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Moss on a tree trunk
Photo: Jardin botanique de Montréal (Pascale Maynard)
Moss on a tree trunk

About mosses and how to grow them

There is nothing like the rich colours and velvety texture of mosses. These miniature plants date back over 400 million years, with over 15,000 species, and grow everywhere from the Arctic to the Antarctic!

Botanists classify mosses in the division Bryophyta. They are described as non-vascular, since they have no roots or vessels to transport water and minerals. Moisture from rain, dew and mist is absorbed directly by the leaves.

Can you grow them in your garden or indoors?

Mosses bud very easily and produce spores, just like ferns. Most mosses need humid conditions and prefer morning and late afternoon sun. If you have a moist, shady corner, why not plant a carpet of moss instead of a traditional grass lawn?

Indoors, you can create splendid miniature landscapes by turning an old aquarium into a terrarium.

To grow moss, just take a bit from a spot where it grows naturally, on stones or bark in the shade.

But be respectful, and don’t tear up too much! Leave enough so that this magnificent little forest can survive. Replant some fresh tufts or let them dry and grind them into a powder for propagation. You can also run fresh moss through your blender with either yogurt or buttermilk; this sticky mixture will help the moss adhere to the surface where you wish to plant it. Note that mosses growing on bark will not survive if you remove them from their substrate. Bring them home with their original bark and stand them up or lay them down as you found them in the wild.

You can easily cultivate them in pots or on stones indoors or outdoors, along with other miniature primitive plants like ferns. The ideal soil is acidic and moisture retentive – think sphagnum moss, ground bark, sawdust, sand, vermiculite or perlite. It is a good idea to mix polymer crystals into the potting soil, because of their surprising absorptive properties. They can swell to as much as 300 times their original size! They gradually release the water, sparing you the trouble of watering your “garden” so often, since mosses require constant moisture. Just add 7 to 10 ml of crystals per 4 litres of soil. Lastly, don’t use a fertilizer containing calcium, as it will make the soil too alkaline and could kill your moss.

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