This undated photo provided by Dale Sievert shows moss growing in a pot in Sievert's garden in Waukesha County, Wisconsin. Moss is a versatile plant to use in the garden, providing year-round green in everything from containers to a full lawn. (Dale Sievert via AP)

This undated photo provided by Dale Sievert shows moss growing in a pot in Sievert's garden in Waukesha County, Wisconsin. Moss is a versatile plant to use in the garden, providing year-round green in everything from containers to a full lawn. (Dale Sievert via AP)

Moss can be a versatile and beautiful addition to any garden

J. Paul Moore, who owned a garden center in Tennessee for over 30 years, can’t count the number of times people asked him how to kill moss.

He and other experts, however, say moss deserves more respect, as a versatile and beautiful addition to any garden.

“It’s stunning in the winter when everything else is dormant and dull. It’s like a little emerald island,” says Moore, who’s got an entire moss lawn. “It changes with atmospheric conditions — it’s ever-changing.”

And it looks better than his grass lawn did in Nashville’s hot dry summers, he says.

Moss provides a variety of shapes and textures, and can work in everything from a container to a whole lawn, like Moore’s.

“Mosses offer year-round green,” says Annie Martin, author of “The Magical World of Moss Gardening” (Timber Press, 2016). It thrives in a surprising range of climates; she once harvested some moss off a hot tin roof in June and found it to be a species that also grows in Antarctica.

Some lessons on how to garden with moss can be found in Japan, where it is more valued. Dale Sievert has created Japanese-style gardens at his home in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and for public gardens in Wisconsin and Chicago.

But this type of formal garden with great expanses of moss wasn’t actually what he found most interesting when he visited Japan. Rather, it was how often moss was used in private gardens along city streets, in front of businesses and homes — just a couple square feet in a planter, or the space between a sidewalk and a building.

“That’s how they garden with moss, in these little tiny spots,” he says.

So, he says, start small. One possibility: Instead of using mulch, plant moss to cover the ground under a perennial that’s bare at the bottom and bigger on top. Or start even smaller: in a flowerpot. Sievert has about 300 containers planted with moss, where they thrive even in the Wisconsin winter.

Another way to start is to encourage moss where it’s already growing in your yard. That’s what Moore did when he decided to give up trying to grow grass in an area where it refused to thrive. Within two or three years, the moss had covered about 5,000 square feet.

“The first thing people ask is, can you walk on it? What does it feel like on your bare feet?” he says. “I say, ‘Take your shoes off!’”

Although heavy traffic will wear it down, and you wouldn’t want kids or dogs roughhousing on it, moss actually likes to be walked on.

If you want to encourage moss to spread, remove weeds and grass, provide moisture and keep it clear of debris; don’t let leaves and sticks pile up. You can also move it around to where you want it: Mosses don’t grow from seed, but they do spread from any part of the plant.

“They can grow from a leaf or a stem or rhizoid,” says Martin. “Just cut them up or tear them up.”

You can also buy moss to plant. Martin sells many species online from her moss nursery.

“I have mats that roll out like a green carpet,” she says. “They’re great for people who don’t have patience.”

Moss will go dormant if it’s not watered, but uses less water than most other garden plants. Unlike them, it has no roots. The root-like structures you see when you pull up a clump of moss are called rhizoids. “Their only purpose is to hold it to the surface,” says Martin.

Since moss takes in water and nutrients through its leaves instead of through roots, several light waterings are better than a long drench.

This also means that planting is easy: You don’t need to dig holes or improve soil.

“You can use nutrient-poor soil where nothing else will grow and do nothing to prep it in advance except clear the debris away,” Martin says.

Another advantage: Moss doesn’t need fertilizer or pesticides. The same substances that keep moss from freezing in winter also taste bad to insects.

But to its fans, moss’ best feature is its unique charm.

“When you talk about moss to anybody, they smile. It’s like the plant equivalent of a teddy bear,” says Moore. “It conjures up elves in the forest.”

More in Life

Several pieces included in the Biennial Judged Show are seen at Kenai Art Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai Art Center opens Biennial Judged Show on Friday

The show features art across a variety of mediums, including photography, painting, watercolor, sculpture and metalwork

Pork, fermented kimchi and tofu make the base of this recipe for Kimchi stew. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Kimchi stew ushers in fall

This stew is spicy with a rich broth and fatty bites of pork — perfect for a chilly, clear-skied autumn day

A girl dressed as Snow White takes candy from a witch at the Orca Theater’s Trunk or Treat in Soldotna, Alaska on Monday, Oct. 31, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
October packed with Halloween events

October brings with it fall festivities, trick-or-treating opportunities and other seasonal celebrations

Minister’s Message: The right side of fairness

In God’s kingdom, the point isn’t that those who have get more, but that those who don’t have get enough

A copy of “Two Old Women” is held inside the Peninsula Clarion offices on Monday, Sept. 25, 2023, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ahlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Off the Shelf: Athabascan legend enchants, informs

The two women, shocked that they’ve been left behind by their family and friends, resolve that they will not resign themselves to death

Rusty Lancashire does some baking. (1954 photo by Bob and Ira Spring for Better Homes & Garden magazine)
The Lancashires: Evolving lives on the evolving Kenai — Part 5

Ridgeway homesteader Larry Lancashire was reminded of the value of such friendship in December 1950 when he shot another illegal moose

Will Morrow (courtesy)
Passing the time

There are lots of different ways to measure the passage of time

Shredded chicken and vegetables are topped with a butter crust in this classic chicken pot pie. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
A meal for when you need a hug

This classic chicken pot pie is mild and comforting

Kenneth Branagh portrays Hercule Poirot in “A Haunting in Venice.” (Photo courtesy 20th Century Studios)
On the Screen: Murder most haunting

Hercule Poirot takes on supernatural in latest Agatha Christie adaptation

Most Read