Fall Maintenance for Moss Gardens

Fall Maintenance -Revealing the Green

Like other gardeners, moss gardeners have to deal with fall maintenance.

The main chore is to deal with falling leaves… and for some of us… pine needles. It is critical to the long-term success of your moss garden to remove leaf litter and debris on a regular basis. Mosses require light for photosynthesis and a covering of leaves will block it out. Yet, when moss gardeners blow away leaves, we reveal GREEN.

The best method for leaf removal is power blowing and NOT raking. If mosses are established in the landscape, they should not blow away. I’ve found that wet leaves separate from the mosses easier. It can be advantageous to moisten your leaves or blow after a rain. I actually blow on the high settings and use various angles, sometimes even pointing straight down and swaying the blower back and forth in quick strokes. If debris has accumulated in depressions, you will need to loosen it first with a broom or by hand.

If you have an occasional patch blow out of place, then you’ll want to put it back. Even in a moss garden that is well established, birds or critters might have already loosened it. Over the obnoxious roar of the leaf blower, I can be heard to exclaim my own dismay as a green piece gets caught up in the brown dead leaves. So, I stop the blower and grab the moss to replace it.

Leaf litter removal is not necessarily a daily task. However, it may be necessary to blow every few days just to keep up with the massive downfall from your own work load perspective. From the moss point of view, they can tolerate this moist covering for a while but they will definitely deteriorate if leaves are left over the winter season. If you have pine trees nearby, you may experience a sea of golden needles which need to be blown away, too. They can be particularly annoying since they can get caught in the sporophytes of bryophytes. After blowing, any leftover pine needle clumps usually need to be gently pulled out by hand. Unless you have the “gentle” touch, avoid raking. However, you’ll find that using a broom can be helpful. Use swift, light motions when sweeping.

The leaves and pine needles do provide some benefit to the health of mosses by sharing nutrients. The blowing helps spread this feast of “yummy” dust particles. Although mosses usually suffer in the long run from tree leaf coverings, I’ve found occasions when covered areas were greener than the exposed bryophytes. This observation was made last year with my first experience in growing Marchantia liverworts. Since I’m still experimenting with this type, I’ll see how they fair this winter.

Leaves are not your only fall chore. It is advisable to weed carefully before winter. Mosses provide an ideal germination environment for an assortment tiny weeds. You want to make sure that you get rid of them to minimize problems next spring. Pay particular attention to any weeds that have horizontal, spreading roots, like clover. There are many other smaller weeds that can be annoying

Beware of Sagina procumbrens which looks a lot like a Polytrichum or Atrichum moss. It has a small green leaf cluster with a horizontal root system resembling the rhizoids of a bryophyte. To further confuse the novice moss gardener, this vascular plant gets little pods that mimic short sporophytes. But, Sagina has flowers which is definite clue that it is not a moss. Pull all parts of the Sagina plants which will tightly interweave into your mosses and overtake them.

Weeding can be considered a relaxing respite or a labor intensive chore. Mosses can host many itty-bitty weeds making weeding a tedious task but sometimes being up close affords the moss gardener special delights. Recently, I was rewarded with the discovery of a hornwort, Anthoceros laevis ssp. carolinianus growing right in my own moss garden. Folks, there are only about 100 hornwort types in the entire world… this is quite a find! Finally, if you’ve integrated any ferns or other plants in your moss garden design, you’ll need to cut off their dead fronds, stems or flower heads. Usually, I give one more final quick blow as a last pass and then sit back to enjoy the glory of green mosses during the winter season.

While all gardeners perform fall maintenance, at least moss gardeners reap benefits right away and get to continue enjoying their green moss garden even when it’s cold. My moss gardening book will provide lots more practical advice and recommendations to aspiring moss gardeners who want to create their own magical moss retreats.

11 Responses to “Fall Maintenance for Moss Gardens”

  1. 1
    Ann Gordon

    Annie! Sagina! That’s it! That’s one of the plants I was trying to describe to you when we were at Highlands Biological! I knew it wasn’t a moss, but I’ve been trying to decide if it was a precursor (earlier stage) to the persistent grasses that keep showing up in one part of my mossgarden, or if it was the tiny ‘groundcover’ with the little flowers! Now you’v'e solved my mystery! Your wonderful photography is such a help! SO, my decision: I’ll dig it up before it takes over all the mosses, but I’ll save it and plant it somewhere else, maybe between some of my stone walkway, which is alot and has room for moss and other groundcovers! Aciu! Thank you! Love, MossMeiMei, Ann, the MossTender at ‘ElfLand’!

    Enjoy this great tickfree! moss weather!!!

  2. 2

    Hey Mei Mei… MISS you. I identified Sagina at one of my moss customer’s homes this week. The PROFESSIONAL landscaper had intentionally introduced its cousin, Sagina subulata (Scotch or Irish moss faker)… planted way too close to the mosses for my comfort. I tried to warn him. It is really hard to remove since it integrates into mosses with ferocity. Be careful where you transplant it.

    Wishing you and your family a happy holiday. Good luck with your own moss sales of your incredible creations. Your moss mei mei, Mossin’ Annie

  3. 3
    Debbie Menchek

    I live in Myrtle Beach, SC, about six miles inland from the beach itself. We are Zone 8B. My soil is somewhat sandy and acidic.
    I have already turned almost half my lawn into gardens and am striving to further reduce my lawn, especially in weak areas
    I recognize that there are significant differences between a mountain climate and my coastal climate. However, I am interested in adding moss to some of my weak lawn areas where pine tree roots compete with the grass and suck up water and nutrients. My target areas are under AM shade and dappled sun, but receive full afternoon sun.
    FYI: I do have an irrigation system which I try to use sparingly.
    Are there any mosses I can use under my conditions?
    Thanks in advance.

  4. 4

    Good Morning D
    Thanks for contacting Mountain Moss regarding your interest in establishing mosses in your landscape, specifically in areas where grass lawns struggle. While there are obvious climate differences between the mountains and the coastal regions, many of the very same mosses can thrive in both circumstances. We have an exclusive selection of mosses appropriate for shade and sun exposures that could transform your landscape.

    First, typical planting zones relate to regional temperature ranges… and COLD is not an issue with mosses. Phenolic compounds enable bryophytes to not only tolerate sub-freezing conditions but to actually display growth and reproductive stages in the winter months.

    Your sandy and acidic soil, under pine trees, offers a preferred substrate for many species. Leucobryum likes to have soil that drains well. It can thrive in shade or direct sun. I’ve seen it growing in sandy paths at Brookgreen Gardens near Myrtle Beach. Other moss species that will tolerate the extremes in sun exposure and the heat index of the SC coast include: Atrichum angustatum, Polytrichum commune, Bryum argenteum and Ceratodon purpureus. Because of the full afternoon sun in your target locations, you may need to choose from these sun-tolerant species.
    Shade options include a full range of types; Thuidium delicatulum, Hypnum imponens, Plagiomnium ciliare, Dicranum scoparium, Atrichum undulatum and many more.

    Because moisture is key to success, you will find that your mosses will grow faster, gain loft and display lush characteristics if you utilize your irrigation system. Mossy areas should have several supplemental watering sessions each day (when humidity is low or if temperatures are above 80 degrees). Watering sessions should be BRIEF – 2-4 minutes each. The most important time of the day to water is late afternoon. I’d suggest a late morning and an early afternoon session as well. Unlike vascular plants, early morning is the least significant time to water mosses. Also, you can water mid-day (won’t burn leaves) or at midnight (won’t cause mold issues).

    Finally, follow this basic guideline: WATER and WALK on your mosses to help rhizoids get established.

    Good luck as you explore the benefits and beauty of mosses in your landscape. We hope that this advice will help you achieve mossy goals. As specialists in moss gardening, we are happy to share our expertise and provide LIVE, mature moss colonies for your project from our Mossery. Thanks for considering doing business with Mountain Moss.
    Go Green With Moss!
    Mossin’ Annie

  5. 5

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  6. 6

    Hello, Mossin’ Annie–it is so good to discover you in the July ’13 gardening article in “Our State” magazine. As a long time moss fan, I am happy to find you, with the goal to greatly increase the mosses in my yard. I live in Roanoke, Va. and have both shady and sunny areas and will create a yard sun/shade drawing to help me figure out what to plant where. I look forward to talking to you soon. Mosses are magical, so beautiful and a wee bit mysterious. Perhaps it is this quality that draws me to them. I commend you on your work to collect, preserve and spread the use of mosses, one of Mama Nature’s most outstanding life-forms!

  7. 7

    Am so happy to find this site! I’m in Carrboro, NC and have had very encouraging success turning large portions our back and front yards to moss lawns. In your blurb about fall maintenance you mention the importance of removing little, horizontal-spreading weeds. The bane of my existence is what I believe is called dollar weed, which is little a miniature creeping charley…. I do take pleasure in zoning/zening out and surgically removing this stuff with occasional help from tweezers, but I’m just not able to keep up with it, especially after the big rains we had this summer. It’s really starting to take over the mossy slopes in my back yard. Any advice or words of encouragement?

  8. 8

    Hey Patty,
    Thanks for your words of support and encouragement. I hope others will join us in embracing the beauty and environmental benefits of moss gardening. I would love to see photos of your own moss garden. Please stay in touch.
    Mossin’ Annie

  9. 9

    Hey Joanne,
    Well… weeds (especially tiny weeds) can be a frustration for moss gardeners. One of the best ways to cope with this task is just what you’ve already done — ZONE/ZEN out while weeding. If you have this attitude the chore becomes a pleasure. Being up close and personal with your mosses while hand-weeding affords an intimacy with moss plants that other gardeners don’t seem to experience.

    Don’t use digger tools. If you create a hole in the mosses where weed has been removed, stretch adjacent mosses into blank space or fill hole with moss plant fragments. Pull any mosses attached to roots of weed and use them for fragmentation planting.

    If you are willing to use chemical killers, you may try Spectracide Weed and Grass Killer. Weeds die back (still pull out dead portions though). Mosses rarely stress over the application of this product. To be safe, try this method in a small section first. Allow several weeks for observation of any negative impact before you apply to the entire area. It is important to keep weeds under control or they could over-power the mosses and compromise long-term success.

    Good luck! Keep me posted on your success!
    Mossin’ Annie

  10. 10

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  11. 11
    joan hooper

    Thank you, Mossin’ Annie, for all your wonderful information! I live in New Orleans, Louisiana, and there is wonderful moss growing under a live oak tree in front of our house. We have monkey grass growing on most of the area under the tree but the moss has spread a lot on its own, thankfully. I would love to replace all the monkey grass with moss. It would be a fairly large area: perhaps 20′ X 15′. Anyway, the real problem is that a very small nearly round (there is a little notch in the circle that has the stem going down from it) leaf has taken over growing on top of the moss. I assume it is a weed. It is very hard to remove in that all that you can really pull up is the leaf itself and not its root although I do enjoy weeding and am not adverse to getting out there and into the “zone’! However, in pulling it up you pull up some of the moss. (Although I see where you say that if moss comes up when weeding you can use it to cover open spots.) Please help me! I’m so frustrated. Moss gardens are uncommon here. I love it and want very much to save it and increase it. Can I engage your services in this matter? I could pull up some of the leaves and send them to you together with some of the moss and ask that you identify the moss and the weed and advise if spectracide is the way to go or something else. Or I could photograph them with my phone and email to you. I will be happy to give you my credit card in advance of your consultation. Many thanks for your kind generosity in sharing your knowledge with everyone! Joan Hooper

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