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Fall Maintenance for Moss Gardens

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Fall Maintenance -Revealing the Green

Like other gardeners, moss gardeners have to deal with fall maintenance.


The main chore is to deal with falling leaves... and for some of us... pine needles. It is critical to the long-term success of your moss garden to remove leaf litter and debris on a regular basis. Mosses require light for photosynthesis and a covering of leaves will block it out. Yet, when moss gardeners blow away leaves, we reveal GREEN.



The best method for leaf removal is power blowing and NOT raking. If mosses are established in the landscape, they should not blow away. I've found that wet leaves separate from the mosses easier. It can be advantageous to moisten your leaves or blow after a rain. I actually blow on the high settings and use various angles, sometimes even pointing straight down and swaying the blower back and forth in quick strokes. If debris has accumulated in depressions, you will need to loosen it first with a broom or by hand.

If you have an occasional patch blow out of place, then you'll want to put it back. Even in a moss garden that is well established, birds or critters might have already loosened it. Over the obnoxious roar of the leaf blower, I can be heard to exclaim my own dismay as a green piece gets caught up in the brown dead leaves. So, I stop the blower and grab the moss to replace it.

Leaf litter removal is not necessarily a daily task. However, it may be necessary to blow every few days just to keep up with the massive downfall from your own work load perspective. From the moss point of view, they can tolerate this moist covering for a while but they will definitely deteriorate if leaves are left over the winter season. If you have pine trees nearby, you may experience a sea of golden needles which need to be blown away, too. They can be particularly annoying since they can get caught in the sporophytes of bryophytes. After blowing, any leftover pine needle clumps usually need to be gently pulled out by hand. Unless you have the “gentle” touch, avoid raking. However, you'll find that using a broom can be helpful. Use swift, light motions when sweeping.

The leaves and pine needles do provide some benefit to the health of mosses by sharing nutrients. The blowing helps spread this feast of "yummy" dust particles. Although mosses usually suffer in the long run from tree leaf coverings, I've found occasions when covered areas were greener than the exposed bryophytes. This observation was made last year with my first experience in growing Marchantia liverworts. Since I'm still experimenting with this type, I'll see how they fair this winter.

Leaves are not your only fall chore. It is advisable to weed carefully before winter. Mosses provide an ideal germination environment for an assortment tiny weeds. You want to make sure that you get rid of them to minimize problems next spring. Pay particular attention to any weeds that have horizontal, spreading roots, like clover. There are many other smaller weeds that can be annoying


Beware of Sagina procumbrens which looks a lot like a Polytrichum or Atrichum moss. It has a small green leaf cluster with a horizontal root system resembling the rhizoids of a bryophyte. To further confuse the novice moss gardener, this vascular plant gets little pods that mimic short sporophytes. But, Sagina has flowers which is definite clue that it is not a moss. Pull all parts of the Sagina plants which will tightly interweave into your mosses and overtake them.



Weeding can be considered a relaxing respite or a labor intensive chore. Mosses can host many itty-bitty weeds making weeding a tedious task but sometimes being up close affords the moss gardener special delights. Recently, I was rewarded with the discovery of a hornwort, Anthoceros laevis ssp. carolinianus growing right in my own moss garden. Folks, there are only about 100 hornwort types in the entire world... this is quite a find! Finally, if you've integrated any ferns or other plants in your moss garden design, you'll need to cut off their dead fronds, stems or flower heads. Usually, I give one more final quick blow as a last pass and then sit back to enjoy the glory of green mosses during the winter season.

While all gardeners perform fall maintenance, at least moss gardeners reap benefits right away and get to continue enjoying their green moss garden even when it's cold. My moss gardening book will provide lots more practical advice and recommendations to aspiring moss gardeners who want to create their own magical moss retreats.

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