Sukiya Living Magazine (JOJG)
Moss grows abundantly in many parts of Japan. Known as koke in Japanese, it is a ground cover that is commonly seen in Japanese gardens. Some gardens in Japan have even been created around the moss theme and can be accurately described as "moss gardens." The most famous moss garden in Japan is Saiho-ji, which is also known as Koke-dera. Other famous moss gardens include Sanzen-in and Tofuku-ji (see photo, right).
Westerners who wish to create moss gardens around their own homes would be wise to start by studying some things about moss biology. Moss plants are not the same as other plants in your garden. For example, moss grows on top of the soil, not in it. The moss life cycle is also unique. Trying to transplant moss and cultivate it like turf is not likely to produce satisfactory results.
Moss should not be considered weak, but it almost always loses out to competing plants such as weeds and other ground covers. The flip side of this is that moss can thrive in harsh conditions where other plants cannot. For example, some mosses can grow in acidic soil. Some mosses can grow in shade. And some mosses can even grow on top of rocks where there is no soil whatsoever. Such success stories should not lead you to believe that mosses actually like those conditions. A more accurate way of thinking is that mosses will thrive where the competition is weak. In the absence of competition some mosses actually prefer sun, and other mosses grow directly on limestone, which is the opposite of acidic soil.
In Japan, where moss is encouraged to grow in gardens, the emphasis is not on helping the moss plant, but rather on eliminating the competition. Moss gardens require an exceptional amount of daily maintenance to constantly remove even the smallest weeds and to sweep up any debris that falls down on the moss. Moss gardens are not easy. They are high maintenance endeavors, and you will not likely succeed unless you are prepared to spend plenty of time each week doing weeding, sweeping, and sometimes watering.
Because of these maintenance demands we (JOJG) recommend that any budding moss gardener start small with a very tiny area near the entrance to your home. Do not try to transplant moss from far away or to purchase it from a nursery. Instead look for moss that is growing right there on your own property, preferably moss that is already growing very close to your chosen spot. There are more than 2,000 varieties of moss, and each of them likes slightly different conditions. If it is already growing there in your lawn it will probably also do well beside your front door. Try to budget a small amount of time each day to weed your tiny moss patch and to brush off any leaf or twig debris that falls down. If you like the results you can slowly expand your moss patch into something bigger. Considering the maintenance required, most homeowners will be happy to have just a small patch of beautiful moss located in a very visible spot beside your door or outside your window.
JOJG publishes regular articles on moss and on moss gardening. Our regular articles explore the moss topic in far greater detail than what has been mentioned here. A few of JOJG moss articles are posted below for your review:
JAPAN'S MOSS GARDENS This article talks about Japan's most famous moss gardens. The article includes a photo of each garden and information about how to get there and what to look for.
MOSS PLANTS This article by J. Skuba is about moss plants and how they are used in Japanese gardens. The article offers hints for growing moss in your own garden. Topics include the classification of moss, moss cultivation, and moss reproduction.
MOSS THE PLANT - FACTS Lies and unfortunate mis-information about moss seems to be everywhere, including in some of the most popular books and websites. This article exposes some of the more common moss myths, and in their place offers scientific data and accurate information about this fascinating plant.
THE LIFE CYCLE OF MOSS Moss is not like other plants in your garden. This article examines the science of moss.
HOW TO GROW MOSS This article is about moss gardening (the verb). Cultivating a moss garden takes a lot of work. This article outlines what it's all about and what it takes to succeed.