15 Moss Myths Every Gardener Should Know - Garden Myths (2023)

I love moss on rocks and trees, and even growing on the ground, provided it is in the right spot – as determined by my aesthetic sensibilities. It is not nearly as welcome in the lawn although I don’t really mind having it there. Moss in the lawn is considered by many as a big problem and this has led to a number of myths about moss.

Some people try to grow moss, but that is not as easy as it sounds. Moss is kind of strange that way; some people are constantly trying to kill it, while others are trying to grow it.

My goal for this post is to understand moss better by exploring the many moss myths.

15 Moss Myths Every Gardener Should Know - Garden Myths (1)

Moss Myths Every Gardener Should Know

A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss

This is a very old proverb that was tested by the MythBusters TV show. Stones were covered with a buttermilk-moss solution. Half were tumbled continuously for six months, the equivalent of rolling 100 miles, and the other half were left stationary. It was the longest test in the shows history.

Sure enough, the rolling stones gathered no moss while the stationary ones started growing moss. This proverb is not a myth, but it is such a cool story I had to include it.

Use Buttermilk to Propagate Moss

Moss adds a nice touch to rocks especially near a waterfall. It ages a stone wall or arbor, and makes the garden look more mature. Some people even use moss to replace their lawn.

How do you propagate moss? A simple and common method is to take some live moss, put it in a blender with some buttermilk or yogurt, and blend it up into a slurry. Then use a paint brush to cover any surface where you want moss to grow. Keep it misted until the moss is well established.

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You can easily find people on the internet who say this method works, but keep in mind some people live in very humid environments and moss will also grow without the blender and buttermilk. In fact it grows so well it covers everything, even where you don’t want it.

This method sounds great on Pinterest, one of the worst online sources of information, but it does not really work, except in high humidity areas.

The best way to grow moss is to divide an existing clump of moss, and place pieces where you want the moss to grow. If you provide enough moisture, and a stable surface, moss will take hold.

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Moss Kills a Lawn

This is a common moss myth. Moss tends to grow where other plants don’t grow. It is a slow grower and has a very hard time out competing other plants. As a result of this, moss in a lawn or garden usually means that the other plant is not growing very well. Fix that problem to make the other plant grow better and the moss will slowly disappear.

How to Get Rid of Moss in Lawns

Moss Needs to be Kept Wet

Most types of moss grow best in a wet or humid environment. Remember they have no roots to absorb water and need to get it through the green leafy part of the moss.

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However, moss is also one of the most drought tolerant plants there is. It has to be, in order to grow on rocks in drier locations. Moss on rocks around here is bone dry most of the summer, but when fall rains arrive, they green up and grow. They are also green during the winter as they absorb melting snow. The moss around my waterfall stays green all summer because it is constantly sprayed with a fine mist of water.

One type of moss, Anoectangium compactum, can survive 19 years without water.

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Moss Only Grows on the North Side of Trees

Knowing this fact can keep you alive in the woods, or will it?

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Moss myth – moss only grows on the north side of a tree

Moss grows where it gets the essentials of life and it has no internal compass. The north side of trees tend to get less light and therefore will hold moisture longer. The excess moisture makes moss grow better. But in areas with enough moisture, moss grows all around the tree.

Moss growing on a tree may keep the bark wetter, which could lead to problems, but for the most part the moss does not harm trees. It simply lives on the surface to the bark.

There is of course another issue here. In the southern hemisphere, moss tends to grow on the south side of trees – the shady side.

Moss Kills Trees

In wet climates, moss grows on every tree in the forest, including vey large ones that are hundreds of years old. It does not kill trees.

When wet it can get heavy and may result in broken branches in windy weather. It can be removed with power washing.

Dish Soap Kills Moss in Lawns

Mix 2 ounces of Dawn Ultra dish soap into 1 gallon of water and spray your lawn. The moss is reported to go brown and die.

Here is a common problem with many of these recommendations – how big of an area does this gallon cover? Without an area specified, it is a useless recommendation.

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Penn State did some testing using Dawn Ultra and reports that, “during summer and fall, using different rates, timings, and water dilution rates yielded poor moss control. Inconsistent results and burning of turf may be a concern when using Dawn Ultra. This product is not labeled for moss control in turf and probably never will be.”

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Translation – it does not work very well. You can expect other dish soaps to be just as ineffective.

Baking Soda Kills Moss in Lawns

This is a common recommendation, and it does work, to some extent.

Testing by Penn State found that it is suitable for spot spraying, but that it will also burn your lawn. If you are going to use it, trya solution of 2 to 3 tablespoons baking soda/quart of water and apply it on warm, sunny days.

No coverage area was specified, but it is probably not needed since this is only used as a spot spray.

Moss Doesn’t Absorb Nutrients from Soil

Mosses do not have roots and for this reason it has long been thought that they do not absorb nutrients from the soil. Their source of nutrients is the water that runs over the green parts of the plant, essentially a foliar feed.

This is a long held moss myth, but it has now been shown that mosses can absorb nitrogen directly from the soil.

Walking on Moss Will Kill It

Moss does not have a vascular structure and is therefore fairly flexible and springy. A limited amount of walking on it will not break its stems and does little harm. Too much foot traffic can do harm, but will not likely kill it unless it is very extreme.

Moss is Parasitic

Moss does not have roots or any other type of structure that can penetrate another organism, so it is not parasitic.

Moss Will Only Grow in Acidic Environments

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Moss growing on rock

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It is common advice to add lime to a lawn that has a moss problem. The thinking here is that moss needs an acidic environment and lime will make it more alkaline, resulting in death of the moss.

There are more than 12,000 species of moss and many like to grow in acidic conditions. But many will grow just fine in alkaline environments. They will even grow directly on alkaline limestone rocks.

Moss Indicates a Shade Problem

Tell someone you have a moss problem in your lawn they will automatically assume you have heavy shade. It is quite possible that this is part of the problem, but some mosses will grow in full sun.

Moss Spores Aggravate Allergies

Moss spores are not generally allergenic.

Moss is Not Always Moss

There are some garden plants that look like moss and some that even have ‘moss’ in their name. The following are not true mosses

  1. Spanish Moss (is an epiphyte)
  2. Caribou Moss (is a lichen)
  3. Iris Moss (is a vascular plant)
  4. Scotch Moss (is a vascular plant)

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