Monday, October 19, 2009

Walk softly on the earth

October 19 I love moss! Mossy paths, mossy logs, my moss lawn. Soft, cushy green serenity, the stuff of fairies that live in hollows of forest trees and wear shimmering garments they have spun out of moss; of elves on toadstools, of Japanese gardens, of woods and streams and shade and sunshine. My goal is to someday walk down the paths in the woods and see them carpeted with lovely, velvety moss, to take off my shoes and feel that wonderful texture under my feet.

My moss lawn is in the center of the so-called "Japanese" garden, which is only a Japanese garden in the sense that there is a dogwood, a Japanese maple, lots of iris, a stone bench and a rough stone lantern. It has a stepping stone "walk" thru the center of it, and a bamboo fence. The whole thing is set off by the moss, which stays green year-round. It is native moss, which means it started in the grass on its own, and with some encouragement from me, plus killing off what grass there was in that shady area, is now deep and thick. There are a few spring wildflowers coming up through it; woodland phlox, a few violets and a small patch of ajuga, which is kept in check with an occasional weeding around the edges. When the world gets too hectic and my soul needs renewal, I love to sit for hours pulling weeds out of the mossy turf, and with each weed I pull, restoring the serenity of the green velvety expanse, it is as if with each weed I remove, I am also removing the small irritations that clutter my daily life and restoring my own serenity.

There is a small woods near me, a vertable jungle of honeysuckle, wild roses and blackberries (it use to be a nice woods until the absentee owner cut down all the huge hundred-year oaks and sold them off for pallets (grrr), but there are still patches of moss growing under that tangle. I have carved out a path thru that mess and periodically raid it for mosses to transplant. (I know, one should not ordinarily do that sort of thing but it is for sale, which means the whole thing will be bulldozed and developed in the future, and the owner is already covering some of it with fill dirt, so I feel justified saving what wildflowers and moss I can.) So yesterday I spent the afternoon transplanting moss into my own small patch of woods, edging my small dry creek with it, lining the paths where eventually it will grow to cover them. Native mosses take easily to being moved, and are fast growing, covering an area pretty well in a year or two.

There are hundreds of species of moss and lichens that grow in Missouri, some of which live in dark, shady magical places, and others grow in full sun. Transplanting them is not much of a trick, but you must take note of where they grow and move them to a place where they have the same exposure. Shady mosses with die in the sun, and sun mosses will languish in the shade. It is important to take a good bit of the soil under them. Moss has no roots, but filaments do extend into the earth and they will flourish quicker if they have their base soil to which they are already established. Soil mosses don't grow on compost, so it is important to scrape the area down to bare soil, getting rid of leaves, sticks etc. before you put it down. Pat it firmly into place so it gets good contact, and I even find it is helpful to anchor an edge with a rock, as birds love moss for nesting materials and will pull it up and carry it away. It is for this reason that I usually do most of my moss "planting" in the fall--so it gets a chance to attach itself well before nesting season in the spring. Squirrels also love to bury nuts in it, and then dig them up in the spring, making holes in my moss lawn and scattering bits of it everywhere. I haven't found a solution for that yet. I just plug it back, and it never seems to really hurt it. Holes fill up rather quickly, in established moss it only takes a season.

Weeds can be a problem. I once read somewhere that Roundup (glyphosate) would kill weeds in moss, but not harm the moss, which is not actually a plant, and tried it on a small area. I found it to be true, and when I have an influx of weeds that I can't pull, especially dandelions, I use it sparingly and it works well. It has to be pure Roundup, however, if it is enhanced with another chemical it will kill moss, as will Kleenup or any other weed killers. Roundup also works for clearing the weeds out of a path where you would like to have moss, and in another year you will likely have native mosses establishing themselves on their own on the bare soil, first just a dusting of tiny green spores, then first thing you know, you have a carpet! For small weeds, hand pulling is good, being careful not to pull up too much of the moss in the process. What does come up can just be tucked back into place, or do as the Japanese do with their lovely and famous moss gardens, and use a small pair of very pointy, sharp scissors to cut the weeds away from the roots, or use special tweezers designed for the purpose.

Mosses on logs can't be easily moved. I just move the whole mossy log or branch, or rock for that matter, and place it artistically in the woods. You can scrape some off, and blend it with buttermilk or liquified manure (use a dedicated blender for this!) and pour it on logs or rocks where you want it to grow, and keep it misted a few times a week. It will soon take hold!

Sometimes I run over the moss lawn with a string trimmer if it gets weedy or grassy and I don't have time to spend on my hands and knees, and I find that the tiny bits of moss that get whacked off in the process also spread and start new patches.

Maintaining moss is not that difficult. I have a broom that I use to sweep it of leaves and debris, just as I would sweep the floor, as rake tines tear it up. A leaf blower works well, if you don't mind the noise disturbing the serenity that the moss creates, but I still have to pick up acorns. (Those squirrels, you know.) A twice yearly weeding, light sprinkling occasionally in August when there is no rain, tho remember that these are native mosses and just go dormant in hot dry weather. They will come back beautiful and green when the fall rains begin. They don't need fertilized, or mowed, and add mystery, magic and mythology to your life.

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