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Moss: friend or foe?

Zeph Zhang

Joined: Mar 26, 2012
Posts: 9
I have a LOT of moss growing in my yard. I am less than 50 meters away from a very large river, in a highly humid zone (5A or 5B, I believe). I've just purchased a property and now that the snow has melted, I can see that the earth is largely covered with a form of moss that I can't identify. I'm totally new to the whole Permaculture thing, and so instead of taking a flamethower to it all, I thought I'd ask the following questions:

See images here: http://picasaweb.google.com/mr.zeph/20120415MossInYard

1) Moss: friend or foe?

2) Does it have some practical utility, if my intention is strongly geared to producing a food growing environment?

3) What is it's "purpose"? (I know plants don't have an actual purpose, but listening to PC videos, I got into that mindset, for example: plants with tap-roots grow in compacted soils, and their "purpose" is to loosen it, whereas in soft or sandy soils, plants with wide and shallow root systems have the "purpose" or holding the soil together so that it isn't blown or washed away).

4) Just what kind of moss is this, anyway? I can't seem to find good matches on the web. [Later: I was struck with a successful keyword ah-hah moment, I've found that this type of moss is known as "Bryum gemmiferum"]


Craig Dobbelyu

Joined: Dec 22, 2011
Posts: 1188
Location: Maine (zone 5)
My opinion is that if it isn't bothering you, leave it there. I don't much a bot moss, but I do know that it isn't hard to maintain and it's pretty comfortable to walk on once it thickens up. I camp in a place where the moss is 8 inches thick in places. Most comfortable thing to sleep on ever. Aside from that you don't have to mow it.

"You may never know what results come of your action, but if you do nothing there will be no result”


- Compost in training
Chris MacCarlson

Joined: Sep 02, 2010
Posts: 56
Location: Missoula
You should absolutely do some more investigation into your moss. Although you aren't caring for a lawn perse, IMH experience, moss can be indicative of a number of different things on a lawn.

First, moss generally does better in moist conditions - this could mean lots of shade, or it could mean that the soils are waterlogged and clayey. The surface may have a compacted layer a 6-12 inches down that prevents adequate drainage, or conditions could be too acidic.

My advice is to compare the mossy soils with other soils nearby, think about the history of the parcel, dig a couple of 2' deep holes, paying attention to layers in your soil, and think about sending away a soil test, or getting a simple test kit of your own.

Let us know what you find out!

Until you get some more food plants in, these mossy areas are likely prime spots to grow chickweed (especially) or stinging nettle....
Leila Rich

Joined: May 24, 2010
Posts: 3999
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
Welcome to permies Zeph
Being on the other side of the world, I won't get specific, but moss certainly has a purpose: making the most of a niche that most plants hate
Low light/shade
Very acidic, often compacted soil
Excess water
Your photos are quite close-up. I'd love to see some showing 'the big picture'. What's the compass-direction of this area? Trees?
From what I know of moss, it's presence generally indicates conditions that while ideal for moss, are not much good for most edible plants. Raspberries, currants, gooseberries and blueberries come to mind as acid-water-shade lovin' berries.
By the way, are you seeing any flowers appearing in the mossy area? I ask because 'ephemeral' plants often appear in Northern hemisphere climates. We don't have them much round here, not cold enough!
In the meantime, here's a thread dedicated to the glories of moss: http://www.permies.com/t/13614/art-music-aesthetics/Moss-art#122781
Brenda Groth

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
moss is beautiful, in Japan they so love the moss that they'll get on their hands and knees with tweezers to pull weeds that grow up in it..

some photos of japanese gardens show acres of moss and trees..beautiful.

generally where moss grows it is acidic, compacted and shady..and will grow moss better than anything else..

I would leave the moss esp in the paths, and find some other area of the property to plant your gardens..although you can edge your mossy paths with things like violets (which are edible) etc..

IF you have room for both moss and your needs, leave the moss


Bloom where you are planted.
Zeph Zhang

Joined: Mar 26, 2012
Posts: 9
I've taken the images already, I'll post them sometimes toward the weekend. I had a bunch of dry, crispy wintered leaves on the ground and decided to mulch them. What I learned from this cursory work is that my soil is compacted hard and powdery. It most certainly is not from lack of water, but it is under trees. On one end of my property I have 7 or 8 conifers, and on the other, a dozen deciduous trees. I really want to cut down the pines. I hate conifers. Then I was thinking of going ape-ship and grow clover (probably white dutch), primarily to start reconditioning the soil. I'm wondering if I should do a once-in-a-lifetime rototill and go around stealing everyone's organic junk and mix it in. If so, I'd do it after I have felled the evil pines.
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