25 November 2009
In The Garden With the Fluvanna Master Gardeners
By Irene C. Burke - Fluvanna Master Gardener
Fluvanna County Extension Office: 434.591.1950
For many gardeners moss is an intruder that must be terminated and eradicated. For a few, moss tells a different story — of soil, water, sunlight and calm. To ignore its tale is to take on the challenge of cultivating something that would rather be somewhere else. Where moss grows, grass would rather not.
Several of my gardening friends detest moss because they love an unblemished thick emerald lawn. They think moss and grass are a zero-sum game. Not true! You can have both. So foster the moss where you find it, gather it from similar locations to thrive in your garden, edging planting beds as it does mine.
Mosses, probably the earliest land plants, arose from their ancestral green algae more than 440 million years ago. While they prefer moist environments, mosses will survive in deserts and drought, on any surface in a wide range of pH. They are opportunistic, which is clearly why they have survived so long. Where others are slow to root, moss will creep in, flourishing at any angle, in any vacant space.
In our shade gardens with intermittent moisture, moss will easily cover dusty patches during Central Virginias hot summers, then reforest at the slightest suggestion of damp.
Mosses are always growing. Theyre green and luxurious in the winter when other groundcovers are not. Moss, a tidy remedy for soil erosion, evades disease and pests and needs no fertilizer.
For nest-building creatures like birds and chipmunks, however, mosses are a preferred material, although their gathering makes scarcely a dent. Matted autumn leaves, though, will block light, creating a perfect environment for moldy rot. Two weeks of autumn maintenance is required with a coarse broom, a blower, or netting, lifted to a mulch pile with its debris atop.
First principles of moss are the same for all else in your garden: location, location, location. Moss covering a horizontal surface will require the same angle in its new setting; likewise, moss taken from any slope will need slanted ramparts to climb as well. Moisture and light conditions will need to be duplicated too, or the newly settled moss may go dormant until placed where it wants to be.
The glory of moss is that it ignores soil pH; even when pH differs from one location to the next, your transplant will prosper, if you match moisture, light and slope.
Moss loves compacted, stony soil with poor drainage. Maybe thats why the nearby Shenandoahs are thickly carpeted with all sorts.
Since mosses take their nutrients from air and water, encourage their growth on once heavily mulched areas by exposing the compacted clay; transplant and water a few weeks until established.
Because moss will grow on any surface, smooth or porous, acid or alkaline, try your hand at creating the woodlands for a temporary transfer inside. Mist daily or cover with a glass cloche, removing it for an hour or two for air circulation.
My indoor mosses grow in bonsai mame pots (2 x 2 x 1 inches), clustered by threes on water-soaked, pebble beds in clay saucers. The peaceful forest lies within and without.
Tip of the Week
Run your motorized equipment out of gas before storing or use a fuel stabilizer. This will keep the gas from "going bad", like gooey molasses, and make it easier to start in the spring. Gas "goes bad" by evaporating the volatile components.