Mosses are found in all parts of the globe, in all climates, and in all altitudes. We are blessed in the Pacific Northwest to have a huge variety of mosses that carpet our forest floors. Mosses help to prevent soil erosion and add nutrients to the soil by discharging acids which break down minerals in the underlying rocks. They also harbor important microorganisms. Mosses require moisture to reproduce which is why they are often found in moist, shaded areas. Mosses are a sign of a clean environment because they struggle to survive in polluted areas.
Mosses are non-vascular plants. This means they do not have vascular tissue to conduct water and minerals from the roots up to the leaves and move glucose from the leaves throughout the rest of the plant. Cut a celery stalk in half to see an example of vascular bundles. Other non-vascular plants are algae, fungi, and liverworts.
If you look closely at a patch of moss, you will see simple parts that look like leaves, stems, and roots; however, without vascular tissue, they are not technically classified as such. Mosses will never grow tall because of this lack of support from vascular tissue.
So that is enough of the biology lesson. Mosses are incredibly beautiful and low-maintenance plants to include in your woodland garden. Use them as your primary ground cover if you can. Your deciduous and evergreen Pacific Northwest shade trees and shrubs provide the perfect moist and acidic environment for growth. Encouraging the moss families that grow naturally in your backyard make for an almost maintenance-free landscape. Just rake off debris and keeping the mossy areas weed-free. If you want to encourage them further, make a mixture of buttermilk and water (50/50) and spray it over the soil. Beer and water work just as well at the same concentration. If you want to “import” a variety that you have seen elsewhere, then blend one part of your preferred moss with the same amount of buttermilk or yogurt, and then spread over the desired area. Make sure you do not take moss from the wild, but from friends’ gardens or public ditches and the like.
Another effective way of growing moss is to remove and transport entire clumps while keeping them moist and then placing them in the desired locations. If your conditions are suitable, then the moss will grow and thrive.
The moss that seems to grow naturally in my backyard is the common feather-moss. My favorite moss (I believe a variety of thyme-moss) is shown nestled around stones and ferns in the picture below . It seems to grow in very moist and shady locations and so it likes the same conditions as found in the boggy parts of my backyard.
All the best to you and your natural mossy garden!