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Need help understanding moss needs.

Posted by timgren Z5 MO (My Page) on
Mon, Sep 30, 13 at 10:00


I'm attempting to create a moss garden in an area of my garden that is partial to full shade. I already have some carpet moss and fern moss growing naturally. I'd like to propagate more varieties, and add moss cover to the concrete retaining wall and a hollowed out cedar log "planter".

My question comes down to the common recommendations that the pH of the soil (or substrate) should be acidic, between 5-6 pH. I'm very confused about this. How does one determine the pH of rocks & concrete, or wood? My understanding is that since moss doesn't have a root system, nor does it pull nutrients from the soil or substrate, why would the substrate pH matter at all? In fact, at our local botanical garden, moss artists painted moss art on a large sheet of glass, and it grew! Does glass have a measurable pH???

Also - Why is yogurt/buttermilk/beer generally recommended for moss paint (slurry)? What properties do these products have that moss like/or need? I read a old Fine Gardening article by a moss expert recommending NOT using the above products, as it mostly creates "moldy" moss, and what it's really doing is creating a short lived bio-degradable adhesive once the water content dries up and it becomes sticky. His recommendation for outdoor painting was using cheap wood glue (thinned with water) as an adhesive, and pressing on dry moss onto the substrate once the glue became tacky (15 mins). Then mist regularly with water once the glue sets. To me this made more sense, but I wanted to get more opinions from people that have painted rocks/logs - and were successful. Again, most of the recommendations I've read call for for the yogurt/buttermilk option, but this "expert" disagrees. So i'm confused about the right or best approach.

Thanks in advance,

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Need help understanding moss needs.

Concrete is alkaline because it is made with lime. Cedar is on the acid side. Glass is inert so it won't have a measurable pH. You can tell if a rock contains lime by doing an acid test. The pH of other substrates might be determined by mixing with distilled water and testing the pH of the solution. I believe there are protocols for this.

Mosses don't have roots but most have rhizoids which may serve an analogous function. They can also have hydroids and leptoids that serve functions analogous to xylem and phloem. There are over 10,000 species of mosses and they don't all have the same cultural requirements. There are two ways one can approach this problem: 1) Identify the moss species and look up the habitat requirements or 2) select species growing on substrates similar to the one you want to grow them on.

Means for attaching moss propagules (leaf fragments ect.) only need to last as long as it takes for new growth to become established. A misting system can help with the process. I've seen white glue (e.g. Elmer's) used as well as cloth mesh to hold the moss fragments to the surface. On soil you can just press the lower portion of ramets into the soil. If you get the substrate, light and moisture regime right then the moss should become established, although competition from vascular plants or other mosses can be an issue.

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