If you want a lush green lawn without the maintenance requirements, moss lawn is for you.
Not only will it help reduce your carbon footprint since you won’t need a lawn mower, but you’ll also have a dense, whimsical lawn alternative that requires very little upkeep and can thrive in just about any climate.
There are many differences between moss lawns and turfgrass lawns. For example, unlike turf landscaping, moss does not need to be fertilized or mowed.
Moss gardening is a verdant carpet that can transform any space into something that feels like a fairytale.
This article will teach you everything you need to know about moss lawns, their pros/ cons, which one suits you, and its care.
What is a Moss Lawn?
Mosses are non-flowering plants that develop spores to reproduce. Moss lacks true roots but does have stalks and leaves.
Mosses do not have a vascular root system like other plants.
Contrary to what most may think, you can step on moss lawns, and most can withstand light foot traffic. As a matter of fact, it is recommended to sit or walk on it to help the moss attach to the soil right after it has been installed.
Adding stepping stones or a walkway is advised for areas with heavy foot traffic.
Walking on a traditional grass lawn feels different from a moss lawn. A moss lawn feels soft, spongy, and slightly uneven, unlike a mowed lawn where the grass blades are all cut to the same height.
Moss Growing Zones
One benefit of moss is that it can grow in most USDA growing zones. Apart from the desert, moss can grow naturally in most climates, but to achieve outstanding results, you’ll want to find a variety of moss appropriate for your region.
If you live in a dry arid climate, you should probably skip turning your green area into a moss lawn.
Most Popular Types of Moss
Whether you want to cover your entire landscape or plant a small patch in your yard, there are the most popular moss types and their hardiness zones.
Thuidium delicatulum (Zones 3 to 9)
Regularly referred to as feather moss, this groundcover type has tiny fern-like fronds and is ideal for wetter areas. This type of moss can provide slope erosion control.
Hypnum imponens (Zones 4 to 8)
This moss variety has a low-growth habit that forms a soft spongy carpet and can handle moderate foot traffic.
Leucobryum albidum (Zones 4 to 9)
Also known as pincushion moss, this variety has versatile soil and sunlight needs and thrives in areas that receive light foot traffic.
Dicranum scoparium (Zones 4 to 10)
Regularly referred to as mood moss, this ground cover moss can adapt to full shade and handle dried soils in shady areas.
Find the Right Moss
As with other plants, sun exposure is essential when selecting the correct moss for a location. Mosses are generally associated with growing in shady spots, but some moss species grow in partial or full sun.
Another important consideration when selecting moss is its growth habit. For example, sidewalk moss (Bryum caespticium) is sun-tolerant but grows in clumps, so it’s less suitable if you desire an even carpet-like surface.
There are two main categories of moss lawn: Acrocarps and Pleurocarps.
Acrocarps: thrive in dry settings and are more resistant to drought. (i.e., heath star moss, springy turf moss, common hair cap moss, and pincushion moss).
Pleurocarps are more resilient to excessive moisture and thrive in cooler, wetter regions. Additionally, they can endure some sunshine. (i.e., shiny seductive moss, hypnum moss, and plume moss).
Here are some select mosses for lawns in different light conditions:
- Sphagnum spp.: Sphagnum mosses are the most extensive and come in various colors. They thrive in very wet areas and are usually found in temperate zones.
- Hypnum imponens: (feather moss, sheet moss) This low-growing moss does best in the shade but can also tolerate partial sun. It can withstand light-medium foot traffic.
- Dicranum scoparium: (rock cap moss, mood moss, broom moss) Soft, dense, brilliant green moss that grows in full or partial shade and can tolerate drier areas. This moss prefers acidic soil.
- Thuidium delicatulum: (fern moss) This moss has fronds, grows in full and partial shade, prefers wetter locations, and is suitable for slope erosion control.
- Polytrichum commune: (blue moss, blue hairy cap, hair cap moss, awned hair cap moss) This versatile moss grows in sun, shade, and partial shade/sun. It is suitable for erosion control on slopes.
How to Plant Moss
Unlike traditional lawns, moss lawns grow slowly, absorbing nutrients and water through their leaves.
The primary nutrient moss needs is nitrogen. It can receive nitrogen naturally via rainwater or add nitrogen tri-annually (May, September, and November) to keep your moss lawn healthy.
It’s recommended to plant moss in a tree-shaded site to experiment.
Once you’ve decided where your new moss will grow, it is time for planting.
The best time to do so is in early spring after the frost threat has passed and the moss has time to acclimate before the temperature rises.
- Check soil acidity before planting Moss Lawn.
Most moss species prefer acidic soil with a pH of 5.0-5.5.
To ensure the soil’s pH is within the required level, you can do a pH soil test of the intended planting area.
If you’re turning a turfgrass lawn, chances are that the soil pH is too alkaline. In that case, you must acidify the soil by adding manure, compost, or another soil acidified.
If the soil has a pH of 6 or higher, add sulfur to balance the acidity of the soil.
If the soil is too acidic and you have low soil pH, try adding lime.
- Prepare the soil for Moss Lawn.
After adjusting the pH, clear the lawn area of any plant residue and weeds, then remove debris.
Turn over the soil, level it, and then rake it.
The surface should be firm while still having some texture; this helps the moss make good contact with the soil.
- Watering Moss Lawn
Water the area thoroughly until it is soaked, yet avoid puddles of standing water.
If the moss is extra dry, soak it in a water bucket until it’s rehydrated.
There’s no need to soak if the moss color is green and looks alive.
- Planting Moss Lawn
Moss has no roots, so it’s placed on top of the soil, not planted.
Press the moss into the soil and use landscaping pins to secure it.
Occasional slow, light, flat-footed walking on new moss can also help it establish but ensure you don’t dislodge the patches.
Water the planting area well and keep it consistently moist for the first 4-6 weeks until the moss has been established or when it doesn’t detach from the soil.
Lawn Care and Maintenance
After securing, the moss doesn’t need regular watering.
Even in no precipitation periods, moss absorbs moisture from the air. If the moss starts to look dry, rehydrate it with a mister or a sprinkler for a couple of minutes daily until your moss color changes into a vibrant one.
In the early stages, weeds will likely grow in your moss lawn before it forms a dense carpet. Gently pull out any weed by hand as soon as they emerge. If weeds take hold, removing them can damage the moss carpet. Manual weeding is the only way to fix this problem, as moss does not respond well to herbicides.
Moss lawn does not need fertilization. Changes in its color can be seasonal or due to moisture levels -which is perfectly normal. Unlike grass and other vascular plants, color changes do not indicate a nutrient deficiency.
If exposed to too many pets or foot traffic, Moss lawns can wear down and lose their appearance.
Moss Lawn Benefits
Once established, moss lawns have some advantages over turfgrass, most of which turn any yard into low maintenance.
- Moss is under 4 inches short, so it does not require mowing. Besides saving you time and even money, it is also more sustainable. Also, less air pollution and fossil fuel use from lawn mower use.
- Moss absorbs the carbon in the air.
- Moss does well in hardy conditions such as rocky or compacted soil or on steep hillsides and slopes where erosion would easily wash out turf.
- Mosses can grow in poor soil, which makes fertilization unnecessary to keep them healthy. It is also unbothered by pests, so pesticides won’t be necessary. Also, wildlife generally leaves mosses alone.
- Once mosses are well established, their water requirements are low. Even in arid conditions, moss does not need irrigation to survive. In a period of dryness, they go dormant, and when there’s a sudden heavy downpour, they soak up all the water they can.
- Moss lawns do not need to be sprayed for diseases or insects.
Moss Lawn Disadvantages
Although it has a lot of benefits, moss lawns also have some disadvantages:
- Most mosses prefer shady conditions, and if you have a sunny yard, it may be challenging to find a suitable moss for your region.
- Moss grows best in acidic soil, where the pH is 6.0 or lower. If you have alkaline soil, growing moss will likely be difficult or impossible.
- Turfgrass lawn is more durable.
- Moss lawns must be kept relatively clean of debris.
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Melissa Pino is a biologist, master gardener, and regular contributor for Planet Natural. Melissa’s work focuses on promoting environmentally-friendly practices, helping people create healthy gardens and finding ways to achieve overall health and wellness.