Is Moss Messy?

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Hello Crew,

In our last post, Lichen Life, we discussed the ever-present life forms known as lichen. In this article, we will discuss another under-appreciated and unsung garden resident, known as Moss. Moss is one of the oldest known life forms on Earth. It has been dated through fossil records to at least 400 million years. The next time you look at a patch of Moss, try to appreciate how many generations have come forward through history, and the changes that have occurred on this planet over the past 400 million years. There are thousands of species of Moss on the planet. How many thousands is a debatable subject. It depends on whom you ask and how s/he groups them. Scientists can however agree that there are between 9,000 and 14,000 species of moss in the world.

An easier question to answer is, “What is Moss?”. It is a very simple plant. While it lacks the typical leaf, roots, shoots, and seed-forming systems of higher plants, it is actually a plant. Moss is also one of the hardiest living organisms on the planet. Keep this fact in mind when you’re trying to control it, or when you’re looking for a tough green plant to cover a difficult area.  It can be found growing on soil, rocks, trees, other substrates and even under water! This is because Moss does not gain nutrients, moisture and air from roots, but from its stems and root like rhizoids. It creates its food through photosynthesis. Moss reproduces both sexually (spores, etc…) and asexually (breaking off smaller pieces that divide and multiply).

With its many shades of green and ability to grow on many surfaces, Moss can be your friend.

With its many shades of green and ability to grow on many surfaces, Moss can be your friend.

Fun facts about moss…

This tenacious little life form evolved from algae and is thought to be the first plant to manage survival on solid ground.

Moss has anti-bacterial properties and was used as bandages from ancient times to as late as WW1 for both its blood stopping capability and its healing properties.

In the past moss was used for insulation of houses and boots!

Moss is  excellent for erosion control as on the average it can absorb 20% its weight in fluids. Sphagnum peat moss can absorb 25%.

One species of moss (Schistostege) is luminous.  It is found near cave entrances and has the ability to reflect light casting a faint green glow at the doorway of the cave.  Many believe this moss to have sparked the imagination of those that created the fairy and goblin stories we know today.

Schistostega, sometimes called 'Goblin's Gold'

Schistostega, sometimes called ‘Goblin’s Gold’

Moss is sometimes considered a pest in lawn areas and, as mentioned, can be difficult to control. Let’s look at the conditions that can cause Moss to occur.

  1. Poorly drained, persistently wet soils.
  2. Acidic soil conditions
  3. Medium to dense shade
  4. Mowing turf too low, often on uneven terrain
  5. Compacted soils

There are many commercial products on the market that are labeled to control Moss. Most are temporary fixes that don’t actually cure the underlying condition. One of the most common products used by homeowners attempting to control moss is a glyphosate based herbicide like Roundup®. This won’t work. If you want to get rid of Moss in your lawn, environmental and physical controls are the place to start.

Here are some solutions to remedy mossy areas

  1. For wet soils, grading and drainage installation may prove effective.
  2. Soil acidity can be easily diagnosed with a soil test. Use an inexpensive hardware store test kit or contact your local Cooperative Extension Agent. This is one of the easiest conditions to solve using lime to raise the pH.
  3. Shady areas can be improved with proper pruning. Thinning the canopy or removing lower limbs may help. Hire a CERTIFIED arborist with a good reputation to prune your larger trees. DO NOT CUT DOWN YOUR TREES TO GROW GRASS! Proper pruning can promote healthy trees. Removing your trees will often cause your soil to hold more water. Trees help to regulate soil moisture.
  4. Raise your cutting deck if you are “scalping” areas of your lawn. If you have a hump in the lawn, grade that area and reseed it.
  5. Compacted soils can be aerated with a variety of tools. The most effective is a gas powered lawn aerator. These can be rented or you can hire a professional to provide this service.

Many gardeners appreciate and use Moss in the landscape. It provides a lush green carpet where turf won’t grow. Moss also provides erosion control, and helps retain nutrients and moisture in the soil. It is low maintenance, soft on the feet, and is quickly becoming a desirable alternative to turf grass. A simple image search for “Moss Garden” will produce exceptional examples of using Moss in the landscape. It makes the garden seem more “lush”, and adds a beautiful soft texture. Moss partners well with ferns, shade loving shrubs, and rocks.


Should you decide to add moss to an area of your landscape, a little  bit of site preparation is necessary. Weed and remove any existing plants from the area. Rake to remove debris and smooth the area. Gently tamp the area once it is cleared. You will want to soil test and adjust the pH to around 5.5 (somewhat acidic). Soil pH can be lowered using skimmed milk powder, powdered sulfur, or certain fertilizers that are acidic. Amendments will need to be watered in.

You will find many products available on the market to start Moss. Usually it is a slurry in a “milk-type” carton. You can have success with these products, or you can make your own slurry.

Add to a blender or food processor:

1 cup of yogurt or buttermilk

1 egg

A handful of your chosen moss

Blend it to a uniform liquid and paint it on areas that you would like to have Moss growing. Water the moss area daily with a sprinkler, until it is well established.


Once your moss is established, maintenance is minimal. You may want to weed it and blow debris off of it. Be careful with rakes, as you might tear it. A broom is always an option for debris removal. If your moss turns brown, try watering it. Normally it will turn green overnight. If it does not green up, you may want to do some detective work. You see, Moss is a bioindicator. Moss requires fairly unpolluted air and water to exist. A sharp decline in the health of your moss, could be a sign of pollution. Moss is also extremely sensitive to acid rain. With spring just around the corner, now is the time to plan. Spring and early autumn are the easiest times of the year to establish moss.

No, these are not Pine trees. It is Dawsonia, the tallest moss on Earth. It can grow to 20 inches tall.

No, these are not Pine trees. It is Dawsonia, the tallest moss on Earth. It can grow to 20 inches tall.

A nice treatment to "naturalize" this block retaining wall

A nice treatment to “naturalize” this block retaining wall

The team here at HH believes that moss, with its serene beauty and charm, certainly deserves respect in the plant world.

* If you should choose to add Moss to your garden, please take before, during, and after photos. Email the photos to share with your fellow crew members.


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