’t take any nutrients from the tree. Mosses manufacture their own food, like other plants.
Different species of moss prefer to grow on different surfaces. Some grow directly on the soil, others on concrete, stone, bark, or bricks.
Mosses produce spores rather than seeds. Although shallowly anchored in the earth by their threadlike rhizoids, mosses don’t absorb water through them from the soil.
This is why moss seems to thrive in rainy weather, prefers growing in the shade, and tends to shrivel when the weather is dry.
Lush moss grows between the roots of this beech tree. Lichens grows on the roots.
So the secret to growing lush moss is frequent watering, bright indirect light and high humidity.
Perhaps my indoor arrangements would have lasted months longer if I had misted them several times a week instead of just watering them from time to time…
If you decide to create your own moss garden, keep in mind that you don’t need deep soil to establish mosses. The only reason for any depth in your container would be to sustain the other plants, like ferns, ivy, dwarf shrubs, or bulbs.
Mosses prefer slightly acidic soil. Peat and organic material in the potting mix give this acidity.
One method for establishing moss outside on rocks is to blend mature moss with buttermilk, and then pour the mixture where you want mosses to grow. The buttermilk helps the spores adhere to the intended surface. Kept moist, moss will soon appear.
The spores first form a flat, felt like covering in their initial stages of growth. This protonema will spread, eventually allowing stems and leaves to grow up from the mat and rhizoids to grow into the surface where it is growing, to anchor the plant.
The easiest way to create a moss garden is to simply lift moss from where it is growing already, and move it to your container. A little of its native soil comes with most varieties, embedded in its rhizoids.
Use a trowel , or even just your fingers, to lift small clumps of moss. Carefully clean off any bits of soil, sticks, leaves and pine tags clinging to the moss using your hand or a soft brush. Store these clumps in a sealed plastic bag or box to retain moisture until planting time.
You might also use stones with moss already growing on them, sticks with bits of lichens, and bits of wood already colonized with moss.
There are mail order nurseries which sell particular species of moss. One must be careful though, to plant mosses which can survive in the climate you can provide.
(And the moss sold is craft stores looks nice, but is dried out and often painted green. I wouldn’t recommend using it to establish a living garden.)
Prepare your container, usually with peat based potting soil, and simply lay the sheets of living moss on top. Press down firmly, and water in. If the container garden will live outside, anchor light mosses with toothpicks or metal pins to hold it in place until it rhizoids attach to the soil. I’ve had many mosses in containers plundered by nesting birds and curious squirrels!
Place the container in bright, but indirect light. The moss should take it from there!
Keep the moss moist with misting and watering. If outside, humidity in the air and rain should be enough when the weather is cool.
Use moss as a ground cover around other plants. or create a garden with several different varieties of moss and stone.
Moss exudes a calm and peaceful presence however you choose to use it.
And it is the easiest of plants to grow. Just look how tough it is in nature!
Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014