Should mosses be allowed to grow in garden areas?

Mosses grow in garden areas for the same reasons they grow in lawns: for example, deep shade, high acidity, poor drainage, and soil compaction. As in the lawn, mosses do not compete with other plants. Rather, they establish in bare areas where conditions are favorable (Cook and Whisler, 1994).

Mosses have not been shown to hinder the growth of garden plants or trees. Reasons for removal are generally aesthetic. But aesthetics are in the eye of the beholder, and mosses are commonly viewed as positive features in landscaping. For example, traditional oriental gardening holds distinctive roles for mosses (Japanese Garden Society of Oregon 1996; see also Encouraging Mosses). Furthermore, in some situations mosses may help reduce moisture loss and crusting on soil surfaces.

There are some situations, however, in which moss removal might be necessary. For example, in some commercial greenhouses mosses or liverworts are seen as a pest on the soil around potted plants. If a mossy mound covers the entire surface of the soil in a container, it can prevent water from reaching the plant's roots by deflecting it to the sides of the container (Svenson, 1997).

A positive characteristic of garden mosses is that they can provide lush greenery in the wintertime when other plants have lost their leaves. In areas of the garden where conditions favor moss growth, the homeowner may want to create a moss garden. See Encouraging Mosses to find out how.

In forest ecosystems, mosses play an important role in nutrient cycling in forest ecosystems (Merrifield 1998). They may have a similar role in garden environments. For more information on how mosses function in natural ecosystems, see Basic Biology of Mosses.

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