How To: Grow Moss

Moss has many uses in the garden. A scattering on a stone wall lends a romantic patina, while cultivated tufts can create a velvety green ground cover. Here's how to establish and maintain this eco-friendly, versatile plant in your own garden.

How to Grow Moss

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There are two main types of mosses—acrocarpous and pleurocarpous. The former grows vertically and resembles strands of hair, while the latter is characterized by a close-cropped horizontal growth habit. Gardeners have been cultivating both types for centuries, particularly in Japan, for a host of reasons: Not only does moss excel as a ground cover, but it also lends a sense of maturity to the landscape, helping a planted environment look less manicured and more natural.

How to Grow Moss on Soil
Planning to grow moss on a bed of soil? I recommend transplanting from elsewhere in your garden or a neighbor’s property. The goal is to relocate a patch of moss that’s been growing in circumstances similar to those in the spot where it will be planted. Transplanting requires no special removal techniques. Once you’ve identified the moss you want to transplant, simply use an old knife or garden spade to free up the amount of moss you’d like to—or have permission to—take.

Back on your home turf, prepare the ground with a rake. Next, dampen the soil and lay the moss on top. Once the moss is in place, press down on it firmly, pinning it down with enough rocks to ensure that the moss maintains a high level of contact with the surface of the soil. Over the next few weeks, be sure to keep the moss consistently moist. This is critical. You’ll know the moss has successfully established itself only when you can give it a light tug without shifting the material.

How to Grow Moss - Rocks

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How to Grow Moss on Rocks, Bricks, or Pots
To grow moss on objects in your garden, such as dry stones on a retaining wall or a collection of clay pots, you need to take a different, slightly trickier approach. First, combine plain yogurt or buttermilk (two cups) and chopped moss (one and a half cups) in a bucket. Mix until the concoction becomes easily spreadable; add water if it’s too thick, additional moss if it’s too thin. Now spread the mixture wherever you would like the moss to grow. Over the next few weeks, make sure to keep the burgeoning moss moist. Within six weeks, so long as it’s been properly cared for, the moss should begin to grow rather vigorously.

How to Care for Moss
Moss likes moisture and acidic (pH 5.0 to 6.0) soil. It also likes shade. There’s no getting around it: Because moss draws nutrients via filaments, not through a root system, it dries out very quickly in the sunshine. Bear in mind that weeds can steal the moisture that moss needs, so in order to grow moss successfully, you must be a vigilant and ruthless weed killer. Finally, come fall, remember that moss cannot survive under a blanket of dead leaves. Rake—and rake often!