Finding Out About Moss

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.

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