The longer Mayvember hangs on, the more opportunity it presents to establish plantings in and around my clearing. Normally, I would try to conclude all planting but vegetables and flowers by the 15th of May or so, just in time to turn on the sprinklers for the long, dry-ish Northwest summer. But since there ain’t gonna be no vegetables and flowers, and since the need for a sprinkler is nowhere in view, I am going to keep on
creating my simulacrum of a woodland glade.
My moss go-to recommends several approaches to cultivating moss, and because I am ultimately going to try to cover about 10,000 square feet of soil with it, I am pretty much using all those approaches…plus a couple of my own devising.
First, I have eradicated most, if not all, the invasive grasses in the clearing. I am going to keep my soil as bare as possible so that moss spores will have a place to alight and grab hold. When I was at the Washington Native Plant Society sale, there were four-inch pots of forest moss for sale for $6.00 apiece…since the deeply wooded portion of my property supports at least 5 different kinds of moss that grow on the forest floor, one that seems to prefer downed trees and branches, two that grow on living trees, and a couple that grow in boggy mud, I am going to come out money ahead as I have transplanted almost 200 plugs of moss into the clearing. Most of the ‘plugs’ (really, great pads) of moss are more than a square foot in dimension, generally planted on one-foot centers. As I hope to have all the moss grow together into a giant carpet, I’ll go against my ‘no grid’ policy in this particular instance.
In addition to the moss plugs, I have also brought some moss-covered branches and twigs and carefully re-sited some small mossy nurse logs into the clearing. These are my ‘breeders;” one would assume that the attached mosses will continue to grow and thrive as they are the least disturbed of the mosses, and may therefore continue to produce spores, now in the clearing.
I deployed the MossMaster 3000, making a disgusting goop of moss collected from other nurse logs blitzed with warm water and powdered buttermilk. I painted this goo on downed trees, some boulders, and some bare soil. The ‘moss milkshake’ is a hoary bit of landscaping lore, passed earnestly from gardener to gardner. I have only seen one documented instance of someone actually trying it. We’ll see if it works.
The Bloedel Reserve has what must be the finest moss garden in the Western world. About 20,000 square feet of naturally occurring forest moss, the garden was created by first clearing the soil and then planting 3,000 flats of Irish ‘moss.’ The low-growing plant acted as a placeholder, keeping the forest floor clear and allowing the naturally occurring true mosses to fill in and eventually crowd out the interloper, a process that took about a decade. I can neither afford 3,000 flats of nursery plants nor a decade of waiting, but
my wife and I did plant 400 2-inch plugs of Irish ‘moss’ at the edges of the built-up planting areas, to better blend them in to the surrounding forest margins and clearing. It is likely that they too will be crowded out, but until then they should grow together into a deep green mat skirting the layered plantings.
I would generally say that mid-to late May wouldn’t be an ideal time to transplant a moisture loving organism like moss. It has been unusually rainy, however, and there is no sun in the forecast for a week or two, so the mosses will have a chance to get happy in their new home. They may go dormant, they may feel ‘threatened’ and throw off a great shedding of spores to ensure survival; they may grow together to form the green rug I want. I will have to water eventually, and in the meantime I am going to lightly edge around the transplants with compost and leaf mulch to help them retain moisture. Most of the more popular moss mythology centers around buttermilk and yogurt, with the theory that the microorganisms
in those create a more hospitible environment for the simple plants; I don’t want to attract dairy-loving wildlife, so I intend to use an airless sprayer filled with heavily diluted beer to moisten the mosses and the earth around them. My theory is that the yeasts and sugars in the beer should break down in the soil and make it more biotically active and therefore a better environment for moss spores. Over the next couple weeks I intend to complete my seasonal planting, and as I get the structure of the garden in place I will likely add another 50 to 100 pads of moss to fill out the foundation of the clearing, because a forest without moss is like a sexy private investigator without a shrubby moustache.