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Finding Out About Moss

2012 January 3

By Amy Miller

On my own land, I move things about willy nilly. If I need a pine tree for Christmas, I cut one. If I want a blueberry bush closer to my house, I transplant it. I love that.

So I was hot to trot one morning to move a lush patch of moss carpet for a moss garden-in-a-pot.

Not so fast, said my Finnish neighbor and dog walking partner. Moss is not to be taken lightly. It takes years to grow one little itsy bitsy handkerchief of moss, she said.

Really? Really. Everyone in Finland knows this.

OK, I said. And walked on dejected. I can’t even move moss on my own land?

And yet my fantasy in moss lingered. So I checked around. I couldn’t find out how long moss takes to form (anyone know?) but I did learn it transplants easily. And that some people consider it a nuisance, although the Japanese use moss to add a sense of calm, age and stillness to a garden.

I already knew moss grows in wet, shaded areas. But I also learned that although moss thrives in moisture, its leaves can withstand drought for quite some time. Also, I learned that moss patches are made up of thousands of little plants bunched together. They come from spores, and create thin branches that dig into the ground and replace roots. But they get their nutrients from the air, not soil, which is why they can grow on rocks (and aren’t thrilled with compost).

The four requirements for moss are acidic soil, shading, moisture and humidity. They like soil between about 5 and 6 on the pH scale.

Many nurseries don’t carry moss so it may be best to get it from a garden – yours or your neighbors (with permission of course). Moss is happy if you also transplant the soil or wood under it. If you are trying to put moss on rock, recipes for success involve a blender, buttermilk, water, sometimes yogurt and always a brush.

Truth be told, I couldn’t find much information on moss formation in the wild. One site said it takes about 18 months for moss to fully form, but once established, it can keep growing for a long, though undetermined amount of time.

With no big warnings in site, I am going back up my hill. I hope the Finns will forgive me.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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4 Responses leave one →
  1. Charles permalink
    January 3, 2012

    This was a fun read to start the new year.

  2. Joan permalink
    January 3, 2012

    Your post made me smile.
    I love moss too! It makes the garden feel like a little patch of primeval wilderness.
    Thanks for the info on propagating moss.

  3. Alexander permalink
    January 4, 2012

    Amy,you are touching up my senses concerning nature. Thank you.

  4. Shauna permalink
    January 10, 2012

    A fantastic natural history of mosses with a northeast focus, lots of biological details and very readable.

    Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by
    Robin Wall Kimmerer

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