World of Mosses website

The Monday Garden
January 12 2003, issue no. 42
Winter Moss Mice
by Sue Sweeney

  

Moss is so insignificant when dormant that itís functionally invisible. But add winter rain and get brilliant green cushions, sometimes called ďmoss miceĒ. This piece, in a retaining wall near my high-rise, does resemble a creature of sorts. Itís an appealing notion that the thousands of moss clumps adorning stone walls, pavement cracks, and roof gutters are actually lurking hoards of veggie mice.

  

  

During a winter rain, moss is suddenly everywhere. Itís on the tree trunks and town monuments; itís covering the soil in my balcony pots, and transforming barren lawn into miniature wonderlands. Picking a single moss photo to share proved impossible, so you get two. Hereís a ground cover moss, shot at sunset just before Christmas in a local park:

  

  

Researching this article, I found out that there are 15,000 moss species, 12,000 of them present in the Americas. Bryologists (thatís what you call people who can tell the 15,000 mosses apart) believe moss to be the second plant to evolve, between algae and ferns. Moss is so primitive that it lacks a vascular system to transport nutrients and has no roots. Instead it anchors itself with sticky-ended filaments, like a mussel shell, and absorbs nutrients directly through cell walls.

Being very Zen, moss is beautifully serene unless you actively try to cultivate it. None of the 15,000 mosses do winter indoors, and, outdoors, moss doesnít like change. Each variety is a niche-player that has had 400 million years to specialize by light, temperature, moisture, soil acidity, water minerals, etc. Moving grown moss, then, is only for the expert and the lucky. Further, the moss gurus all admit that a large, uninterrupted sweep of moss, while breathe-taking, results in disharmony with your squirrels, dedicated moss diggers. It also annoys the neighbors because itís stoop-labor intensive, tempting one to resort to a (gasp!) leaf blower. Lastly, stealing moss from wild areas wrecks your karma; moss takes a long time to grow and is a vital part of the eco-system.

So, as far as I can see, the best way to bring moss in your life is to encourage small patches of pre-existing moss outdoors. Select spots you can keep moist, with sun and wind protection. With rocks and ferns is nice. Firmly pat down an inch or two of peat (for acidity and moisture retention) mixed with sand (for drainage and easy weeding). Keep damp and free of weeds, mulch, and litter. (This is work, so just do little spots). Air-borne moss spores will come. Alternately, crumpled-up bits of local moss can be pressed into the soil. Your new moss should be noticeable in 6 months and impressive in 2 years. Keep up the weeding and press the squirrel divots back down. Where moss grows in your lawn naturally, without all this effort, treasure it and lay off the killer chemicals.

To grow moss on pots, rocks, driftwood, brick windowsills, and other porous, rough surfaces, blend moss fragments with yogurt, thin with water, and paint on. Shade from full sun. Mist daily until the moss takes (a few weeks). Put rocks and empty pots in a shallow water pan.

Store-bought moss is a great winter mulch for outdoor pots but goes dormant when the spring bulbs flower. Try drying it out completely, as soon as it starts to turn. Then store it in an open bag in a well-ventilated area until late fall.

 
Copyright © by Sue Sweeney. Reproduced with permission.  More articles from The Monday Garden

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