While the thick, tangled carpet can be a nuisance in some cases, it makes the perfect ground cover in others. It’s low maintenance, natural, and beautiful, offering a unique aesthetic to any outside space. It can even handle light foot traffic, making it a suitable substitution for finicky turfgrasses.
But aside from its looks and low-maintenance nature, moss offers numerous environmental benefits, like preventing soil erosion, moisture retention, and supplying nutrients. It’s fairly versatile, growing on soil, tree trunks, and rocks, so it can thrive in almost any condition.
However, when planting moss as a natural ground cover, you’ll need to follow a few key steps and exercise patience while it grows and thickens (arguably the hardest part). Here’s what you need to know about using moss as a natural ground cover.
Benefits of Using Moss as a Ground Cover
If you’re searching for a natural ground cover that offers an array of benefits for your garden, moss might be the perfect solution. Here are a few key benefits of integrating moss as a ground cover:
One of the most notable perks of adding moss as ground cover is that it can aid in retaining soil moisture. Since the moss is able to absorb and retain water as it falls on the soil, either from your garden hose or from the sky, it can help prevent the soil from drying out too quickly.
This can be incredibly beneficial for the surrounding plants, as the moss helps ensure they have access to the water they need to grow and flourish.
Another advantage of moss is its nutrient provisions. Moss absorbs nutrients from the surrounding air and soil as it grows, so it can enrich the soil in the surrounding areas of your garden. In many cases, moss is rich in nutrients essential for healthy plant growth, like nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium.
On top of its ample nutrition benefits, moss absorbs harmful toxins and minerals from the soil, essentially acting as a cleaner to ensure the good stuff stays in and the bad stuff comes out.
In addition to retaining water and supplying much-needed nutrients, moss helps prevent erosion in your garden. When Mother Nature releases her fury and sends in heavy rains and whirling winds, the soil in your garden is susceptible to erosion.
Heavy rain can wash away the soil, and gusting winds can blow it out of your garden. When you add moss to the picture, this becomes less of a concern. The moss helps anchor the soil in place, helping to prevent erosion and keep your garden looking beautiful.
All in all, using moss as a ground cover can be an excellent way to enhance the health and beauty of your garden. Its ability to retain moisture, supply nutrients, and prevent erosion makes it an excellent pick for any gardener seeking a natural ground cover for their garden.
Types of Moss for Ground Cover
Like the turfgrasses blanketing your yard, moss comes in a couple of types. It’s essential to choose the correct type for your home based on the job you want it to do and factors specific to your home. Here are three common types of moss that work well as ground cover:
Sheet moss is a go-to pick for ground cover purposes, as it grows rapidly and forms a thick, dense mat. It’s a relatively low-maintenance option, as it’s easy to work with and can be cut to fit almost any shape or size.
Sheet moss thrives in shady, moist areas and is usually found growing on the forest floor under the shade of towering trees. It’s an excellent option for covering large areas and can even be used in place of turfgrass to create a natural-looking lawn.
Also known as bun moss, cushion moss grows in tight clumps, creating a cushion-like appearance (hence the name). This moss prefers moist, shady areas, so you’ll often find it growing on rocks and tree trunks.
It’s an excellent choice for filling in gaps between rocks or outlining a natural-looking pathway. Alternatively, it makes an excellent filler for terrariums and other indoor plant displays.
Rock Cap Moss
Also known as shag moss, rock cap moss grows in thick clumps and boasts a shaggy appearance. Like cushion moss, rock cap moss prefers moist, shady areas and is often found clinging to rocks and tree trunks.
Given its preferred growing areas, rock cap moss makes an excellent choice for covering rocks, walls, and other vertical surfaces. Additionally, it’s a popular pick for creating natural-looking waterfalls or other water features.
Preparing the Ground for Moss
If you decide that moss is the perfect fit for the ground in and around your home and garden, it’s important to start by preparing the area. Like other plants, moss thrives best in specific conditions, so as you prep the area, ensure it meets these preferences.
Clearing the Area
First, it’s crucial to clear the area of rocks, weeds, and other debris. Moss prefers damp, shady areas with limited competition for other plants, so it’s essential to start with a clean slate. Remove any grass or plants that are growing in the area, ensuring you take the roots with the plants.
Level the Soil
Once you remove the plants and their remnants, smooth the soil with a rake to create a level surface. Moss doesn’t have roots, so it doesn’t grow deep into the ground. Instead, it has rhizoids, or small hairlike structures, that anchor the moss to the rocks, tree trunks, or soil.
Since it sits atop the soil, it’s important to create an even surface for the moss to grow on. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a bumpy, uneven mess when the growth fills in.
Adding Organic Matter
Like any plant, moss requires certain nutrients to thrive. It needs nitrogen to grow, which it usually pulls from the soil and substrate or through its water uptake. However, if there isn’t enough nitrogen, the moss won’t thrive.
So, it’s essential to prepare the area for the new moss. A mild, organic fertilizer, like one containing nitrogen from manure, is a good choice. Spread a thin layer of fertilizer over the area and work it into the first few inches of soil with a garden fork or tiller.
Avoid adding too much, as the soil could become too acidic for the moss.
Once your area is prepared, it’s time to plant the moss. Here’s how to do it:
First, you’ll need to buy or harvest the moss. Generally, you can find moss at your local nursery, so this is always an option. Alternatively, you can scout for it in your area and skip the trip to your local nursery.
Look for areas teeming with healthy moss growth, such as shaded areas with ample moisture. Use a garden rake or trowel to carefully lift the moss from the ground. Be gentle handling it, as you don’t want to damage it or tear it apart in the process.
You might find it easier to handle by removing patches of it at a time, as you won’t need to worry about handling an oversized, awkwardly-large chunk of moss.
Once you harvest the moss, bring it back to the prepared area. Avoid leaving the moss in between the two planting locations for too long, as it might not fare well.
Gently set the harvested moss on top of the prepared soil and press it down firmly to ensure good contact. Use a spray bottle to gently mist the area with water and help the moss settle into the soil.
Watering and Fertilizing
After transplanting the moss, regular watering and fertilization are essential. Moss flourishes in moist soil, so ensure you keep the soil well-watered and damp. In addition, add fertilizer periodically to ensure the moss has access to the nutrients it needs to thrive.
When adding fertilizer, follow the instructions on the package carefully to avoid overdoing it.
Remember, moss is a slow-growing plant that needs time to fill in and thrive, so it might be a while before you notice substantial growth. However, with patience and plenty of care, you can cultivate a beautiful, lush, and natural ground cover that demands very little maintenance.
Maintaining Your Moss Ground Cover
As your moss ground cover begins to grow and thicken, it’s essential to follow maintenance procedures to ensure it remains healthy and flourishes. Here are a few key tips for maintaining your moss ground cover:
If you have a blanket of moss covering your lawn, garden, or flowerbed, it’s essential to stay on top of trimming. While you technically don’t need to mow, trim, or cut a moss lawn, you might need to trim it back occasionally to prevent it from encroaching on other plants.
Or, if it becomes too thick, you might need to thin it out a bit. Scissors and garden shears work well for trimming moss, as they provide plenty of control over how much moss you take off.
Weed control is essential in maintaining a pristine expanse of moss. If left unchecked, weeds can quickly take over, battling the moss for its water and nutrients. So, to avoid problems with your moss ground cover, keep weeds in check
If there are only a few scattered weeds, hand-pulling them will do. But if the moss is overrun by weeds, you might want to use a selective weed killer that is safe for moss. Ensure you select the herbicide carefully and use it according to the instructions on the label to avoid damaging your moss.
Alternatively, you can prevent weeds from growing by installing landscape fabric or a layer of mulch.
Dealing with Pests
Like any plant, moss is susceptible to damage due to pests. Slugs, snails, and insects can damage your mossy ground cover, leading to a less-than-desirable result.
To prevent pests from becoming a problem, keep the area around your moss clean and free of debris. You can also employ natural pest control methods, like neem oil or diatomaceous earth. If you decide to use these products, follow the instructions on the label and be sure to wear gloves and protective clothing while handling them.