August 2010

Go green with moss

By Annie Martin, Mountain Moss Enterprises

Go green with moss
My moss garden in Pisgah Forest this spring showed colorful azaleas in contrast with the lush, verdant green of mosses.

Eco-friendly mosses provide viable horticultural solutions and year-round green appeal for shade gardens, green roofs, stone patios and even as moss lawns. Since mosses require no fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides, they have no negative impact on groundwater. Environmental benefits complement the aesthetic appeal of a serene moss garden. Mosses soothe the soul and bring a smile to your spirit.

From the mountains to the sea, you can establish a landscape of these ancient plants with a myriad of textures, shapes and shades of green. Over 450 million years old, mosses can enhance the beauty of any garden. You don't need to have a "green thumb" to grow green mosses. Following the horticultural guideline of "right place, right plant," you can create a verdant green patchwork that will provide delight throughout all seasons.

With over 600 types of bryophytes indigenous to North Carolina, there is a right moss for every place. Only a few bryophytes have common names like "Fern Moss," "Log Moss" or "Pincushion Moss". Therefore, moss references use scientific names like Thuidium delicatulum, Hypnum curvifolium, or Leucobryum glaucum. The elegance of these names hint of the miniature features of various mosses. Indeed, Thuidium delicatulum looks like tiny, delicate fern fronds.

Consider creating moss focal areas, using moss instead of mulch, "greening" your stone patios or walls, or converting grass into a moss lawn. First, assess your micro-environments. Using appropriate mosses for various sun exposures and different substrates is key. It is a myth that all mosses require shade. Many Carolina bryophytes tolerate partial shade and sun, and even direct sun.

Look around your place

As a novice, you might start with a shade moss garden which presents fewer challenges and certainly reduces your weeding chores. Look around the perimeter of your property for mosses that could be transplanted to your preferred location. If purchasing mosses, confirm plants have been legitimately harvested or propagated by a moss grower. Do not remove plants from public forests and parks. Native plant rescue groups exist around the Carolinas providing acquisition opportunities.

Don't be fooled by moss fakers which include: Spanish Moss (Bromeliad family), Reindeer Moss (lichen); Club Moss (lichopod); and Irish Moss or Scotch Moss (Vascular plants with roots and flowers).

Unique botanical characteristics distinguish bryophytes from other plants. True mosses are nonvascular. Rhizoids rather than roots help connect them to soil or stones. Mosses have no flowers, and consequently no seeds either. Yet, their sporophytes do display brilliant reds, golds, and bronzes to complement their normal year-round green appearance.

Another unusual aspect of mosses is that their leaves have no cuticle and are only one cell layer thick. This characteristic enables mosses to derive their entire sustenance from rainfall and dust particles directly through the leaves.

Mosses and water

Adequate humidity, rainfall, and/or supplemental watering are key factors in maintaining a sustainable moss garden. Stress-tolerant mosses don't follow typical seasons like other vascular plants, even growing in freezing winter temperatures and seemingly unfavorable soils.

The appearance of bryophytes drastically changes based on moisture content. During low rainfall periods, provide additional drinks for thirsty mosses. Drenching soaks are rarely needed, just thorough spraying or misting regularly in late afternoon, especially on hot, dry days.

Periodically remove dead leaves with a blower, not a rake.

Before planting, clear intended space of any weeds or debris. Remove all mulch. A general rule for acid-loving mosses is pH 5.5. (Some bryophytes prefer limestone substrates and have different pH requirements.) Place mosses on hard-packed soil, inter-leafing edges of the pleurocarpus mosses (carpets) and huddling together acrocarpus types (mounds) for moisture retention.

Water thoroughly and walk on mosses every day for 2–3 weeks to help establish your mosses.

If you've chosen the right moss for the right place and provide consistent watering with occasional leaf removal and weeding, you can be successful in your efforts.

To learn more about mosses and native plant rescues:

About the Author

Annie Martin, known as "Mossin' Annie", is the owner of Mountain Moss Enterprises in Pisgah Forest and a Transylvania County Master Gardener Volunteer. She can be reached at
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Comments (4)

  • Mary Vaughan

    Mary Vaughan

    12 January 2018 at 09:12

    Can you tell me if this is a true moss. A rough moss-like plant grows in Macon County NC on Scaly Mtn. This plant grows on road banks and open areas, called by locals “turkey tracks” Is this a true moss?


  • Mossin' Annie Martin

    Mossin' Annie Martin

    14 January 2018 at 14:20

    I'm assuming that "turkey tracks" is what is also commonly called, "turkey feet". Sometimes these evergreen groundcover plants are also called "Princess pine" or "running ground cedar", The generalized term "Club Moss" gives the misleading idea that these plants are true mosses (bryophytes). But, actually, these plants are scientifically classified as Lycopodium. Like mosses and fungi, lycopods reproduce via spore production not seeds like vascular plants. Thanks for trying to discern what is a true moss. Good question! -- Mossin' Annie, author, The Magical World of Moss Gardening (Timber Press 2015)


  • Mary Vaughan

    Mary Vaughan

    15 January 2018 at 09:13

    Thank you for your very helpful reply. I’m buying your book, and will be in touch again.
    Mary Vaughan


    • Mossin' Annie Martin

      Mossin' Annie Martin

      15 January 2018 at 10:46

      Autographed copies of my book, The Magical World of Moss Gardening, are available through my Web site: I'll provide a personal inscription to you or friends. Thanks for your direct support of my mossy endeavors. -- Mossin' Annie


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