While you are certainly familiar with moss in the wild, have you ever considered it as a garden addition? Mosses can enhance many styles of gardens, but are most typically associated with Japanese, Alpine and Rock Gardens, or Woodland plantings. Just envision a Japanese garden, with wide swaths of lush green moss, and you can feel the sense of calmness and the soothing, meditative energy that a unifying carpet of moss can bring to a garden. In Alpine settings moss is a great backdrop for the miniature plants. In rock gardens it brings a balancing contrast of soft texture and rich color to the bleached, rocky surfaces while showing off its survival skills. And, in a woodland setting, it can take on all of these roles.
So, what does it take to enjoy all of these cushy green benefits in your garden? Not much, really. Moss does well in poor, acidic (5.0 to 6.0 pH) soil, or lazing on rocks and trees. Moisture is essential to maintaining lush, green growth - especially for the first three to five weeks after transplanting- but established mosses will survive periods of drought. And yes, there are species that do well in sun, despite the shade-loving reputation. The most crucial element for a moss's garden survival is matching its original growing conditions. Giving your new green friend the same light and growing medium from whence it came is paramount.
If you choose to purchase, the supplier should be able to tell you what growing conditions their mosses have been cultivated for. Most suppliers of moss for purchase focus on the shade garden or Bonsai market niches, so be sure to clarify if your site is sunny! You may find it easier to get free moss from friends and family who understand your desire for cushy green things or, even more satisfying, to liberate it from the lawns of moss haters. Again, be sure to observe the growing conditions of the gifted or rescued moss, so you can give it the best-matched home in your own landscape.
Researching and seeking out, by name, varieties which are specifically suited to sun or shade, will still lead to conflicting information. You may well come across a species presented at your local nursery as a shade lover, but with its twin brother thriving naturally in your neighbor's very sunny front yard! Dicranum, Leucobryum and Polytrichum are three examples, and all commonly found in the marketplace and in the wild. The key, again, would be to match the level of light in their new home to what they were growing in when you adopted them. If you do wish to learn more about specific mosses, checkout Author George Schenk's Moss Gardening: Including Lichens, Liverworts, and Other Miniatures and World Of Mosses website created by the late Robert Muma, known as the “Moss Man of Toronto".
Moss may be acquired in a variety of “forms"; with purchased mosses available live - in small chunks or larger sheets, dried for making slurry, or as pre-mixed slurry. When harvesting moss from an existing patch, rather than purchasing, it is best to lift some of the soil beneath with it - though there will be no roots to concern you. Purchased or collected patches should be transplanted onto soil that has been compacted, then raked very lightly and watered to the point of being muddy. Simply place the moss patches atop this prepped soil, tamp down well and water generously. Moss slurries, purchased or homemade, can be sprayed over soil or painted onto rocks or statuary. Soil receiving slurry should be prepped the same as for actual patches of moss. (See sidebar for basic slurry recipe). Both planted and slurry types of application will need to be kept moist for 3 to 5 weeks to become well-established.
The ongoing maintenance is simply to keep the moss cleared of leaves and other debris and to restrain foot traffic. Some gardeners choose to place fine netting over the moss as this makes for easier removal of leaves than raking or blowing and serves to keep our winged friends from snatching too many bits for their nests. Watering regularly after the moss is established, to prevent dormancy, is a personal choice. Periods of dormancy during drought won't cause it to die and would be a fairly certain part of its natural life cycle outside of a garden setting.