If you are looking for an alternative to conventional turf, consider a moss lawn. Moss has been an integral element of Japanese garden design for centuries. Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, the Zen-like look of moss gardening is uncommon. This is a pity because a lush moss green carpet can grow just about anywhere except in arid environments. It can also thrive as a groundcover in many places where turfgrass is difficult to establish, such as steep hillsides.
The drawback of a moss lawn is that live mosses for landscaping are not as readily available as grass seed, and a moss lawn is more expensive to install than a lawn. However, the initial investment pays off because once a moss lawn is established, it requires much less upkeep and maintenance. All things considered, a moss lawn is more sustainable than turfgrass.
Before choosing, it's important to weigh the pros and cons of moss lawns when compared to turfgrass lawns. Find out whether a moss lawn is right for you, and what’s involved in growing and caring for it.
What Is a Moss Lawn?
A moss lawn is a dense stand of moss, a low-growing plant. Mosses don’t have a vascular system of roots, as do other plants; they absorb water and nutrients through their leaves. They grow slowly and are propagated through the production of spores, not by seeds.
Contrary to popular belief, you can step on a moss lawn. Most mosses withstand light foot traffic. Right after the moss lawn is installed, it is actually recommended to walk or sit on it to help the moss attach to the soil. For heavy foot traffic across a moss lawn, on the other hand, it is better to add a walkway or lay down stepping stones.
Walking on a moss lawn feels different from walking on a grass lawn. While moss is soft, the surface feels slightly uneven and spongy, unlike a mowed lawn where all the grass blades are cut to the same height.
Patches of moss in turfgrass usually show up in areas that are shady and damp and they are generally viewed as a nuisance. While there are ways to remove moss from your lawn and prevent it from growing, instead of trying to go through a lot of effort to change the growing conditions (raising the pH, fertilizing, improving drainage, etc.), you can make a virtue out of necessity and turn these problem areas of your turfgrass lawn into a beautiful moss lawn.
The Benefits of a Moss Lawn
Once established, a moss lawn has several advantages over turfgrass, most of which fall into the low-maintenance category.
As moss is short, under 4 inches, it does not require mowing. This not only saves you time, it is also more sustainable—no use of fossil fuel, and no air and noise pollution from a lawn mower.
Moss can grow in poor soil, which makes fertilizer unnecessary to keep your moss lawn healthy. It is also unbothered by pests so you can also cut out the pesticides. Wildlife generally leaves mosses alone.
Moss also does well in difficult conditions such as compacted or rocky soil, or slopes and steep hillsides where turf would be easily washed out by erosion. In fact, moss is often the planting of choice for erosion control.
A moss lawn is lush green when the leaves, which absorb water and nutrients, are well-hydrated. But that does not mean that mosses have high water needs. Once mosses are established, their water needs are actually low. Mosses don’t need irrigation to survive, even in arid conditions. In periods of dryness, they turn dry and go dormant. And when there is a sudden heavy downpour, they soak up all the water they can.
Disadvantages of a Moss Lawn
While there are many mistaken assumptions about the drawbacks of moss lawns, it's indisputable that this plant has some disadvantages over turfgrass when used as lawn ground cover.
Most moss species prefer relatively shady conditions, and if you have a sunny lawn, it may be difficult to find a moss suitable for your region that performs well on a lawn that receives direct sun for most of the day.
Moss, while not as tender as most people think, is by no means as durable as a turfgrass lawn—especially a grass lawn planted with species aimed at holding up under heavy foot traffic, A moss lawn may not be practical for lawns that must serve active families that enjoy outdoor games, or one that has dogs that spend a lot of time in the yard.
Moss lawns grow best in acidic soil, where the pH is 6.0 or lower. If you live in an area with alkaline soil, growing moss may be difficult or impossible unless you first perform extensive soil amendment with a material that lowers the soil pH.
Moss lawns need to be kept relatively clean of fallen leaves and other debris. This is rather easily done simply by making a pass over it with a bagging lawnmower, but it does add extra maintenance steps. Then again, moss does not need to be mowed in the traditional fashion, so this characteristic really doesn't cause a moss lawn to be more labor-intensive.
Moss is normally planted from flats of live moss, and this is not always readily available—and certainly less common than seed or sod for turfgrass. You will likely need to order moss in trays of living plants from online retailers, and the cost of a moss lawn is almost always considerably more than that of a turfgrass lawn.
Find the Right Site for a Moss Lawn
Moss lawns are more expensive than sowing grass seed or laying sod for a lawn. To make sure your investment will last, it is crucial to select the right site for a moss lawn.
The first step is to identify the microclimates in your yard. What is the sun exposure in the different areas? Are there deciduous trees or evergreens that cast shade, how densely, and at what time of the year? Does your yard have any moist, shady spots? Also pay attention to wind exposure, as wind can dry out the soil.
Growing mosses is not difficult but if you’ve never grown mosses, a gradual approach might be the wisest. Start with a corner of your yard, select moss species that are suitable for its sun exposure, and see how they do for a season or so before trying to grow a full-scale moss lawn.
How to Choose Mosses
As with all other plants, sun exposure is crucial when selecting the right moss for a location. Mosses are commonly associated with growing in shady locations but there are also species that grow in sun or partial sun.
The other important consideration when selecting a moss is the growth habit. Bryum caespiticium, also known as sidewalk moss, for example, is a sun-tolerant moss but it grows in clumps so it is less suitable for a lawn with a carpet-like, even surface.
Here are a few select mosses for lawns in different light conditions:
- Atrichumangustatum (star moss, slender starburst moss, lesser smoothcap moss): Compact, low-growing moss that can grow in the shade but prefers sun or partial shade/partial sun.
- Atrichumundulatum (big star moss, Catherine’s moss, crane’s bill moss, crown moss, starburst moss): Prefers shade but can grow in partial shade/partial sun; needs moist soil and shrivels up when dry.
- Climaciumamericanum (tree moss): Grows in deep shade as well as partial sun, ideal for waterlogged areas or storm water run-off. One of the taller mosses, growing 4 to 5 inches tall.
- Dicranumscoparium(mood moss, windswept moss, broom moss, footstool moss, rock cap moss): Dense, soft, brilliant green moss that grows in shade and partial shade and can tolerate drier areas. It prefers acidic soil.
- Hypnum imponens (sheet moss, feather moss): Low-growing moss that does best in shade but can also grow in partial sun. It can withstand light to medium foot traffic.
- Leucobryumalbidum (pincushion moss): A versatile moss that grows in shade, sun, and partial shade/partial sun, and in a wide range of temperature and soil conditions.
- Leucobryumglaucum(cushion moss, white moss): Moss with a round cushion shape that does well in shade and can tolerate morning sun. It prefers sandy soil. Its light blue/green color gets a silvery-white cast when dry.
- Polytrichum commune (haircapmoss, awnedhaircapmoss, blue moss, blue hairy cap): A versatile moss that grows in shade, sun, and partial shade/partial sun. Good for erosion control on slopes.
- Thuidiumdelicatulum(fern moss): Moss with fronds that grows in shade and partial shade and prefers wetter locations. Good for erosion control on slopes.
There are companies specializing in live moss, such as Mountain Moss in North Carolina and Moss Acres in Pennsylvania, where you can buy moss for a moss lawn. Mosses for lawns can be mail-ordered and are usually sold in trays or by the square foot.
How to Plant and Grow a Moss Lawn
Follow these steps to grow a moss lawn:
1. Check the Soil Acidity
Most mosses prefer acidic soil between a pH of 5.0 and 5.5. To make sure the soil pH is within that level, do a soil pH test of the intended planting area. Especially if you are turning a turfgrass lawn into a moss lawn where you have added lime to the soil in the past to increase the soil pH. Chances are that the soil pH is too alkaline for moss. In that case, you need to slightly acidify the soil by adding compost, manure, or another soil acidifier.
2. Prepare the Soil
After checking and adjusting the pH, clear the area of any weeds, plant residue, and other debris. Turn over the soil, then level and rake it. The surface should be firm but still have some texture, which helps the moss make good contact with the soil.
Water the planting area well to the point where it’s soaked but avoid puddles of standing water.
Depending on the state that the moss is in when you receive it, you might need to soak it in a bucket of water or kid’s pool until is it rehydrated. If the moss is green and looks alive, there is no need to soak it.
Moss has no roots so it is not planted in the soil but just placed on top. Press the moss into the soil and secure it with landscaping pins. Light, slow, flat-footed walking on newly laid moss from time to time can also help it establish but make sure that you do not dislodge the patches when stepping on them.
Water the planting area thoroughly and keep it constantly moist for the first four to six weeks until the moss is established—when it won’t detach from the soil when you try to gently lift it.
Detailed instructions on how to plant moss can also be found here.
Care and Maintenance
After moss is established, it will not need regular watering. Even in periods of no precipitation, moss absorbs moisture from the air. In extended periods of dry weather, if the moss starts to look excessively dry, you can rehydrate it with a sprinkler or a mister for a few minutes a couple of times per day until you see the moss change to a more vibrant color.
Especially in the early stages before the moss forms a dense carpet, weeds are likely to grow in your moss lawn. Pull any weeds gently by hand as soon as they emerge. If you let weeds take hold and they get too large or numerous, removing them can damage the moss carpet. Moss does not respond well to herbicides so manual weeding is the way to go.
The only other maintenance required for a moss lawn is to remove any leaves in the fall that can mold and rot and deprive the moss of light.
Moss lawn does not require fertilization. Changes in the moss color are seasonal or due to moisture levels and are perfectly normal. Unlike in grass and other vascular plants, color changes are not a sign of nutrient deficiency.
So lay down your weed-killers and consider swapping your high-maintenance grass for a mossy-alternative. A moss lawn offers year-round green across your whole yard, rather than in patches, plus is much better for the environment.How do you take care of a moss lawn? ›
Once it takes hold, moss can be really drought-tolerant, so don't let an initial outlay of water and labour put you off. Never fertilise, scarify or aerate. If you have a shady site with poor, acid soil you will be able to see a change within as little as a few weeks.What is the easiest moss to grow? ›
Java Moss is one of the easiest plants you will ever grow. This moss is hardy, versatile, and beautiful. You can be sure it will add a flash of green to your tank. You would have to work harder to kill this moss than you do to keep it alive!What does moss need in order to survive? ›
Moss - An Amazing Plant...
Since they obtain all their nutrients from the air (moss has no true roots), moss plants require nothing more than shade, prefer acidic soil, and adequate moisture to flourish.
While moss requires some moisture, its water demands are moderate; one percent or less of the water needed by an average US grass lawn. It does not benefit from deep watering. Moss lawns are drought-resistant after they have become established; they are among the most drought-resistant garden plants.What happens to moss in the winter? ›
Snow and freezing temperatures signify dormancy or death to most plants BUT NOT MOSSES. Mosses grow in winter weather... not just survive but actually thrive. Most plants exhibit growth patterns between 65-85 degrees F. In contrast, bryophytes can grow in sub-zero temperatures.Is a moss lawn a good idea? ›
Moss is an Excellent Conservation Choice
A moss lawn can help your soil retain water. By acting like a sponge, the moss will quickly absorb water and slowly release it into surrounding soil and air.
No. Moss walls do not attract bugs. Insects are attracted to the moisture and soil in plants. Preserved moss walls do not have any kind of soil and they don't need any water.How can you encourage moss to spread? ›
"If you decide to encourage moss to take over naturally, the most important thing is to keep any debris off the moss," Dave says. "And you do that basically with a broom or by hand and remove leaves and debris. Bare soil areas will actually encourage small moss plants to spread."What is the best fertilizer for moss? ›
Like all plants, moss needs nitrogen, either gleaned from the soil and substrate or from water uptake. If your moss doesn't get enough nutrients from rainfall or soil, however, a mild, organic fertilizer, such as one containing lactic acid from milk or nitrogen from manure, is in order.
Moss has no roots so it is not planted in the soil but just placed on top. Press the moss into the soil and secure it with landscaping pins. Light, slow, flat-footed walking on newly laid moss from time to time can also help it establish but make sure that you do not dislodge the patches when stepping on them.What is the hardiest moss? ›
This is one of the hardiest variants of moss that is best known for its lush green foliage. The Irish moss can successfully withstand foot traffic and it will also cover your garden patch exceptionally well. Unlike other species of moss, it can tolerate full sun as well as humidity.
To keep your moss healthy, simply mist the plant regularly and give it a good watering about twice a week. And be sure to use filtered water as opposed to tap, since tap water can contain too much chlorine and might turn your mosses brown.Can Brown moss turn green again? ›
In many cases, even completely brown moss can be revived with a little bit of water and sunlight. It's possible that dried moss is just in a dormant state just waiting for a little bit of water to wake up. It may just take a little bit of time to see the changes.How long does a moss plant live? ›
While living moss walls can, in theory, live for around 25 years, they require a large degree of maintenance to keep alive for that long. They require regular water and fertilization as well as access to natural light (or at the very least artificial grow lights).How long does it take to grow a moss lawn? ›
Growing a moss lawn can take six weeks to two years to fully cover your yard, depending on the species. Fern moss and sheet moss are the most rapidly growing species and will spread quickly when planted in shade and moist conditions.Is moss better than trees? ›
A small moss lawn can absorb more carbon than 275 mature trees . They also: Produce a ton of oxygen. Require significantly less water.Is moss good for insects? ›
It may come to as a surprise but there are actually several ecological benefits of a moss garden. One of the biggest is that moss can be a lightning bug nursery. Lightening bugs such as fireflies as well as many other insects will live in or under moss such as spiders, ants and worms.When should I put moss on my lawn? ›
The best time of year to apply lawn moss products is in the late fall or early spring when moss is actively growing. The key to successful control is even application.Does moss come back every year? ›
Moss reproduces via spores, which are typically released twice a year: once in autumn, and once in spring. Moist, shady conditions are the most favourable for moss growth, so as you'd imagine, mosses are particularly prevalent during the autumn and winter months.
Each year, homeowners resort to treatments to discourage moss. Cullina says unless the conditions are changed that moss favors – shade, compacted soils, and high levels of moisture – trying to get rid of it is a waste of time. It will just grow back. “You'll find moss under any turf grass.Does moss store more carbon than grass? ›
Moss Can Fight The Global Carbon Cycle
Moss covers 3% of the land mass and stores perhaps more carbon than any other plant on land.
As moss absorbs water and makes nutrients by photosynthesis through its leaves and does not require to be rooted to survive therefore it is very easy for the plant to spread and grow in harsh conditions. It is equally as difficult to eradicate, as long as it has its two most important requirements, water and sunlight.What temperatures can moss withstand? ›
Some mosses have even been known to survive temperature highs of 100ºC when dried out, and lows of -272ºC.Do moss lawns smell? ›
, published online today. Moss emits small amounts of previously unknown scent compounds. These probably aren't abundant enough for humans to smell, even if they bend down to sniff the forest floor.Do ticks hang out in moss? ›
Moss will attract fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes – Nothing could be further from the truth! These pests need taller plants in which to shelter. Moss is too dense and short to attract them.Can you get lice from moss? ›
If you should find yourself floating through a swamp, rest assured you cannot get head lice from the beautiful drooping Spanish Moss. If you do find yourself with head lice from a normal source, like hugs from a loved one, call LiceDoctors in New Orleans and all of Louisiana at 504-521-7573.What makes moss grow faster? ›
Generally, moss grows faster in ideal soil as mosses take longer to attach to a solid surface. Growing mosses on solid surfaces would also require more effort than in soil. Mosses need a lot of moisture to survive, so they can easily absorb moisture faster from the soil than from solid surfaces.How do you make moss greener? ›
How to Propagate Your Own Moss - YouTubeIs moss hard to maintain? ›
Moss is Beautiful, Versatile and Easily Maintained
It's so easy that even children or the busiest of professionals can do it! All it takes is an enclosed container, plenty of sunlight, pebbles and other materials to form a base, and regular misting with a spray bottle to help your moss to thrive.
Coffee as a Peat Moss Substitute
It's tough to replace a natural product as useful as peat moss, but coffee grounds are one option. Properly prepared, you can use composted coffee grounds in place of peat moss in planting and potting mixes—anywhere you would usually use peat, used the same way.
Using moss killers and fertilizers simultaneously might seem like the right thing to do, in that you get to kill the moss and fertilize your crop. But it is not advisable that you use moss killers and fertilizers together.Does moss need dirt to grow? ›
Moss spores are in the air and only need moisture to germinate and mature. Once established, moss can be very drought tolerant. Some mosses can survive in full sun, though most prefer shade. Moss can grow on any type of soil because their shallow roots simply hold the moss there without drawing nutrients from the soil.Does it hurt moss to walk on it? ›
Contrary to what many believe, moss can tolerate light foot traffic. “Footsteps don't hurt the plant,” says Martin. In fact, she recommends walking or sitting on newly installed moss daily to help the moss 'rhizoids' attach to the growing surface.How do you keep weeds out of moss? ›
Herbicides containing glyphosate can be safely used to kill weeds growing in moss. When applied to the leaves of growing plants, glyphosate kills both grasses and broadleaf plants. It is absorbed through the leaves and travels through a plant's vascular system killing the leaves, stems, and roots.What grows well with moss? ›
Good companion plants for moss include liriope, hosta, blue-eyed grass, azaleas and ferns. Flowers on shade-loving impatiens add splashes of color.What is the fastest spreading moss? ›
For beginners, David recommends two of the fastest growing and most widely adapted spreading mosses—sheet moss (Hypnum sp.) and fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum).What moss likes full sun? ›
Bryum Caespiticium (also known as Bryum moss or Sun moss) is at the top of the list and known for its tolerance for direct sun. Bryum moss grows well in sunny areas but can turn brown after a period without much moisture.Is there a drought resistant moss? ›
Virtues: We love 'Wallowa Mountain' desert moss (Arenaria 'Wallowa Mountain') because it is an evergreen, exceptionally short and compact groundcover native to Oregon that resembles moss yet is very drought tolerant.What does Overwatered moss look like? ›
Look for signs of the moss turning dark and if there is a reduction in height. These signs indicate it's getting too much water, and a break from frequent moisture is needed.
Moss has shallow roots meaning it doesn't require fertilizer or rich soil to survive. The most important thing to remember when you're planning to plant moss is to obtain a species that can thrive in the sun. Not all species of moss like direct sunlight, some prefer indirect sunlight while others flourish in the shade.Is tap water safe for moss? ›
Tap water contains various chemicals that our dear little moss chums do not like! It can contain the salts Calcium and Magnesium which may deposit on your plants. In some localities Chlorine (as a cleaning agent) or Flouride (arguably to prevent cavities) are present. None of these are favourable to moss.Why is my moss turning black? ›
There can be many reasons why moss is turning black. The first reason can be black slime mold, and the second is so-called 'gray mold'. If the blackening moss is close to a pond, it can be caused by black slime mold.Can you grow moss from dried moss? ›
Dried moss is at the dormant state and will lose its green color over time. However, when rehydrated it will return to life and start growing again.What does it mean when moss turns yellow? ›
Inadequate amount of moisture will cause the mosses to dry out, turning yellow. Whereas excessive watering will cause your moss to rot. In both cases, a perished terrarium.What does moss feed on? ›
Botanically, mosses are non-vascular plants in the land plant division Bryophyta. They are ususally small (a few centimeters tall) herbaceous (non-woody) plants that absorb water and nutrients mainly through their leaves and harvest carbon dioxide and sunlight to create food by photosynthesis.Does moss need drainage? ›
Mosses thrive in moist soil. They do not however, need a lot of water at any given time. Therefore, misting versus watering is the preferred method for quenching their thirst. The container you choose to grow your moss in does not need to have a drainage hole, assuming you do not overwater.Does moss need water? ›
Mosses need a lot of water for two reasons. One is that they're not “vascular” plants–that means that they don't have the plant version of a circulatory system, and they can't move water around inside their bodies. All cells in a moss' body need to have easy access to water from the environment.Can I grow moss as ground cover? ›
For a low-maintenance ground cover that will enhance the shaded areas of your yard, moss is great choice. If you've got some growing nearby, take advantage of the opportunity for a free landscaping opportunity!How long does it take to grow a moss lawn? ›
Growing a moss lawn can take six weeks to two years to fully cover your yard, depending on the species. Fern moss and sheet moss are the most rapidly growing species and will spread quickly when planted in shade and moist conditions.
Moss is both very eye-pleasing and requires little effort other than occasional weeding, watering and debris-clearing. Once your moss lawn is established, it will be extremely drought-tolerant, needing much less water than grass. It won't need periodic mowing, trimming or fertilizing. Moss maintenance is simple.Are moss lawns better for the environment? ›
Moss lawns are nature's velvet carpets, and they're very beneficial to the surrounding ecosystem. A small moss lawn can absorb more carbon than 275 mature trees . They also: Produce a ton of oxygen.Does moss attract bugs? ›
No. Moss walls do not attract bugs. Insects are attracted to the moisture and soil in plants. Preserved moss walls do not have any kind of soil and they don't need any water.Is moss better than grass? ›
Moss lawns instead of grass save on water, time and fertilizer. The stuff practically grows on trees. Actually it does, as well as steps, rocks, wheelbarrows, etc.How can you encourage moss to spread? ›
"If you decide to encourage moss to take over naturally, the most important thing is to keep any debris off the moss," Dave says. "And you do that basically with a broom or by hand and remove leaves and debris. Bare soil areas will actually encourage small moss plants to spread."Does moss come back every year? ›
Moss reproduces via spores, which are typically released twice a year: once in autumn, and once in spring. Moist, shady conditions are the most favourable for moss growth, so as you'd imagine, mosses are particularly prevalent during the autumn and winter months.Does moss continue to spread? ›
As moss absorbs water and makes nutrients by photosynthesis through its leaves and does not require to be rooted to survive therefore it is very easy for the plant to spread and grow in harsh conditions. It is equally as difficult to eradicate, as long as it has its two most important requirements, water and sunlight.Does moss need drainage? ›
Mosses thrive in moist soil. They do not however, need a lot of water at any given time. Therefore, misting versus watering is the preferred method for quenching their thirst. The container you choose to grow your moss in does not need to have a drainage hole, assuming you do not overwater.Will grass grow back after moss? ›
Moss will come back unless the growth environment in the yard is changed to be less hospitable to moss. Reseeding a lawn after moss removal is only part of the solution. Moss thrives much like weeds do, and will take over when a lawn isn't maintained properly.Does cutting grass short encourage moss? ›
When mowing, take care not to cut the grass too short as this will stress the grass reducing its vigour and encouraging moss.
To keep your moss healthy, simply mist the plant regularly and give it a good watering about twice a week. And be sure to use filtered water as opposed to tap, since tap water can contain too much chlorine and might turn your mosses brown.Does moss absorb more co2 than trees? ›
Half a square metre of moss can absorb a huge one kilogram of carbon dioxide. That's more than a small forest and something to shout about as we search for ways to offset emissions.Does moss have any benefits? ›
It absorbs a lot of harmful toxins from wet areas, making them clean and also keeping the soil erosion free due to its water-absorbing properties. There are so many benefits of growing Moss instead of other plants and grass in your lawn.Is moss good for insects? ›
It may come to as a surprise but there are actually several ecological benefits of a moss garden. One of the biggest is that moss can be a lightning bug nursery. Lightening bugs such as fireflies as well as many other insects will live in or under moss such as spiders, ants and worms.