Moss needs consistent moisture, shade

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By Jeneen Wiche

Moss no longer carries the stigma of being an undesirable plant. Some still refer to it as a problem, but largely folks are accepting of this somewhat opportunistic plant. Moss likes it shady and moist and we don’t always have the moisture to maintain a nice lush garden of it. This year is certainly the exception.

Moss is the perfect complement to a shade garden where the soil is compacted. Typically these clayey soils are also on the acidic side, which is a bonus.

Most other things do not like to grow in this environment, which is why people have warmed to the idea of moss. Not only does it make a great ground cover, it can make new landscape take on some old-world charm. Any plants that enjoy acidic soil, or are tolerant of it, will make nice companions to moss: ferns, trillium, woodland geraniums and epimediums.

There are three ways to get moss to spread: transplant, moss powder or a moss shake. If you are the impatient type, I suggest going with the transplant method. Simply dig up 2 x 2 inch squares of existing moss and replant them in the desired area (remember shade, moisture and a low soil pH). Water your transplants with a diluted solution of fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants.

I prefer the moss powder method because it achieves a more naturally occurring effect. I’m patient. For this task, I collect moss, shake the dirt off and pop it into my food processor. Give it a few whirls and you have moss powder that is hopefully laden with spores. Work up the soil a bit where you want to plant and sprinkle the powder, water with your diluted fertilizer and hope for a moist fall. If you have the right environment and the spores take hold, it should be slightly detectable in about two to three weeks. Moss does not grow just anywhere, so the environment must be favorable for it to take hold.

As I mentioned, moss has the ability to put some age on the newest garden ornament. Want some moss on that new statue in your garden? Then the moss shake method is for you. Collect some moss just like you did for your moss powder. Put it in the food processor, but add a little buttermilk this time. It’s not an exact science, so guess at the amount of buttermilk — use enough to make a pasty concoction.

To ensure good contact, add some mud to the surface of the site. With a soft brush, dab or paint the moss shake concoction onto the muddy surface of the ornament. If the area stays cool, shady and moist, you should have a batch of moss on that statue by Christmas.

My mom did this to some finials years ago and they continue to have their expedited old world charm with a slightly mossy patina on their shady side.

If you have moss and absolutely do not want it, the only long-term control is to get some light on the subject. Quite frankly, moss will return unless the environment is changed by limbing-up trees, improving drainage and raising the soil pH.

To remove, scrape up the moss and remove it (to eliminate spores from spreading); add some copper sulfate to retard any additional growth. For slippery bricks? A scrub brush, some bleach solution and a little elbow grease every couple of months will do the trick.