Originally created 07/31/98

Moss can be beneficial



Moss. It's that velvety-green stuff that can look like a soft pincushion or a fuzzy carpet. It grows in shady areas around tree trunks and creeks and creates a mystical feeling.

And many Augustans want it out of their lawns, according to Jenny Addie of Green Thumb West in Augusta. However, the colonies of tiny green plants that make up moss beds are natural for moist, shady landscapes -- especially pathways.

With 23,000 different types of true moss, there is a wide range of hues and textures in the plants, which are not always green, according to the book Moss Gardening, by George Schenk.

Mary Alice Mathis, who works with Garden Magic in Augusta and Nurseries Caroliniana in North Augusta, is a big fan of moss. She uses it in her yard and in plant and flower arrangements.

"It's great in water gardens and bogs. If I had a low area in my yard I'd do a whole moss lawn," she said.

In his book, Mr. Schenk describes moss as having wispy root systems like down feathers. Moss colonies are made up of slim stems with tiny leaves shaped like needles, scales, eggs or leaf fronds. Unlike most plants, moss has no vascular system for transporting nutrients from water and soil. In moss, the transportation of vital elements occurs through osmosis, or cell to cell. Moss spreads by spores, which float through air and water.

Moss is ancient and some fossils reveal it's been around for about 400 million years. Used often in Japanese gardens, the plant can "mellow" a landscape.

"It's very sensuous-looking," Mrs. Mathis said.

To propagate moss for use in container gardening or outdoors, she suggests taking moss and putting it in a blender with beer. The yeast in the beer activates the moss spores. Place the mixture on a flat holding rich soil and put it under a tree or in another shady spot in the yard. Mist the flat regularly to keep the moss and soil from drying out.

Locally, sphagnum moss grows in bogs. It is used in plant propagation and as a medium for sowing seeds. It's drier than some mosses and is an effective medium for creating topiaries. Partly-decayed sphagnum moss is also known as peat moss.

Traditional Southern Spanish moss hanging from oak trees is actually a tropical plant and not a relative of moss and lichen.

Moss indicates poor drainage, infertile or compacted soil, excessive acidity and shade. Lawn-obsessed gardeners who prefer the look of grass can buy products to kill moss.

However, moss-lovers like Mrs. Mathis wish gardeners would be a little more open-minded about moss in their yards.

"I wish people would appreciate everything for what it is," she said.

Moss tips

Although some people attempt to rid their yards of moss, its resilience and low-maintenance appeals to gardeners who enjoy its evergreen, velvety presence.

Managing moss

Here are tips for managing moss from the Reader's Digest 1001 Hints & Tips for Your Garden:

•  To kill grass and promote moss growth, add sulfur, aluminum sulfate or ferrous sulfate to sour soil to pH of 5.5.

•  If moss is already present, be patient. Moss spores will blow in and establish themselves. It takes about three years for a lawn to fill in completely.

•  To sod moss, lift it gently with a spade and relocate to desired spot. Press firmly into soil and mist lightly for the next two weeks.

•  Place moss in the crevices and corners of rock pathways or structures to soften the edges of rocks. Wildflowers will grow in moss if seeds are rolled in a little soil and press into a patch of moss. Mist to keep moist.