Botanica Atlanta | Landscape Design, Construction & Maintenance


Atlanta Garden Design

Moss in the Landscape

Posted by Sam Valentine on September 3, 2016 at 9:30 PM

Image: Dave Ginsberg


By their very nature, landscapes abound with living things. Landscape designers and installers generally think of "life" in the garden in terms of "plant material" and fill their toolbox with lawn, herbaceous-perennial, shrub, vine, and tree species. We use this greenery to contrast and complement architecture, hardscape, and water features, and to compose a cogent environment.


With rare exception, "moss" is left out of our planting palette.


Horticultural disclaimer: In this post, the word "moss" is used loosely and completely unscientifically. "Moss" is often a catch-all word, used to describe not just bryophytes, but a wide range of lichens and vascular plants, such as Spanish moss.


Image: Helgi Skulason


Moss is generally thought of as green, but with variations in weather and species, it can range from lime-green to maroon-brown in color. Moss has a delicate but robust way of covering surfaces -- it could be thought of as a living spandex. It creeps slower and more tenderly than a vine. It covers tighter and more versatilely than turf grass.


Images: Cartsen Tolkmit, Ben Stanfield, Peter Mulligan, and Vanlal Tochhawng


It is not too far off to think of moss as more "material" than "plant." Finding moss scrawled across an old garden wall, covering stone, concrete, brick, and mortar, can call to mind wallpaper.


Images: Drew Brayshaw, Kelly Kendall, Toshi Kawabata, and UGA Gardener


Left alone in the right microclimatic conditions, the density with which moss conquers a forest or garden floor forms, quite literally, a carpet.


Image: Ethics Gradient


The internet offers an array of videos and articles encouraging greater use of moss in the garden, including seemingly hare-brained propagation schemes involving yogurt and buttermilk. Other sources show a more predictable approach, such as transplanting patches of moss directly to open soil. For the most part, the installation tips found online read as common sense; a gardener should think back to environments where he or she has seen moss thriving naturally and try to replicate those conditions.


Maintenance is, likewise, mostly common sense. Do not mow or fertilize a moss planting. Most (but not all) mosses perform better in shade and moisture. A moss carpet can handle some foot traffic and is better cleaned with a leaf-blower than a rake.


Mosses, especially bryophytes, are believed to be one of the earliest evolutionary descendants of sea algae, and one of the first plants to have thrived on land. To some, moss is associated with primordial landscapes and ancient ruins, but do not leave moss out of your planting palette. Rather than decay, moss brings character and an aura of sophistication to the landscape.



Image: Alex Brown




Categories: Plant Profiles

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