... gathering moss in May

by Bob Richards

Moss is an attractive adjunct to our hobby. It has useful properties but as in all things in this life, these same properties can be damaging under certain extreme conditions. For instance moss is moisture-retentive and evaporation retardant. Most species of moss also develop better in loam/clay soil consistency as opposed to sand. It therefore stands to reason that if your bonsai soil is too heavy and not porous, having a carpet of moss is going to waterlog your soil and you could lose your trees especially if your soil contains earthworms. These creatures delight in a waterlogged environment and will pass down the clay content of their soil into the drainage holes in order to prevent loss of water and thus increasing water-logging.

For most bonsais it is preferable to have a small circlet of moss round the base of the tree with the rest of the surface composed of gravel and rock. This is also aesthetically pleasing. An exception though is the chamaecyparis specie (boulevard, false etc cypresses). This specie has numerous surface roots when confined in a container. These roots invade th~ moss (without deteriorating the moss) right across the surface of the pot to the very edge and chamaecyparis growing with 100% moss does very well indeed. There appears to be a sympathetic symbiotic relationship between them.

In the Western Cape moss growing in the wild begins greening with the advent of the first rains in May, and begins browning after August - therefore start preparing for your moss collection now.(Moss can be cultivated from its dried fibrous state but for the purpose of this article as well as from personal preference I will confine myself to gathering from the wild)

Prepare yoursel f wi th a shallow wooden container such as a tomato or fruit box and fold several doubled newspaper sheets to fit the surface area of the container. (The idea is to layer the colleected moss separating each layer wi th a doubled sheet of paper). Take along an old bread knife as its serrated edge helps you to slice through the soil beneath the moss. That's all.

Look for a culvert containing loamy/clay soil and look especially at its south-facing slope. Even if the culvert is faced with quarried stone the intervening spaces usually contain moss. Forest floors and the clay banks of streams are also likkely spots. Do not collect brick or gutter moss. These curl up and die in summer.

Gather moss with a thin layer of its attendant native soil and layer it in your crate. Do not waste offcuts. Replace these firmly back in the soil for propagation and future harvest.

At home prepare large shallow trays with about 6cm of damp loam and press your gathered moss into it to form a close fitting jigsaw pattern covering the entire tray. Prop the tray up at an angle of 45° to the vertical and facing south. Spray gently once a day. Do not store the moss under a solid roof. Moss must have light but not the direct rays of the sun while in storage.

Moss prefers unchlorinated water but I have seen moss doing very well on Town water but this is unnusual. Perhaps it was a certain specie of moss having affinity with slightly acid water.

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Southeaster hustles

an adventurous ant

on his tireless search.

Random Bonsai Tip

When creating a cascade the root-ground level must be on a horizontal plane. This imparts the stability to the whole style. Do not tilt the tree, bend the trunk.