Tag Archive | Shade Plants

Growing Moss

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

We have a cottage in northern Wisconsin where the soil is extremely sandy, conditions are wet (at least most years), and there’s no direct sunlight. My husband spent hours and hours building new steps from bricks and sand, down from the driveway, and I was constantly battling the growth of grass or weeds settling into the cracks between the bricks. Finally, after several years of coddling the growth of moss, I now have a lovely set of steps with moss growing between the bricks — although there’s a way to go yet until it’s where I want it.

There are lots of places where we can’t get things to grow because of shade or moist conditions. Rock gardens always look good with moss between the stones and, of course, a natural, woodland look always needs large rocks with moss. You can grow your own!

07b00980d4f216a286fe4fd73a16382aThe most important ingredient in any recipe for moss is patience (as I learned): it can take years to achieve that fuzzy carpet. The next item on the list is the powers of observation. There are hundreds of different mosses, each suited to a particular ecological niche, and the best way to choose one that will grow well where you want it is to notice what’s already growing there or in a similar location. [Note: I’m chagrined to remember pulling out tufts of moss from between my bricks after they were newly laid because I thought it was ‘spoiling’ the look! Grrr!)

With any luck, the moss you want will be somewhere on your property or that of a friend, because the next step is to collect some. Taking mosses from public lands is not legal; taking them from private ones without permission is stealing. If necessary, moss starts can be purchased; specialists in bonsai supplies sell them.

Collecting Moss

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Collect moss after a soaking rain, or, if that’s not possible, water the mossy area thoroughly. Though there are some mosses that will grow on several different substrates, you’ll have the best luck if you collect from a surface similar to the one you want to cover (wood, soil, or rock).

Take small, roughly 1 1/2-inch diameter patches, and never more than two or three from a square foot of moss. If it is growing on soil, make sure you take the patches with soil attached. Keep the patches moist.

Growing Moss from Slurry

This method is mostly used for hard surfaces such as rocks, flowerpots, and concrete. The idea is to coat the object with a mush of ground moss that contains lots of spores. To get it, you simply process clean moss in a blender, combining it with a thick liquid that will hold it in suspension and help it adhere.

4912b88dde824566d0c7fa410fe5163c--growing-moss-grow-moss-on-potsYogurt and buttermilk are think and sticky — and acidic, which moss likes — and are therefore often used in slurry recipes, but they are not essential. Potter’s clay (from the craft store), thinned to thick-milkshake texture with water, works even better because it holds moisture longer. Diluted manure can also be used if you have a blender dedicated to garden purposes.

For about 3 cups of slurry, enough to coat roughly 1 1/2 to 2 square feet of surface, you’ll need: 

  • 1 loosely packed cup of moss pieces, or a bit more
  • 2 1/2 cups of liquid: diluted potter’s clay, diluted manure, yogurt, buttermilk, or whatever mixture you want to try
  1. Grind the moss in a blender with 2 cups of the liquid. The result should be about the texture of thin pudding. Add more moss (or more liquid), if necessary.
  2. Thoroughly wet the object, paint it with the remaining 1/2 cup of thick liquid, then paint on the moss slurry
  3. Keep the surface constantly moist, using a gentle mist so you don’t dislodge anything. Once a day will probably be enough if the item is in a damp, shady place, but don’t let it dry out. Within six weeks or so you should see the thin green, algae-like filaments that signal new moss is growing.

Transplanting Moss

This method is most often used where the moss will grow on soil, though transplanting will work on any surface as long as it is porous. Before you go out collecting, prepare the site. Remove vegetation (except existing moss, of course). Text for pH and lower it if necessary; most woodland mosses are acid lovers, happiest when pH is about 5.5. Rake the area smooth and water thoroughly.

Collect the moss patches. Place them on the prepared site, pressing down well, then pin them to the soil here and there with twigs to help them bond with their new home. If you’re doing only a small area, you can cover it with the moss “sod”, but otherwise, spread the patches out about 8 to 10 inches from center to center. They will grow together, eventually, as long as you keep the soil between them damp and free of weeds. For faster coverage, make some slurry and spread it between the patches.

Water well right after planting and frequently thereafter. The moss should take hold in about a month. Once it’s established it will tolerate a dry day or two, but not until then.

 

 

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Let’s Have Window Boxes!

Are you looking to dress up the rather plain front of your house? Or, maybe you just don’t have room for containers around your property? Window boxes bring color and spirit to barren areas, as well as considerable pleasure to those who tend them. Measure the width and length of your sill, then check garden shops or hardware stores for boxes in the appropriate size. (If you shop at a store with helpful clerks, you can get plenty of free advice about window-box attachment.)

0e0c7d074ababaf1dca315898593b718Depending on your house style and budget, you can choose from wood, cast cement, molded terra cotta, plastic, or fiberglass. Avoid metal boxes, because they will very likely rust in a few seasons, and if placed on sunny sills will transmit heat, which burns roots.

Make sure the box is securely attached with wire or bolts. Don’t count on just gravity, no matter how wide the support is. Prepare for planting by covering the bottom with a layer of landscape fabric or plastic screen. This will hold the soil in place while allowing water to drain.

Fill the box about three-quarters full with any all-purpose potting mix, then stir in several trowels each of perlite and organic matter such as leaf mold, aged manure, or compost.

There are no design rules to planting, but contrasting leaf sizes should be a goal, as should contrasting plant outlines. Use bushy plants for bulk, tall plants for a vertical accent, and pendulous species for a graceful cascade over the side. Window boxes almost always look better if there is something draping over the edge, and for sheer drama, you can’t beat drapery that hangs in long streamers well below the box.25137678954_1ef58273fe_b

Unfortunately, although there are many summer stalwarts that will swag down nicely for 12 to 18 inches or so, not many plants are willing to dangle unsupported for much more than that. Plants that will include ivy (Hedera helix), ivy geraniums (Pelargonium peltatum), nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus), ornamental sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas), trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis), and vinca (Vinca spp.)

The list of likely trailers is short because most lax-stemmed plants are vines, and most vines would rather hang on than hang down. If they can’t climb straight up, they’ll climb any which way — on themselves, on the other plants in the box, on the brackets that hold the box up, etc. The end result is a tangled mass instead of graceful tresses.

That said, if you have a situation where vines can’t get a grip on anything, these are also worth a try: canary bird vine (Tropaeolum peregrinum), climbing snapdragon (Asarina spp.), grape ivy (Cissus incisa), and passionflower (Passiflora spp.)

If you have only part sun, try these plants for your window box: ageratum, basil, bay, bee balm (Monarda didyma), begonia, caladium, dwarf Chinese astilbe (Astilbe chinensis pumila), ferns, four o’clocks, fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia), lady’s mantle, lantana, lobelia, and wishbone flower (Torenia); and English ivy, mint, or vinca to trail over the side.

No direct sunlight at all? That’s no excuse for not planting a window box. Assuming you get at least bright reflected light, there are quite a few plants that will endure. Many of the best are perennials with comparatively short blooming periods, but if you choose plants with handsome foliage, the box will be attractive even when there are no flowers.

The delicate, ferny foliage of Jacob’s ladder, for example, contrasts nicely with the scalloped round leaves of coral bells, and both remain fresh looking all summer. The Jacob’s ladder will give you blue flowers for a few weeks in late spring. The coral bells will bloom (at least briefly) a short time later, in red, white, or pink.jardinière-de-balcon

If you are determined to have flowers all summer long, you can try shade-tolerant annuals, but keep in mind that even tolerance has limits. You’ll probably have to experiment a bit to find which will perform under your conditions. Choices include wishbone flower (Torenia), with its small purple, snapdragon-like flowers; begonia, both tuberous and wax, available in white and every shade of read and yellow from pale pink to screaming orange; and the ever-faithful impatiens, in a spectrum much like begonia’s.

And don’t forget to plant a trailer. Vinca and English ivy will both do fine.

 

Wisconsin state flower…and other things

Lovely little violet

Lovely little violet

The Common Blue Violet (viola sororia) is the state flower of Wisconsin, Illinois, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. What do all of these states know? This little beauty of spring loves the climate of Wisconsin, especially shady and moist areas. Let it spread throughout your shady areas and enjoy the beautiful little purple blooms each spring and summer.

While looking into the state flower, I thought: “What else has Wisconsin designated as being official?” Some of these are obvious, some not so much:

  • state soil: Antigo Silt Loam
  • state motto: ‘Forward’
  • state bird: Robin
  • state tree: Sugar Maple
  • state fish: Muskie
  • state animal: Badger
  • state wildlife animal: White-tailed Deer
  • state domestic animal: Dairy Cow
  • state mineral: Galena (lead sulphite)
  • state rock: Red Granite
  • state insect: Honeybee
  • state symbol of peace: Mourning Dove
  • state dog: American Water Spaniel
  • state beverage: milk
  • state grain: corn
  • state dance: polka

Posted by Vicki

Transplanting Hostas

HostaIt’s spring and those hosta shoots are rapidly emerging and unfurling. If you find that an established hosta is struggling to thrive, feel free to dig it up and transplant it. This is best done in the spring as the shoots are emerging, or in fall as the leaves are dying back. But truth be told, I’ve transplanted sizable hostas in the middle of summer on a cool day with great success, as long as I’ve kept them well watered and they spent minimal time with exposed roots. My rule… if a hosta’s not happy, move it. It will thank you in the long run.

by Tammy Borden
excerpt from the Summer 2009 edition of the OCMGA Newsletter

Posted by Kim