Welcome to the Plush World of Moss Farming!
Moss can be a filler on top of a potted plant, it can be a little accent in a garden, or a lush, full-fledged replacement for a lawn. To some it is a creeping green scourge that starts in damp corners and crawls across your lawn or roof, but to others who see things with greener eyes, moss is a delightful, visual and tactile experience, a self-trimming substitute for unruly grasses and a lovely addition to the shady parts of your backyard.
This is the first volume of my online moss farming notebook, complete with pictures along the way. It's got a lot of fantastic moss information for beginning moss farmers. When you get to the end of this collection, there's a link to "volume two."
In the spring of 2005, I was on a road trip with a friend in Nevada. Suffice to say, we came home joking about opening a road-side reststop/moss farm. You could get moss spa treatments and all that jazz. Guess we got a little spazzy driving the Extraterrestrial Highway.
In Dec 2005, I moved to Seattle, where moss tends to grow on just about anything left outside eventually. I have a basement room in my house, with a light well at the window. It's not too much of a view. I decided that I would moss farm in the light well, with the goal of having a moss carpet cover the bottom.
What you see here is the light well as it appears when you stand looking down into it from the back yard. My bedroom window is all along the top edge of this photo. I also decided to put a little goddess shrine in the well. Can't you just see her sitting in contemplation of a lovely green carpet of moss?
Ways to Grow Moss
If you are interested in cultivating moss, there are a variety of ways to do it. They are listed here in order of increasing complexity and effort.
- Nature - you just let the moss do its thing where and when it wants. Most often gardeners who use this method weed the moss to remove other plants that grow in it.
- Scattering spores - this is just a step more complex than nature, but still doesn't take much effort. Spores are most often bought from nurseys or garden supply houses.
- Seeding with moss bits - this is one of those methods that involves a blender, some moss and a beer. This is the info most often found on the internet.
- Transplanting moss - sometimes you can find or buy moss and then transplant it to where you want it to grow. This can involve harvesting from nature, or ordering from specialty moss suppliers.
- Cultivating moss - you can purposely set up an area or use flats to grow your own moss sod and then transplant that in sheets to the area where you want it to finally reside.
MOSS GARDENING - the book - by George Schenk
This is one of the premiere moss growing books on the market and it's perfect for me to use as the author was writing about his own experiences in the Pacific Northwest. Many of the gardening techniques are easy to do and have a gentle environmental impact.
Seeding with Beer/Moss Mixture
That beer and blender thing people talk about
I decided in early February to get some sort of moss seeding going in the light well. Although it is on the north side of the house, and thus is well shaded and retains moisture when we have rain, I didn't think the purely natural method would be very satisfying... lol...
A lot of web sites on the net talk about making a moss/beer slurry and then spreading it where you want moss to grow. As most of the moss in the yard was really thick, lush and popping, I figured it was a good time to help spread the green fuzzy love.
I took some nice bits from our front steps and broke it up into the blender with some beer and a bit of sugar, just some recipe I found on about a hundred web sites. That's it here in the picture. It sorta foamed up and I tried to mix it to be "creamy" as suggested. Then I took it outside and smeared it all over some bricks in the well and some of the metal surfaces too, to just see if the moss takes.
A few days after I did that, we entered a period of intense and heavy rain and it really seemed to just wash everything away. Ok, so that's how that method ended up.....
Spores For Scattering
If you absolutely have no natural moss to use to get started, the way you begin growing moss is with spores. Note that a packet of spores looks like dust. Scattered on dirt and kept moist, you can grow small amounts of moss in a few months.
Some Better Moss Advice
The gardener gets more serious
In March I had the opportunity to take a day trip down to Portland from Seattle and one of the featured stops was an amazing bookstore called Powell's.
I was selling some used books and decided that I could have just one or two new-to-me books. In the garden section, I found a copy of Moss Gardening, by Geroge Schenk (see Moss Books below). This is considered to be THE moss Bible for gardeners. Schenk lived in Vancouver, BC, Canada and was a landscape gardener.
It's a fantastic book and I quickly realized this was going to be one of my best resources. The thing I found the most interesting was that Schenk said that moss doesn't even need dirt. It wants an acidic surface that it can grow over. I realized that was what all those recipes involving beer or smearing yogurt on pots was about. Those both raise the surface acidity, which encourages the moss. The book said he'd tried those methods, along with commercial solutions for adjusting the Ph of your soil, but what he liked to use best was powdered instant milk.
I went to the pantry, and sure enough, we had some. So, I scattered a dusting of it on the rocks and surfaces in my light well.
A Moss Crazy Quilt
The idea takes a more definitive shape
During the month of April, I began to harvest moss from our own backyard as well as the neighborhood. If I was taking a walk and came across a really good patch of moss that was in total public space, I'd take a chunk of it. I was limited by what I could carry in both hands.
Some pots in the yard had good layers of moss across the soil surfaces, and I reclaimed those moss layers as my sister's spring seedlings slowly matured and were potted up and moved outside. All the bits I collected were put down on the rock bottom of the light well.
The idea is to form a moss colony, a sort of Victorian crazy quilt of moss. Each chunk is kept with similar mosses so that they form larger colonies and knit together.
For Earth Day weekend in April, I traveled to a private retreat in CA called Gaia's Oasis. They had been having record rain, and the mosses on the land were thick and lush. All over the property there are large boulders with mixed moss colonies on them. The picture here is of just such a rock. You can tell the different mosses apart by their color and varying degrees of dryness. I hope to have a blend of compatible mosses for my carpet eventually.
Weed As Needed
The biggest impediment to moss is any other plants competing in the same space, so weeding out any grasses or shoots while the plants are young makes the whole process easier. This weeding is nicknamed "rice picking" but devoted moss farmers look on it as a form of meditation with one's garden.
April showers bring May mosses
This is a great little growth of moss. It's on an aging blue truck, driven by my friend Calyxa who lives in Sunnyvale, CA. She'd mentioned this happening before, and this year, all those record rains in April sure did a great job of reviving this unusual growth of moss.
This is a juncture along the door frame on my friend's truck. The moss just started there itself one year and when there's enough rain, it revives and becomes verdant. I just recently was passing through the Bay Area and got to see the mossy clump for myself and take this picture.
It's growing at a spot where the paint is a bit worn on the truck's surface. The exposed metal would be a bit acidic from wear, and it's that slight acidity that moss really likes. Rocks get acidic when their surfaces wear down, especially from rain, and so, you might say this moss has just attached itself to a modern, suburban rock.
Growing Pots of Moss
Mosses tend to just rest in summer weather
Most often, summer just isn't a time for moss. It's just too dry and sunny. I'm still reading Schenk's moss book. He pointed out that moss is used to a cycle of wet and dry, and some new moss growers will mistakenly think that dry moss is unhealthy moss and try to keep watering it to keep it green.
Whatever your moss does in the summer is what it is supposed to do, so don't panic if it's dry and turns reddish or brown. Trying to keep it constantly wet if it isn't used to it can be unhealthy for your moss. Here in Seattle, we get rain on and off over the summer, so I'm not expecting my moss to dry out completely.
Here's a chunk relocated from a sidewalk in my neighborhood. It peeled up from the concrete in one nice little sheet, and I carried it home. Some moss I've laid on the rocks on the bottom of the light well, but since this one was so fluffy and lovely, I decided to put it into a shallow bonsai pot that was laying around. The pot has some sandy/rocky dirt in it, which helps retain a bit of water and props up the moss. It's been doing great. This pot is sitting on the cinder block, just above the goddess' head.
When we have a week without rain, it starts to get red-brown and with prolonged dryness, the moss will contract and get denser, and browner. However, even a light sprinkle can bring it back from that to what you see here.
Weeding and Critters
Dog days of Summer
The picture here shows a large pot that was full of moss back in the spring. Actually, it still is full of moss, it's just now it's August and not April.
Most of the moss is in the brown and dried summer state. I've also got tiny weeds coming up. Pulling these weeds is the "rice picking" I was referring to as I wind up pinching out teeny, new shoots with two fingers. The weeds are a combo of stuff that was planted in the planter before I decided to let it just go to moss, and seeds and volunteers you get from wind and birds.
Speaking of critters, notice how the moss is all chunked up and torn a bit? That's due to the ravages of squirrels. They see a moss carpet and think "huh, I wonder if I left anything buried there?" and they tear up big pieces or dig holes. I've come out some mornings and found huge areas just utterly turned over and shredded. Since this is summer and a first experiment, I'm not going to net the pot now, but in the fall, when it gets wetter and the moss reasserts itself, I just might do that to keep the moss rooted and protected.
Take A Closer Look
Here are some videos which will let you take a closer look at gardening with moss and how different people are working with it. You might find the right idea for your own garden.
The Rebirth of Moss
Mosses "wake up" in the fall
Take a good look at the picture in the module titled "Weeding and Critters" and then take another look at this picture.
Can you believe it's the same pot of moss? It's true and the pictures are only about a month apart. W&C's picture was taken in early August and this picture was taken in early September.
I haven't really done anything differently, but we've had a slight change in temperature and the days are a tad shorter now that we're moving into fall, and obviously, the moss knows this!
I've usually got one or two very deep squirrel holes to replace/repair nearly every morning. I think I'm going to try to hang in there until the end of the month and then do The Great Moss Transplant down to the light well.
Moss In The Hole!
The Great Equinox Moss Migration of '06
It's official! I've got moss growing down in the bottom of my light well! Or more accurately, I'm now working to keep the moss in the light well alive and thriving.
I decided to mark the Autumnal Equinox by migrating a lot of the moss I was cultivating in pots down into the actual light well space. The rains are just starting back up for the winter and a lot of my moss stock seemed healthy and robust enough to do it.
The picture here shows the light well, looking down from the level of the yard. I clustered the moss up at the end I don't use to climb down into the space so that I still have rocks to step on. A lot of the spiders and bugs in the well liked this end too, so I figured it was the best place to start laying out the moss. There are a couple of kinds of moss and I'll just have to wait and see if they all establish themselves or if one variety seems to dominate over the others.
When I lifted the moss out of their pots, I left whatever dirt clung to the underside and just laid the bits down on the rocky bottom of the space. I water it every other day when we haven't had rain which is supposed to help it get established. Last year, the green plushy moss stayed bright and fluffy until April or May, so I'm hoping I'll have this level of greenery all winter.
It's nice to look out my bedroom window and see this project coming together. I figure I'll climb in there and weed once a month during winter. So far, the squirrels have left it alone. I'm letting the big pot I was using as a cultivation space get mossy again, so I may have some more moss ready to transplant during the winter or in early spring depending on how fast it grows back.
The Great Drenching of Ought-Six!
So, at the end of September, I transplanted all that moss down into the light well. October was brisk and sunny. And then in November, Seattle set a new record for rain in a one month time period. In November 2006, there was 15.59" of rain in whatever it is they officially call the Seattle area.
This had little effect on my moss, or if it did, it was just to help it along. The dropping of temps has pretty much stopped any weed growth in the moss, as it's just too cold for the grasses and clovers so I haven't had to care for it at all. I'm pretty sure the rain actually helped it get established. Almost all of it is showing new growth as we round out the end of the year.
On To More Moss Farming
the soft green saga continues... slowly but mossily
So that this doesn't become the never-ending lens (which would be a project unto itself), this lens covers only my beginning adventures with moss.
Please follow along as I continue to expand the mossy carpet in my light well throughout with Moss Gardening. You can see how the moss continues to expand and see how backyard critters love (and wreck) moss from time to time.
If you've got a question or comment, you can do so below.
Thanks for visiting!