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Tip of the Week


Tip of the Week  #12

Welcome to our next installment of   "Tips Of The Week".

This feature is for the benefit of visitors to this site, I would be happy to hear from you if there is something you would like to see covered here in future weeks. Please direct your E-mail to let me know if I should include your first name, last name, city, E-mail address or no acknowledgement.

Interested in past articles? There's a list at the bottom of the page.

The subject of this edition is Moss.
If You want to purchase Moss Spores, Click Here to go to the Moss Spores page.
If you want to learn more about moss, please read on.

Want to gain a much greater respect for moss?  Just get some fresh, green moss and look at it under a strong (15 power or greater) magnifying glass or better still, a microscope.  It's pretty amazing stuff.   What appears to be a blanket of green is actually thousands of individual little plants.  With the proper magnification and lighting, you can see the liquid inside each little plant.  There are hundreds of varieties of moss scattered around the planet.   All grow from spores rather than seeds, and they have "feet" rather than roots.  To grow, moss must be moist at all times, and if it dries and turns brown, because it grows from spores, it will grow again when the conditions improve.

"But what does all this have to do with growing bonsai?" you ask. A lot. The art of bonsai is all about deception. We try to trick our eyes and brain into thinking that the one or two foot tree we're looking at is actually a 30 or 40 foot tree viewed from a distance. The better the bonsai, the more we can see it as such. To enhance the overall composition, gravel, rocks and moss are arranged in a natural looking setting in the bonsai pot. A properly maintained blanket of moss adds tremendously to the appearance of a bonsai, but that's just the beginning. Moss will slow the evaporation of moisture from the soil(An invaluable attribute in summer). It will hold water, helping it to soak into the soil while also preventing soil erosion during rain and watering. It will insulate the roots from heat in the summer, and cold in the winter. Not bad for such a simple form of vegetation. If you don't have access to live moss, or the desire to go out and hunt for it, we have packages of Moss Spores for sale in the "Supplies" section of our product catalog.

There are a number of reasons that will prevent moss spores from growing. I'll list a few, and some suggestions, and maybe you can decide what approach is best. First, the spores should be spread so that the package covers between one & three square feet of soil. Too thick a layer of spores will actually slow or prevent germination. The soil can be on the bonsai or in a tray. The soil surface should be as fine as you can make it. The spores should be evenly spread over MOIST soil. Placing a layer of cheesecloth over the surface, and fastening it at the four corners with toothpicks or something similar will help prevent erosion from water, wind etc. The cheesecloth will biodegrade as the moss grows. Try to keep the new moss in a humid area. If it's indoors, it is important to try to raise the humidity around the new moss. Use a fine mist to water. Avoid wetting the tree to avoid drops of water falling from the foliage and/or branches. The surface should be kept moist at all times. Light is VERY important. You should expose the new moss to as much light as possible, while avoiding too much direct sun, which will dry the surface. As long as the spores are in place, they will begin to grow as soon as the conditions are right. It takes a few weeks for a good growth. Many bonsai novices hesitate to pick up moss growing outside for fear that it will have insects in it. Successful bonsai hobbyists keep their collection outside most, if not all the time. They are exposed to the same insects as naturally growing moss is.

If you're concerned, spray the moss lightly with Schultz insect spray or any other mild pesticide. Before collecting moss outside, make sure you are not on private or municipal property without permission. Moss can usually be found in wooded areas where there is plenty of moisture consistently present. The best moss seems to grow in areas where the soil has a heavy clay content. The shorter or "tighter" the moss is, the better it will look, and grow. I use my hands to pick up moss. Some people prefer to use a putty knife or paint scraper. The moss will have anywhere from 1/8 inch to an inch or more of earth, mud, or clay on the bottom. If the layer is thick, you can cut, scrape or shave it down to a thinner size. Take only what you plan to use right away. It takes years to grow. If you strip an area clean today, where do you go tomorrow? I have been gathering moss for my bonsai from the same place for over 15 years. I go as often as once a month, but by taking only what I need, there's always plenty when I need more.

The best way to put moss on a bonsai is as follows. First, you'll need a meat tenderizer and a paint scraper or putty knife. Second, soak a piece of moss (about 1/2 to 2/3 the size of the pot you want to cover) in water. Third, place the moss on a hard, flat surface (green side up). Fourth, pound the moss with the meat tenderizer using the side with the little spikes. This will not only make it thinner and easier to work with, but it will also increase in area by up to double. Be careful, the harder you pound, the more mud will fly. When the moss is about 1/8 to 1/4 thick it's ready to use. It is now "tenderized" and will take the contours of the soil beneath it. Arrange whatever rocks you plan to use on the soil. Slide the putty knife under the moss and hold it over the soil. Place the palm of your other hand on the moss, and slide the putty knife out. Continue until the pot is covered, being careful to "butt" the pieces together, not overlap them. Finally, if you have a bonsai tweezer, that flat spoon-like thing on the end is for working moss. If you don't have a bonsai tweezer, grab a butter knife. With the edge of your tool, tap gently around the seams. This will join the pieces together. When it looks pretty even, use the edge of the tool to tuck the moss down all around the edge of the bonsai pot. This will give a neat apperance, and help retain moisture. You'll find that each one you do looks a little better than the one before.

Interested in past articles? Click for your choice below.

#1-Things to do in the spring

#2-Forest Plantings

#3-Planning a trimming schedule

#4-Trimming Japanese Maples (And other trees with opposing Buds)

#5-Trimming Chinese Elms (And other trees with alternating Buds)

#6-Trimming Conifers (Such as Pine, Juniper and Cypress)

#7-Improving Your Bonsai Skills

#8-Things to Remember During the Winter Months

#9-Some Thoughts About Tree Roots. Their Strengths & Weaknesses

#10-Potting Medium: The Foundation of a Bonsai

#11-Growing Bonsai Under Artificial Light.

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