Make a Moss and Shade Wall Art Garden

Learn how you can make a living wall of shade loving moss that makes a perfect, low-maintenance design statement.

| July 2019

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Dry moss can make a fabulous living wall if given the proper attention; it makes a lovely contribution to a shade garden or walkway and can fit in very narrow locations.

Growing moss as a living wall first occurred to me when I journeyed to Ireland a few years ago. There, moss grows everywhere in abundance: on rocks, on walls, on animals, on homes, on absolutely everything. There was a certain magic about seeing mossy green patterns dancing along a rock fence wall that coaxed a passionate desire to touch. Some types of moss feel soft like lamb’s wool, while other types feel prickly like a dry sponge. But all moss is magnificent in its beauty. I love moss, and surprisingly it makes rather wonderful living wall material.

Moss has been around for almost 300 million years and has been identified in ancient fossils. The moss family has more than 12,000 species of small sporebearing plants ranging in size from microscopic forms to giant plants more than 40 inches long. They are typically distributed in freshwater areas of the world and do not tolerate salt water. Mosses are most commonly found in moist, shady locations and aid in soil-erosion control by providing a tight surface cover that absorbs water. Moss reproduces through spore production as well as by branching and fragmentation and regeneration from small pieces.

Which Moss Is Best for Living Walls?

While moss may grow abundantly in Ireland, and can easily grow everywhere in the northwest United States, it is not as easily cultivated in all locations. My garden now has moss, but I spent four years trying to grow moss and failing repeatedly. What I finally figured out is that I needed an expert to help me. I contacted David Spain from Mossandstonegardens.com. He gave me a quick overview on moss and how to grow it.



According to David, there are two primary types of moss used in gardening: acrocarpous and pleurocarpous. each has unique characteristics. Pleurocarpous moss tends to form spreading carpets rather than erect tufts. They are freely branching plants growing in a more chaotic colonizing fashion. They can be fast growing and quickly regenerate when they are broken. Some pleurocarpous require heavy amounts of water and special care to get established. Acrocarpous mosses have a more upright growth habit. They tend to look “tufty” and are somewhat more tolerant of dry conditions. Their extensive branches create a more architectural mounded colony form. It is important to mark the difference between the varieties because acrocarpous’s upright growth habit and drought tolerance makes it a better candidate for the conditions created by living walls.

Another benefit of acrocarpous moss is that it can survive without soil as long as it is an established plant and receives the water it requires. Dry moss is often found growing on rocks and other nonsoil locations. Lengthy contact with galvanized wire, zinc, and copper will kill this moss, so it is important that in living wall installations you do not let the moss touch galvanized products. Additionally, treated wood or chemicals can harm the moss, so it is better to grow organic and be aware of what touches the moss. If you find or create metal wall hangings for the dry moss, use nongalvanized material or paint over galvanized metal to block the moss-killing effect.






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