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Starting a Novice Moss, Rock, or Fairy Garden

Updated on May 14, 2016

Take Advantage of Plants and Features Already There

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Consider your indoor moss garden options as well.  This could be a simple way to start.  If I opt for an indoor version it will go in this window area.
Consider your indoor moss garden options as well. This could be a simple way to start. If I opt for an indoor version it will go in this window area. | Source

Begginner Moss, Rock and Fairy Gardens

A moss garden is a great option for landscaping at any scale, but it's also a great way to relax with a creative but easy project.

Moss, rock, and fairy garden pictures are fun to look through and will get your creative juices flowing. Moss gardens are an endeavor well suited to a novice gardener like myself, but they also offer plenty of additional advantages and room for growth as experience increases.

  1. You can adjust them to any size or space you have available.
  2. They are suitable for indoor or outdoors.
  3. You can supplement them with items you've already got in your house, yard, or garden.
  4. There are plenty of articles and examples to draw from.
  5. Mosses are easy to start or to transplant.

Ideas and Inspiration

My first teasers were a facebook tag from a friend (she and I are both fond of moss in wooded settings) to this video on moss gardening, followed by a barista's goals for bonsai gardening (leading me to think more about mini gardening), and my surprise at the outcome of a simple Google search of "start your own moss".

Since that time, every pinterest or Google search has led to lengthy but productive idea gathering sessions. Stumbling onto the following tools jump started my project and helped me progress so far.

  1. Un-rushed Pinterest List Browsing --- so many directions you can go with this. It's addictive and it's amazing what people have come up with.
  2. Searching Google Images --- a simple way to supplement above without over-thinking any one idea.
  3. Diversifying Search Terms --- an overly simple tip, but after spending so long branching out from an initial search, you may not realize how many side branches you still missed.
  4. A few impulsive Ebay products Searches --- I never would have come up with fairy gardening if I hadn't looked up gnomes, which then got me some of my best results on Pinterest and google for the type of moss garden I was picturing. Plus the ideas are neat, from mini yard flamingos to tools, to bird houses.
  5. Revisiting Ideas Between Starting Steps --- getting sucked into piecing moss together is like getting sucked into Pinterest lists, and you can get ahead of yourself and forget where you were headed.

Strategic Brainstorming

Source
Relevance
Benefits
Pinterest
Directly relevant & detailed
Brainstorming, refining, expanding, economizing
Google Images
Mix of directly & indirectly relevant
Brainstorming & refining
Ebay or Amazon
Relevant tools & accessories
Unexpected ideas/terms, items/ideas to build around (fairy garden accessories, mini fountains, mini garden lights)
Consider where your pets and family walk and where  you will have time to work if you lengthen the project or want to expand.
Consider where your pets and family walk and where you will have time to work if you lengthen the project or want to expand. | Source
Direct sunlight for part of the day is fine with the mosses I chose, but I've put pebbles on the edges where it would be too much.
Direct sunlight for part of the day is fine with the mosses I chose, but I've put pebbles on the edges where it would be too much. | Source
You may need to pet or poultry proof your moss garden.
You may need to pet or poultry proof your moss garden. | Source

Outdoor Site Selection

You can put a rock garden anywhere. You can put a moss garden almost anywhere, and can adapt to sub-optimal conditions by combining it with a rock garden or through your moss-type selection. For example, a portion of your selected site that gets too much sun for a delicate moss (which likes at least partial shade) could be an area that morphs into pebbles or a rock feature.

A few considerations include:

1. Flow of traffic. The side of my porch I selected is an area where my family drags the hose and knocks down my flowers. So a moss garden is low enough to escape this fate, but I may still have to mitigate for traffic. My dog will probably never learn not to jump off this side of the porch when she's excited, so I've not widened the garden beyond where she will land or could catch an ankle on an edge stone. A walkway is probably not optimal for a moss garden unless:

  • You are in a wet enough climate and want to incorporate moss with stepping stones
  • You plan to frame a path with a moss or rock garden
  • You want to experiment with walk-able mosses

2. Sun Exposure. Particularly if you are starting your moss from scratch, you need some shade. If you are set on a sun drenched area, transplant your moss from a similar site or research sun tolerant mosses to buy or grow.

3. Pet Proofing. As above, don't pick an area where your pets loaf or jump or play. Our chickens weren't interested in the area I picked until I started gardening it, so I have to watch for minor deconstructions as my garden progresses. I'm trying to arrange things in a way that makes chicken damage less likely (or at least less visible) and I suspect that the bugs available with the loose soil are their draw, which will decline over time.

4. Work-able area. Don't try for a start to finish project, unless that is all your personality or schedule will allow. Stepping away and coming back has been beneficial. It is also good to make sure your mosses are growing well and that your pieces are staying put. It's a fun project, so I'm glad I found a spot where it can grow over time.

The right mosses patch together like they've always been there.
The right mosses patch together like they've always been there. | Source
Give yourself time and room to try different placements.
Give yourself time and room to try different placements. | Source
Small ground covers help fill spaces and add variety.
Small ground covers help fill spaces and add variety. | Source

Transplanting Moss

I read up only slightly on transplanting mosses, as I expected to start with the squirt bottle method described in the following section. But I found multiple varieties of moss growing under the shrubs in the very back of my yard and started working with those without reading any further. I kept them very moist and they all transplanted with marginal effort.

I've read since that the depth of soil you collect with them is important and that soil microbes need to remain in balance. There may have been something about rhizomes. I think I will be more careful about these factors if I collect more from wooded sites away from home.

In my own yard, I simply scooped below the sections of moss with a small trowel or a larger shovel for larger pieces, and had a box top or plastic tray to scoop them straight on to. I placed them where I wanted them, watered carefully, and watched closely for the following few days. A few were staged for multiple days and they did well, too.

I also used the moss that grew in pots under my porch over the past year. The tendency for any pot in that corner to grow moss was also a strong selection factor.

You can order or buy mosses to plant, but in my area I think this would be a fairly expensive way to start. Alternately, there are many varieties and sizes of delicate ground covers you could supplement with, and succulents and setums supplement nicely as well.

Start Your Own Moss

Starting Moss (Blender Method)

Different sites offer different recipes to get started with. I've bough yogurt and a squirt bottle and have a beer saved in case I want to try a few alternatives.

In general, most recipes start with a handful of moss, one or two cups of yogurt or beer, and varying amounts of sugar.

6 weeks in a shady spot, as noted in the video, seems to be the typical recommendation.

This video walks you through it, but also covers thoroughly the benefits of broader landscaping with moss (up to replacing your lawn with moss as an ecologically responsible alternative).

You can paint or spray your concoction onto rocks, pots, surfaces, or onto cloth to grow and expand for transplanting.

Start With Accessories and Ideas Already in Your Yard

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Work around plants you like in your selected space.  This lupine is only a few inches tall, but was tiny when I started.Bark beetle frass from under the bark of this log made great miniature bark for my trail.  Chunks of bark were the roof for my "toad abode" tucked under the deck.Don't overlook miscellaneous left over or salvaged landscaping items.These pebbles were plucked from an overgrown corner of our yard.Remnant plants from last yer's garden make good fillers.These starts were transplanting casualties from the plants in the next picture.Take starts from your existing plants or rescue casualties.There were already pots in the corner I chose for my garden that grew mosses over the past year.  This one has interesting mosses and lichens, plus incidental lupine seedlings.Beside the existing lupine is a young seedling of unknown origin (possibly an ash) that fits well in its corner and gets to stay.
Work around plants you like in your selected space.  This lupine is only a few inches tall, but was tiny when I started.
Work around plants you like in your selected space. This lupine is only a few inches tall, but was tiny when I started. | Source
Bark beetle frass from under the bark of this log made great miniature bark for my trail.  Chunks of bark were the roof for my "toad abode" tucked under the deck.
Bark beetle frass from under the bark of this log made great miniature bark for my trail. Chunks of bark were the roof for my "toad abode" tucked under the deck. | Source
Don't overlook miscellaneous left over or salvaged landscaping items.
Don't overlook miscellaneous left over or salvaged landscaping items. | Source
These pebbles were plucked from an overgrown corner of our yard.
These pebbles were plucked from an overgrown corner of our yard. | Source
Remnant plants from last yer's garden make good fillers.
Remnant plants from last yer's garden make good fillers. | Source
These starts were transplanting casualties from the plants in the next picture.
These starts were transplanting casualties from the plants in the next picture. | Source
Take starts from your existing plants or rescue casualties.
Take starts from your existing plants or rescue casualties. | Source
There were already pots in the corner I chose for my garden that grew mosses over the past year.  This one has interesting mosses and lichens, plus incidental lupine seedlings.
There were already pots in the corner I chose for my garden that grew mosses over the past year. This one has interesting mosses and lichens, plus incidental lupine seedlings. | Source
Beside the existing lupine is a young seedling of unknown origin (possibly an ash) that fits well in its corner and gets to stay.
Beside the existing lupine is a young seedling of unknown origin (possibly an ash) that fits well in its corner and gets to stay. | Source

I'm Enjoying Mine as a Gradual Work in Progress

Early evolution of a moss garden, rock garden.  The hut in the back is a 'toad abode'.  No photos have done it justice so far, but I hope they will when it's all done.
Early evolution of a moss garden, rock garden. The hut in the back is a 'toad abode'. No photos have done it justice so far, but I hope they will when it's all done. | Source

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    • Kyra Tiffany profile image

      Kyra Smith 2 years ago from Portland, OR

      Excellent article! I'm inspired to create my own fairy garden. Thank you....

    • RockyMountainMom profile image
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      RockyMountainMom 2 years ago from Montana

      Thank you, mine has become addictive!

    • profile image

      Jen 2 years ago

      LOVE it!!!

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 2 years ago from Hudson, FL

      Your garden is coming along great with all of the textures and elements. I wish we had some nice mosses down here in Florida (other than Spanish). At least I could work with succulents! Thanks for sharing. -Liz

    • RockyMountainMom profile image
      Author

      RockyMountainMom 2 years ago from Montana

      And I wish I could do more with succulents! I tried some last year, and had a few (very few) over-winter survivors. I think I will add more in as I work upward with a rock feature in the corner.

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