How to Grow Moss

With a bit of patience moss is not difficult to cultivate

Peter Starman/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

Moss may pop up on its own, on pavers and in bare spots of the lawn. If you love the look of moss, you can cultivate and grow it in your landscape.

Moss looks wonderful in the garden, especially on rocks and rock walls. It gives any garden a sense of age and weight. Getting moss to grow on rocks or on the ground in your garden simply requires you give the moss the growing conditions it needs and have some patience while it gets established.

What Does Moss Need to Grow?

Mosses like moisture, shade, and generally prefer an acidic soil (5.0 to 6.0). Partial to full shade is essential. Hot afternoon sun will destroy a patch of moss in no time. That's because instead of roots, moss has little filaments that allow it to take up nutrients, so it will dry out even faster than groundcover plants. There are a few mosses that can handle full sun, but you will need to order them from a specialty nursery.

Mosses also need a weed-free area. They cannot compete with nearby roots and will have difficulty becoming established if the soil is already covered in leaf litter or other debris.

How to Get Moss to Grow on Soil

The easiest way to get a patch of moss started is to take a piece from somewhere else and move it.

Rake and scratch the surface of the soil you’re going to be putting it on so that the filaments make good contact with the soil. Wet the area and lay the moss on top of it. Press the moss firmly onto the soil. It may help if you pin it in place or put some light rocks on top of it to anchor it.

Newly transplanted moss will need to be kept moist for the first few weeks. You can tell you moss has taken when it doesn’t lift with a light tug.

It’s probably wise to take your transplant moss from a similar surface, to minimize potential transplant problems.

How to Get Moss to Grow on Rocks, Bricks or Pots

It’s a little harder to start moss on a rock by simply lifting it and moving it. To grow moss on rocks, bricks or pots, many people have luck cultivating moss by mixing it with buttermilk and painting it on the new surface. You'll need:

  • 2 cups buttermilk or plain yogurt
  • 1 - 1 1/2 cups of chopped-up moss, fresh or dried

Mix until creamy and spreadable. If the mixture is too thick, add a small amount of water. If it’s too thin, add more moss.

Paint the mixture onto the new surface. You can allow the mixture to sit for a day or two, before you paint it on, to start the process. The mixture will still need moisture, as it gets established, Mist it lightly, or you could wash the spores right off the surface you are trying to cultivate it on. You may get mold first, but by about week six you should see signs of moss.

Maintaining Moss

To keep your moss growing well, you need to maintain ideal moss conditions: shade, moisture, and a low soil pH. You’ll also need to keep the weeds out. Moss can’t compete for moisture with the roots of weeds.

Be sure to remove fallen leaves in the fall.

Other Ways to Cultivate Moss

Damp landscape fabric makes a good surface for cultivating mosses. Place a small piece of moss on the landscape fabric at the edge of the water garden, so that it sits above the water line. Since the fabric soaks up water and stays moist, the moss also stays moist and takes hold and spreads quickly.

You can start your moss in a similar way, with or without a water garden. Place a small piece of moss on a scrap of landscape fabric and either set it in on the side of your water garden, as described above, or simply place it in a shallow tray of water, so that the moss is not submerged, but stays moist.

Once the moss filaments are attached to the landscape fabric, you can move the whole piece to the soil you've raked and prepared for transplanting. You’ll still need to keep it moist for several weeks, but it seems to make a stronger start.