Moss Milkshake – magical mix or urban myth?
“Can I get moss to grow from a moss milkshake?” is the most frequently-asked-question at every lecture or workshop given by Mountain Moss. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could “green” the world by painting mosses everywhere? Does this method work or is it just a wishful-thinking idea that has become an urban myth?
Botanically-speaking, bryophytes (mosses) can grow asexually from plant or leaf fragments. As their tiny rhizoids emerge (equivalent of roots), mosses can attach to all kinds of surfaces – soil, rock, brick, concrete yard art, forest driftwood and more. If the substrate is porous or has nooks and crannies where moisture accumulates, then the stage is set for mosses to grow. Once moss rhizoids are effectively attached, they can even live in vertical spaces. So, conceptually the moss milkshake might work. But...let's look at other factors that might affect your success or hamper your efforts.
First, you need to use a moss species that will like growing in your microclimate and on your intended surface (i.e., Entodon likes growing on rocks and concrete). Sun exposure is a primary factor to assess. For instance, shade mosses will not thrive in direct sun locations. You still need to follow “right place, right moss” guidelines in choosing your moss starter type. Does your location get consistent moisture and humidity to nurture moss growth? What is the pH? Since many moss species like acidic conditions, you'll need to consider this factor as well. Using any “moss” available (especially dried mosses) ignores these basic needs and starts you on a path of haphazard luck.
People have suggested all types of ingredients that they've heard would work – buttermilk, cornstarch, yogurt, beer, peanut butter, sucrose and/or absorbing crystals. In reality, any of these mixtures function as a glue to help hold moss fragments to the surface until rhizoids grow and attach themselves. They do not provide nutrients. There could be a positive effect in pH though.
Do you really want to mess up your nice blender? I'd suggest you get a used one from a thrift store to dedicate as your moss milkshake blender. The more of the “right mosses” put in the blender and the thicker the mix, the better. Beware: Mosses might tangle around the blades and cause blender to clog up. For sure, this is a messy process.
Once you've painted the mixture in your garden on soil or garden sculptures, there are a number of disadvantages to using any of these ingredients. Aesthetically, you'll have to look at ugly, coated objects or ground for quite a while. Just think, you'll have a buttermilk covering or blobs of water-absorbing crystals that won't present a pleasing appearance. Frankly, the absorbing crystals just plain give me the heebie-jeebies, particularly if you touch them or walk on them. However, the food-based ingredients will be quite appealing and tasty to all types of critters. The pungent odor might very well be inviting raccoons, opossums or deer to your yard which might find other plants desirable as well. In fact, your own dog or cat might be a culprit in licking your mixture and deterring any significant growth.
- Chosen the right moss species for your project
- Mixed up a good, thick milkshake
- Accepted the potential of interim ugliness and smell in your garden
- Decided to risk critter invasion,
then you'll still have to contend with weather.
In all likelihood you won't have perfect weather conditions – rain at the right time and sunshine when needed. If it rains too hard right at the beginning, your moss milkshake will wash away. Obviously, a more vertical or sloped surface – like on a wall or garden statue, the easier for mosses to rinse off quickly. If it's too hot or too sunny, it might dry up before mosses ever get the chance to get started. You may need to add a regime of supplemental misting to maintain consistent moisture.
I'll admit I've wanted this idea to work, too. I've tried this method on several occasions. I felt that I should try all types of variables in my research experiments. I've painted the right moss types on my concrete garden bunnies, smooth quartz rocks, porous limestone, bricks, engineered rocks, granite and more. I've used a variety of ingredients including fresh buttermilk, beer, cornstarch, sucrose and those slimy water crystals. Scientists have indicated there could be some value in the sugar mixtures. My biggest issue was rain washing it away. So, I tried again by placing moss milkshake experiments under a roof. I eliminated the rain issue by regularly misting the objects myself. The shade of the roof prevented sun from drying mixture out. Then my own dog, Ms. Goochee Girl, decided it tasted good. So, I tried again. I can report a minor degree of success. Amazingly, it grew best on the fake rocks or engineered stone due to porosity of the surface.
There are commercial products in the market that claim this milkshake idea works. The dried moss species included as "seed" appears to be Hypnum (which can sometimes be a picky moss anyway). Absorbing crystals expand to become goopy blobs. Their magic mixture didn't work any better for me than homemade versions. If you've ever tried a pre-mix moss milkshake product, have you had success?
Now folks, I can grow mosses but this method takes too long to achieve any significant growth. Further, it's a lot of trouble and time to end up failing. Since my emphasis is on the benefits of moss in landscapes and not on craft or art projects, I find this method disappointing in achieving desired results within a reasonable time frame. Just a hint of green growth is quite different from achieving significant loft and expansion into new areas. Most Mountain Moss customers want green appeal now – not take a chance that it might work eventually. It is certainly a haphazard approach for a professional landscaper. My conclusion – moss milkshake method didn't work to suit me... particularly in expansive landscape applications.
Sorry if I've burst your moss bubble about the moss milkshake. While this method has been perpetuated and promoted on TV and through print publications, I haven't experienced any consistent or satisfactory results myself. However, I am curious if anybody else has had more luck than me. Out of the thousands who've posed this question, I've only run into less than 10 people who profess to have had any real success. In my opinion, it's quite possible mosses would have introduced themselves into the area from their natural method of spore dispersal or fragmentation via wind and water... without any milkshake at all. Please give me reason to correct my “attitude” by sharing your own moss milkshake success stories. Thanks for your input and feedback.
IMPORTANT: I hope that other moss lovers will post their own experiences with the moss milkshake method on our Mountain Moss Blog. Send any photos directly to my email address (email@example.com) and I'll share them with others later. To help build our body of knowledge, please post now and cite the following:
ingredients used in your mixture
substrate painted on
description of weather factors
issues caused by critters (pets or wild animals)
other miscellaneous concerns
time frame for visible green growth
- time frame for significant loft or sideways growth
Do not despair about the moss milkshake. Mountain Moss has other ideas to share on effective fragmentation methods for growing mosses. Stay tuned to our blog.
Go Green With Mosses!
All blog content and photographs are the intellectual property of Mountain Moss. Permission to use any portion must be obtained in writing from Annie Martin. Copyright 2013.