In the Pacific Northwest, a lot of plants stay green year-round, including conifers, some grasses … and moss! What is moss? What do you need to know about moss on your trees? Is moss even a plant? Here is everything you need to know about moss in your yard.
What Is Moss?
Moss is a plant that doesn’t have roots (this is called being non-vascular). It most commonly grows in shady and damp areas, and there are over 12,000 varieties. We’ve found fossils of species from the Permian Period, between 298.9 million to 252.2 million years ago, so they’re extremely successful. Moss and mold are not related in the plant kingdom, though you may see them in close proximity since they appreciate similar environments. The difference is that moss converts sunlight into energy for its growth, whereas mold takes its energy from breaking down whatever it’s living on. Mold is also a fungus. The only similarity moss and mold have is that they both proliferate through the use of spores.
moss can be found everywhere in the world except in salt water. You’ll most often see moss on a woodland floor, though occasionally, you’ll see it on trees or even the shady sides of boulders and houses. This will give a house a pastoral or cottage-type feel and can give the landscape a secret-garden-like air—if you like moss.
Sometimes, you can mistake other plants for moss. In general, moss will have a fluffier appearance, but there are lichens, air plants, and some ferns that have a mossy look. For instance, what is called reindeer moss is a lichen, and the Spanish moss you often see in set dressing for old manor houses in Louisiana is an air plant, more closely related to pineapples.
Why Is Moss Important?
Ecologically, moss fills several niches. One is to break down exposed debris so that nutrients can be recycled back into the ecosystem. Another niche moss fills is as an aid in preventing soil erosion—you’ll be able to see this in effect, especially next to streams and rivers (or if your yard has a water feature), where they have a permanently damp atmosphere and can stabilize the banks.
In case of a sudden downpour or flood, you want to have moss along that streambank to keep the soil from being washed away. As a bonus, the rushing water will be slowed since the moss along the way will direct more water into the water table through absorption. Moss can also reduce stormwater runoff if you have a drainage ditch that needs something green.
Moss also purifies dirt, air pollution, and chemicals out of rainwater—it’s a great filter for wastewater, stormwater runoff, and flash flooding waters. Many species of moss are even strong enough to be tolerant of heavy metal toxins, such as in places where there was copper mining.
Why Is This Moss in My Yard?
Moss doesn’t need a lot to thrive so you probably simply have an ideal environment for it. The most likely place to find moss will be in shady spots, near to the ground, where water gathers. This can be true even in south-facing spots, which tend to get more sunlight. Look for moss under the forks of your tree branches. These forks channel water, which will encourage moss growth.
If you want to cultivate moss in your yard, it will be happiest in places where grass has had trouble getting established. Moss and grass don’t compete well—usually, grass will win out unless the environment heavily favors moss, such as a place where there isn’t a lot of sunlight. Moss also likes acidic and compacted soil—something grasses don’t usually enjoy. If you have bare patches in your yard with these conditions, a thick green carpet of moss will fill that void.
Transplanting moss is easy. Just use a spade or garden trowel to dig up blocks of moss about the size of your hand. Make sure the new space is raked free of debris, grass, and weeds. Place these blocks where desired, water them well, and watch them grow.
Is Moss Bad for My Trees?
It is not bad for your trees. Moss grows on a tree—it isn’t like the popular parasite English ivy, which eats into exposed wood or bark to use the tree’s energy for itself. If you see moss growing on your healthy tree, you can leave it there if it fits your aesthetic.
However, if your tree has moss on it, you want to be sure that there isn’t another problem with your tree. If your tree is unable to fight off encroaching moss, there may be something wrong with the tree. Think of moss like a cold or the flu. Just like when you’re stressed out at work, you’ll find it more difficult to fight off the flu when it goes around the office. If your tree is stressed out, it will have a harder time fighting off moss, lichen, or a pest infestation.
Another thing to consider is that moss is water-heavy. If you notice a lot of moss on the branches of your tree, the added weight could contribute to a broken branch.
Should I Remove the Moss?
Removing the moss from a tree is easy, so if you decide the moss must go—if even just because you want to inspect your tree for cracks or other problems—you can remove it now and plan to let it grow back later. Moss tends to grow in thick mats, so removing it can be as simple as peeling it off the trunk or branch it’s growing on. Just make sure to use your gardening gloves. If you’re not able to peel it off, you can also use a bristle brush to scrub the moss off the bark.
Preventing the return of the moss is also simple—just prune away some branches so that the trunk and major limbs of the tree get more light. This will interrupt the moss’s favorite growing conditions. And if you want to eliminate the moss on the ground, merely aerate the space to disperse the water.
If you have more questions about moss in your yard, don’t hesitate to call our friendly, professional arborists. Contact Mr. Tree today for all your tree care needs.