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Wednesday
Jan042012

Growing a Moss Path

I have been growing a moss path in my woodland garden for about five years, and winter may be the best time to appreciate its golden green glow.

Moss makes a wonderful, low maintenance path, and, yes, it is perfectly OK to walk on it, though high heels are not recommended! Jogging is not great, either, as this is likely to tear chunks of moss out of its place. But the foot automatically slows when it steps on the velvety surface of moss. Walking on a moss path transports one to a hushed and older realm, far from the stress and pace of modern life. It is best to savor the experience.


The easiest way to find out if moss will grow in your own garden is to look for it. If you have some moss already, be assured moss can grow for you. There are about 1200 species of moss over the world, and moss will grow if the conditions are right. Generally, moss needs damp air and some degree of shade, though there are a few mosses that will grow even in the desert. Moss often does best on acid soil, with a ph of 5-6, but not because it needs acidic soil. Many plants won't grow in such soil; therefore, competition for the space is lessened. And this is important: For moss to thrive, the surface needs to be bare. If you want to grow a moss path, keep the earth free of weeds, leaves, and other debris. I rake my path several times during fall to keep leaves off the path. For a few years I had to be diligent to pull weeds on a regular basis, though as the moss filled in, this chore lessened considerably. My paths are not perfectly manicured. It is the woods, after all. I do allow some violets and other wildflowers to grow in the moss path, which adds to the romantic quality of it.


Moss has roots that anchor it to the surface, but these roots don't absorb water or minerals. Unlike more advanced plants, moss does not have a vascular system to transport water and nutrients. Instead, moss absorbs moisture directly from the air and uses sunlight to produce food through photosynthesis. If moss is covered up, it will not grow successfully. Because moss doesn't get its nutrients from the soil, it does well on poor, compacted soil and even solid surfaces such as stone or brick.

It will also grow on trees, but fortunately it is non-parasitic, since it does not steal nourishment from its host. Moss cannot store moisture and will dehydrate during prolonged dry periods. Nevertheless, many mosses spring back to life quickly once they are rehydrated. My moss path doesn't receive supplemental water but has easily survived several droughts.

Moss does not produce seeds or flowers. Spores are borne on long filaments in spring, but propagation by this method is difficult. The best way to get your moss path going is by adding plugs or sheets of moss wherever you want it to spread. Moss either grows in clumps or spreads horizontally, and the spreading type is best for paths. Local moss will be most suitable to your site. Just rough up the surface of the bare ground, put the moss on it, then firmly press or step on it to help it attach. Water it in, and your moss is ready to spread. Moss was already growing in a few places within my paths when I first got started, which is what gave me the idea to let it spread throughout. I found moss growing in other spots on my property and added plugs of it to the paths. I was thrilled when I found moss growing over the surface of a large flat rock. With the help of a trowel, pieces peeled off easily and made perfect transplants.

 

If you have the right conditions, allow some moss to grow in your garden. A path or even a moss lawn may be just what you need to lower your blood pressure or to restore your frazzled spirit. Don't have so much space? Then try a moss garden on a smaller scale. No room at all? Moss, along with a petite fern, miniature hosta, or a wildflower or two can make a delightful dish garden to sit in a window or on a patio. 

Peace to you.   Deborah

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Reader Comments (29)

The moss path looks fantastic Debs, and suits the garden/setting much better than a lawn. Moss feels great to walk on to, with its different texture and 'spring' to the step :)

Happy New year btw!

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMark and Gaz

I'm looking forward to walking that moss path with you soon Deb! Mine is coming along nicely thanks to your expert advice!

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEve

A wonderful post about this unusual primitive plant. At the Missouri Botanical garden there is an entire woodland hillside carpeted in moss, and it really is velvety and clean and fresh. Your paths look more like moss streams --- you've done a good job of undulating them and keeping them natural and meandering. How I long for some shade in my garden to create a mossland like yours.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaurrie

Nice post Deb, your garden looks great! Your advice is well done and I'm so glad to not read anything about a blender or buttermilk! Moss Rocks!

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Spain

Moss is something we definitely 'DO' in the rainy Pacific Northwest!! It grows easily on and in boulders, paths, lawns and borders from the taller fluffy sort to the mat forming varieties. I tend not to use it on my paths as I scuff it up as I kneel to weed or run my wheelbarrow around. However i encourage it on our stream banks and big boulders along the pathway.

PS I'm still in love with your garden!

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKaren Chapman

Our first garden was so shaded, that growing moss was very easy. I was very stubborn back then, and tried for a few years to get a lawn to grow, and finally gave in, and let the moss take over. I actually liked the look much better, and it was much less stressful on the gardener too!

Here we have a lot of different mosses, a number of which we find growing on the trunks of oaks, and on rocks at this time of year. They really are a diverse, and fascinating species, and grown en masse the effect can be absolutely gorgeous. The moss on your path is a beautiful color, and really draws the eye in.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCurbstone Valley Farm

I have moss growing in my garden in various places but it never occurred to me to transplant it. What a brilliant idea!

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterb-a-g

Just beautiful!! I would encourage you and your readers to check out this website below (and their blog).

http://www.mossandstonegardens.com/

They have a product called Moss Rocks! They are the cutest little containers of moss!!! Check them out. Their website is filled with tons of info about growing moss and pictures of breathtaking moss landscape designs and container ideas. I have no affiliation with them; I just found the site yesterday and I am amazed at how beautiful the moss can be in a landscape -- as you have shown us, too :-)

I don't have a lot of moss growing here in my TX garden, but I have some on the rocks by my pond. I would love to try growing some in the shade in a container.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterToni - Signature Gardens

Hi Deb! I love this moss path! We have moss in our garden since it's so wet here! You are right, it's pretty and you can walk on it!
I thank you for your comment on my post about killing our forest. One of the worst parts of the story is that that person who did it lives in our neighborhood and used to walk his own dog in that forest. When prices on timber went up he swapped another property for this piece of land with the only purpose - to harvest trees and sell them to China... Thanks again!

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTatyana

A path into a fairy tale ... not viable here, tho in winter and the shade I do see some moss. My bonsai pots could become moss gardens.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterElephant's Eye

Moss is always welcome in my garden, but there is not many places it will grow all season. I have a small moss garden and it seems to like the paving quite well. I think it is a fascinating organism and how it propagates itself is really very cool. Nice post, Deb.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

I just love the look of moss and your moss paths are lovely. Moss will grow here during long wet seasons, but mostly in between pavers and brick work which makes walking about the courtyard and shadehouse quite risky during that time. I've never had the heart to try and get rid of it though.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBernieh

This is so beautiful...I do have some moss that occurs naturally in the garden and I let it grow. I may actually train it down the pond path...it adds so much to the garden, trees....what a wonderful project...I am just blown away at how all your hard work has made this incredible path

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDonna@Gardens Eye View

This is awesome. I want a moss path.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJess

Your moss path looks wonderful! So perfect for a shady garden.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersweetbay

Moss is so lovely in a shade garden, we have quite a bit here in the woodland strip and also in the lawn, which never goes brown in the summer! Love your moss paths, they must be so soft to walk on!

January 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPauline Mulligan

Great information Deb, a labour of love for sure. The only problem with trying to grow a moss path here in Ireland is that the weeds seem to grow quicker than just about anything else. Other than that the conditions here are perfect. Its damp all year round and the whole country in permanently in the shade ;) Or maybe it just seems like that at the moment. Happy New Year!

January 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSunny from stone art blog

Your moss path is so absolutely beautiful!! I love moss. It is just so lush and tranquil. I have a small moss garden in a container in the shade and am trying to transplant more moss around it. I love moss gardens!

January 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterIndie

What a beautiful moss path! I love moss and encourage it to grow all over my garden on rocks, pots, sculptures and more. I would love a moss path but I bet Mojo (my big bear of a dog) would scatter it everywhere - but then it would grow where ever it scattered.

January 5, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterthevioetfern

Your paths are gorgeous and I am very jealous. Have you ever tried spreading your moss by putting it in a blender with buttermilk and pouring it around. A customer of mine did this and it worked.

You pathway looks fabulous! I love moss - have a teeny moss patch on some pavers - and adore it! Thanks for all the info - it was an interesting read.

This is my dream! I would love to feel your pathway - barefooted. I have too much sun for a moss pathway, but maybe I can get some of my (tiny patch) moss to spread.

January 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHolleyGarden

It's too dry to grow moss here in Santa Fe. I wish I could. I will feel the moss vicariously through your post. I can't help but marvel at how lush it looks in your garden. It's one of the things I miss most about the South.

January 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGirlSprout

Moss grows on my patio in the spring, fall, and winter but it must go dormant in the summer because it seems to disappear. Your moss path is incredible. It looks so soft and welcoming.

January 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCasa Mariposa

Hi Deb, Happy new year! What an excellent and informative post! I have started some moss in my front flagstone pathway and am encouraged by its quick spread. The path is quite exposed to the elements, and so fingers crossed, it makes it through winter.
The timing of this post is perfect as I have been working on a post about pathways. Mine has more of a design focus. I hope it is okay that I make mention of your post and offer a link back to it for readers who want to learn more about establishing a moss pathway.

January 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

Deb if you love moss you would love the area of the world I live in, there is sooo much moss, my only complaint is that where I am due to the much higher levels of rain than you moss becames a seed bed of almost everything especially horrid tough grass, a nice lot of info here, you have done well with your path it must have been quite a lot of work over the years, happy 2012, Frances

January 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterIsland Threads

Great photos. Another moss gardener can be found at Lee May's Gardening Life. By the way, I'm also drawn to the bridge and its amazing color.

January 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNitty Gritty Dirt Man

Hello, Deborah,

My, my, how great to connect with a kindred soul in the moss world. I love the mosses you're cultivating. And, how ironic is this: I read your fine advice on mosses just after coming inside from . . . raking mine. Thanks to Nitty Gritty Dirt Man for introducing us.

Cheers,
Lee

January 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLee May

Magical! I have been introducing moss into my gardens, but never considered a moss path!
Stacey
www.downtoearthdigs.wordpress.com

January 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStacey
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