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.
Building a living wall using moss and wall sculptures, particularly metal art, is tremendously easy, and the wall art can be created from reclaimed materials or purchased as an already created art piece. Resale shops, garage sales, and online reseller stores have metal art in abundance and for reasonable prices. If you are concerned about protecting the wall on which you are hanging your living wall, the back of the art can be covered with a black hardware cloth or taken down for watering purposes and replaced once the moss has dried a bit. However, I used the art for a fence area and watered the wall sculpture directly.
Mosses do best in moderate temperatures and are evergreen plants through winter. They will thrive year-round as long as moisture and sunlight are available at the same time. Photosynthesis is possible even below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, so dormancy does not typically happen due to cold weather. Instead, most mosses go dormant because they are too dry. Typically, they return to active growth as soon as moisture fills their tissue. Although it’s not necessary, if you want to bring the wall hanging inside during winter, simply water it in the shower when necessary, let dry, and then rehang inside. Bring it out again in the spring.
Finding moss is easy. While some garden centers sell moss, suppliers are easy to locate online. A soilless living wall requires minimal attention once established and is an incredible conversation piece in your garden and home.
How to Build A Moss and Shade Art Garden
- An item to use as a wall hanging, such as a metal art wall frame.
- An acrocarpous moss sheet
1. Once your acrocarpous moss arrives, you will want to stretch the moss out in a shady area.
2. If you cannot plant immediately, water the plants. Moss should be dry before fragmenting, so on the day you will be building your living wall, make sure the moss is very dry.
3. To get the acrocarpous moss to stay in the wall sculpture unassisted, simply pull off a large piece of moss from the sheet of moss that arrived from the nursery.
4. When the moss is gently pressed into pockets on the metal art sculpture, it slowly expands and fits tightly against the sides of the metal.
5. Take the large piece of moss in both hands, then compress and squeeze it tightly until it can fit into a pocket on the metal art sculpture.
6. Repeat until your art sculpture is filled as you like it.
7. Hang the wall unit using a hammer and nails or deck screws.
8. Water daily for the first month and follow the instructions listed below.
More from Grow a Living Wall:
Grow a Living Wall: Create Vertical Gardens with Purpose by Shawna Coronado. Copyright © 2015 Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc. Reprinted with permission from the publisher; all rights reserved.
Items That Can Be Converted into Creative Moss Living Wall Gardens
- Premade metal wall hangings
- Small photo frames
- Small embroidery hoops
- Found and recycled metal objects
- Metal wire baskets
- Old literature racks or brochure holders
- Flat tuna cans
- Glass cups
- Clay pots
Watering Acrocarpous Moss
Acrocarpous mosses are much slower growing than other mosses and do not tolerate heavy moisture for periods up to three months. Eventually, if moisture continues to persist, the moss will die. David Spain of Mossandstonegardens.com recommends the following watering plan.
- Months 1 and 2: Water daily.
- Month 3: Water every three days.
- Month 4: Water once a week.
- Month 5: Water twice a month.
- After Month 5, water only when rain has been absent for three weeks or more.