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Garden Q&A: On growing moss in pavers and how to avoid compacting garden soil

Moss can be very happy tucked between pavers and bricks.
Moss can be very happy tucked between pavers and bricks. (Ellen Nibali/For The Baltimore Sun)

I’d like to grow moss in between pavers or stones. Can you provide some guidance?

Moss, in general, tolerates shade, wet, acid soils, low fertility and, importantly for your purposes, compacted soil. While it can’t handle heavy foot traffic that grinds groundcovers to oblivion, it can handle low foot traffic and is very happy tucked between pavers and bricks, even in dry sun like the moss pictured.

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That said, there are many species of moss adapted to a range of conditions, so you can’t transplant moss from a moist glen and expect it to flourish in a bone-dry patio. Scout out moss in circumstances similar to the microclimate of your pavers. Transplant in clumps as large as you can, pressing into roughed up soil for better contact.

Read the ‘moss in your landscape’ page on the Home and Garden Information Center website for growing tips. You also can try spreading a homemade slurry of moss, buttermilk and water, in order to spread the spores, but transplanting clumps is more dependable. At any rate, keep moss watered for two years like any other transplant as it establishes and fills in.

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Last year I fractured my arm, so I could not weed my vegetable garden. Now I’m weeding and cleaning up the garden on warm afternoons, but I feel like I am compressing the soil wherever I stand. Does compression harm the soil? My husband is too old to rototill the garden. I turn the soil as best I can with a spading fork where I need to plant.

As our lives change, so our gardening habits often need to change. Stepping on soil can compact it, yes, especially when freshly-tilled or wet (and winter soil remains wet because low temperatures mean little evaporation.)

Since you need to access the garden to weed now, use a wooden plank or two to walk on to distribute your weight more evenly and minimize compression. Try establishing regular pathways where you don’t plant, using mulch (such as fresh wood chips) or planks. Mulch reduces compaction from foot traffic and also helps keep the walkway weed-free and improves soil over time.

Compaction does damage soil in many ways. It also happens that rototilling damages soil structure and disrupts natural processes that help bind soil particles and keep them from compacting easily. So, loosening soil as needed with a garden fork is actually a better technique. Annual topdressing with an organic amendment and forking in compost can rejuvenate your soil’s structure, keeping it loose and easy to work with.

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Another option is raised beds filled with loose soil. Before filling a raised bed, repeatedly insert and wiggle your spading fork into the original soil underneath to break it up. Search ‘raised beds’ on the Home and Garden Information Center website for details.

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Maryland’s Gardening Experts” to send questions and photos.

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