World of Mosses website

A Graphic Guide to Ontario Mosses

by Robert Muma


Moss Gardening


Moss collectors with gardening instincts are often tempted to take home luscious chunks of moss for the rock or wild flower garden.  It seems like an excellent opportunity for more intimate study of living subjects except that it almost invariably ends in disappointment.

Mosses are extremely selective about their environment and are growing where you found them because all the circumstances were exactly right for them in that time and place.  Moving them to another situation, no matter how seemingly identical, may jeopardize their welfare by lack of some quite obscure factor.

Next to lichens, mosses are probably the most environmentally sensitive group of living things and many species no longer thrive within our urban or industrial atmosphere.  Thus it may be that those mosses cannot be transplanted successfully which are not already native to that locality.

The Japanese have been very successful in creating moss gardens with numerous species over large areas.  Undoubtedly others have had similar success.  A few years ago the author was able to keep 35 collected species thriving in a shady rock and water garden for a whole summer in his own city back yard.  Only a third of these survived into the following spring however.  And in 3 years scarcely half a dozen of them were still living.  These half-dozen were species quite common in the surrounding neighbourhood anyway.  For any who would like to try the challenge of this kind of culture, the following guidelines may be useful:

  • Mosses need almost constant shade and plenty of moisture, as well as surrounding and overhanging vegetation.

  • Rocks, a board fence, or protective growth of some kind are necessary to shield them from drying winds.

  • Most important is the nature of its substratum or base upon which the moss was growing: the soil and its pH factor; living or rotting wood; rock, acidic or alkaline.  Therefore, be sure to carry plenty of the substratum with the transplant to blend into its new habitat.

  • Some mosses grow mainly in the shelter of one kind of tree; others of another.  Still others favour the proximity of certain metals.  Putting your mosses in the wrong context may thus only provide them with a more hasty demise.

A supplement or winter alternative to the outdoor garden is an indoor terrarium containing a few select specimens.  The main problem here is mildew, so be sure the glass container is sterilized and has a layer of sterilized pebbles and earth on the bottom.  Mosses will not long survive a temperature in excess of 20C so if possible move them to a cooler place overnight.  Neither should they have too much light or they will grow long and spindly beyond recognition.  Good luck!  Even modest success is well worth the effort involved.


Maybe it helps to have a moss-green thumb!


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