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Skaggs: With moss, sometimes it’s best to embrace it

POSTED: October 24, 2008 5:01 a.m.

If you read this column a couple weeks ago, you likely recall reading of how to control moss in the lawn.

Since then, I've heard comments like, "I want to encourage moss in my yard - how can I?"

More than a few gardeners have decided to switch to moss rather than fight it. They're purposely growing moss rather than trying to eliminate it from their landscape.

There are hundreds of lawn lovers who can demonstrate how easy it is to grow moss. They have it in patches across their lawns where they want grass to grow. As with any plant, the secret is to give it what it wants.

The common mosses in North Georgia crave dense, clay soil, plenty of moisture and shady conditions.

Moss does not require mowing, fertilizing or good soil like grass does, and in most areas, when established, requires much less water than grass.

Since mosses do not have true roots, they can often absorb sufficient moisture from the air, or from a two-minute sprinkle. Some moss will turn brown during a severe drought, reviving when moisture returns.

Many mosses grow easily on compact clay soil and most types can be easily encouraged by an acid soil (pH 5.5 is optimum for many types) and by moisture. Some types spread fairly quickly (six to 12 months) on their own, if soil conditions are optimum, and many types do better in the shade than in the sun. All types do better if adequate moisture is available.

Moss can be "propagated" by combining a handful of moss, one cup of buttermilk and one cup of water and mixing it in the blender. Take the concoction and pour or paint it onto the surfaces where you want to grow moss. Just be sure to clean the blender before treating yourself or your family to a milkshake or smoothie.

Remember that moss likes moist shady conditions. If the area that you are planning your moss garden has these conditions, it should grow fine.

I am not aware of any local nurseries that offer moss or moss spores for sale. However, there are a number of online retailers - simply Google "moss plants for sale."

There are many moss species native to Georgia that can be found in the local forests. Just take a short hike into these areas and you should find plenty of different moss species growing on rocks, rotting logs and along creeks. It is easy to scoop some up and put it into a plastic bag for home. It transplants easily.

All you need to do for moss maintenance season is blowing fallen leaves off the patch and pulling out small weeds as they appear. Since moss does not grow rapidly, it usually does not require fertilizer beyond what Mother Nature provides.

No claims are made that moss holds up as well as turf grass if football is regularly played on the lawn.

A moss lawn that has received rough treatment from children during the summer will heal during the winter. Moss is an alternative that more people may wish to consider, especially if low maintenance over the long term is a desirable objective.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of different mosses in the world. If the moss bug has bitten, you might enjoy reading "Moss Gardening: Including Lichens, Liverworts, and Other Miniatures" by George Schenk, available online from Timber Press ($34.95).

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.



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