Bring Moss Indoors to Enjoy Close-up
By Teresa Woodard
On my morning dog walks, I often return home with carpets of moss tucked in my pockets. I can’t help gathering the green tufts from rotting logs, boulders or the edges of a shady path. No mater the season, I’m inspired to use the treasures indoors to create — a spring nest centerpiece, a groundcover for potted bulbs, a nativity scene or an enchanting dish garden.
While mosses are the oldest terrestrial plants on earth, they have survived for millions of years without roots. Found on trees, rocks, river banks and even sidewalk cracks, these fascinating plants rely on leaves to transport moisture and nutrients. Mosses reproduce by casting spores. The thousands of moss varieties are divided in two basic groups — cushion mosses (“acrocarps”) which grow with the stem upright and form mounded colonies, and carpet mosses (“pleurocarps”) which grow with the stem flat and form more fernlike, creeping colonies. Lately, mosses are gaining renewed landscape interest as a no-mow lawn alternative especially for shady spots. While they’re most prolific in misty climates of the Pacific Northwest and Maine, many have adapted well to Midwestern growing conditions, even rebounding from dormancy after droughts.
Find moss on your own property or check with local garden centers, floral shops or online sources (www.mossandstonegardens.com, www.mossacres.com or www.mountainmoss.com ). If gathering moss from private property, remember to ask permission first, and avoid taking moss from public parks where it’s illegal.
Use a spatula or perennial knife to scoop under the moss, collecting a thin layer of soil along with the plants. Always collect responsibly, taking only small amounts from any single colony, so the slow-growing plants can regenerate.
Creating a moss container display
Choose a wide, shallow dish with drain holes. Consider a ceramic dish, a bird bath, a hollowed tree branch, a hypertufa trough, a faux bois (French for “fake wood”) container to mimic a tree trunk, or a simple plastic saucer from a larger pot. Avoid metal containers, since many mosses are sensitive to metals and chemicals.
Assemble moss and accessories. While gathering moss, search the woodland floor for potential accessories. Possibilities include stones, lichen-covered bark and shelf fungi from the sides of trees. Miniature hostas and ferns and even dwarf trees also make good accent plants.
To assemble the container, start with a layer of gravel for drainage. Add a layer of well-draining potting mix and insert accent plant(s) and larger accessories. Cover remaining exposed potting mix with pieces of moss. Use a single variety or various combinations of mosses. Water thoroughly with rain water and gently press mosses in place.
Situate your potted container in a location that best replicates its natural conditions – most likely with bright indirect light and access to rain water. Try placing the containers on shady porch steps, in the garden beneath trees or along the northern shaded side of the house. Moss containers can also make “visits” indoors to be enjoyed temporarily as a table centerpiece.
Keep the moss container watered exclusively with rain water, since tap water may contain minerals harmful to these sensitive plants. Thoroughly water weekly, and adjust frequency depending on the weather. Mist moss between waterings.
To learn more, visit Ohio Moss and Lichen Association’s website at www.ohiomosslichen.org or check out these books: Moss Gardening by George Schenk, New Methods in Moss Gardening by Richard Smith, Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer or Mosses of the Great Lakes Forest by Howard Alvin Crum.