By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
In some areas of the country, moss in the lawn is the homeowner’s nemesis. It takes over turf grass and leaves unsightly brown patches in summer when it goes dormant. For the rest of us, moss can be a great alternative to that high maintenance grass. Using moss as lawn provides wonderful springy groundcover which can be walked on moderately, a no mow alternative and rich, deep color and texture. Learn how to grow a moss lawn and see if it is the perfect option for you.
Moss Lawns Instead of 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. You get the idea. Moss is nature’s natural carpet and in the right combination of conditions, forms a nice moss lawn alternative to standard turf.
In order to have moss lawns instead of grass, it is necessary to meet a few conditions. Moss requires an acidic environment, compact soil, protected sun to semi-shade and consistent moisture. There are several types of moss. Some of them are clumping acrocarops or spreading pleuocarps.
The best way to install moss as lawns is to choose mosses that are native to your region. That way you aren’t working against nature and the plants are built to thrive in the local conditions, requiring less time to establish and even less time to maintain. Once the plants have established, they just need weeding and moisture.
How to Grow a Moss Lawn
Site preparation is the most important step. Remove any plants in the area and rake it smooth and free of debris. Check the soil pH, which should be around 5.5. If your soil is higher, lower the pH with sulfur applied as directed. Once the soil has been amended, tamp it down to a solid surface. Then it is time to plant.
It is not recommended to harvest mosses from nature, as these are important parts of the ecosystem and will take a long time to re-establish in the environment. Mosses can be purchased from some nurseries or you can propagate moss, making moss slurry by grinding up the moss with water and broadcasting it onto the prepared surface.
The latter method takes longer to fill in but it has the advantage of allowing you to select a wild moss from your landscape and use it as a moss lawn alternative. The reason this is beneficial is because you know that moss likes your site conditions and is a native moss, which gives the plant a better chance of thriving.
Moss Lawn Care
If you are a lazy gardener, you are in luck. Moss lawns require minimal attention. In hot dry periods, give them 2 inches (5 cm.) of water daily in the morning or evening, especially for the first 5 weeks. As they fill in, pay attention to the edges of moss which can dry out quickly.
Be cautious not to tromp on the moss consistently. It can handle light foot traffic but in heavily passed areas, install stepping stones or stairs. Weed moss as needed to keep competing plants out of the bed. Other than that, moss lawn care is as simple as it gets and you can put away that lawn mower.
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Managing Moss in Your Lawn
In the spring of the year, many homeowners say to themselves: “THIS is the year I will get the lush, green lawn I’ve always wanted!” However, this ambition is frequently thwarted by challenges such as weeds, mole hills, and patchy spots. Moss in the lawn is another frequent source of frustration. Homeowners often believe the moss is “killing” their grass and they want to know how to kill the moss, thinking this will allow the grass to grow back. In fact, moss is not killing the grass. The moss is growing because grass cannot grow in the environmental conditions in that area, but moss can.
Moss in the landscape is the result one or a combination of factors. These factors include: acidic, low fertility soils shade moisture and soil compaction. Without first determining which factors are causing the moss to grow and correcting those conditions, the moss will eventually return. The following are steps to discourage moss and encourage grass instead.
- First, determine if the soil pH and nutrient levels will support turfgrass. Take a soil sample this will provide information on how much lime and soil nutrients to add to enable grass to grow. Soil sampling materials and information are available at the Cooperative Extension office. The North Carolina Department of Agriculture performs the tests, which are free from April 1 through November 30, and $4 from December through March. In addition to applying needed soil amendments, determine if the area receives sufficient light to grow grass. The most shade tolerant turfgrass requires at least 50% sunlight for a minimum of 4 hours a day for adequate growth. Zoysia grass is more shade tolerant than bermuda grass, which has the highest light requirement of turf grasses. Some trees, such as oak, provide shade too dense for grass to grow beneath the canopy. Additionally, tree roots compete with grass for water and nutrients. If shade is a problem, in some cases removing lower tree limbs or thinning shrubs to increase light penetration and air movement can allow sufficient sunlight to support grass. However, trees add a great deal of value to the landscape as well, so consider carefully before sacrificing trees to grow grass.
- Another problem contributing to moss is soil that is frequently wet. Determine if there is a drainage issue, such as a gutter spout spilling onto the lawn, or run-off from a driveway, causing water-logged soils. If so, installing drainage tiles to move water away from the site, or creating a swale above the area to keep water from washing down, may rectify the situation. Soils which receive water run off are also frequently compacted foot traffic and parking on the lawn are other causes of soil compaction. Turfgrass, and centipedegrass in particular, cannot grow well in compacted soils. Aerate the soil to reduce compaction lawn aerators are usually available for rent from local hardware stores. Spring is an optimum time for this task.
- Moss can be controlled with copper or ferrous sulfate sprayed at 5 ounces in 4 gallons of water per thousand square feet. If seeding a lawn in the area, be sure to de-activate the copper sulfate with 5-10 pounds of limestone copper sulfate is toxic to seedlings. However, controlling the moss without rectifying the conditions will result in poor grass stands and the eventual return of the moss.
- If all else fails, or if conditions do not allow for modification, there’s always the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” solution. In Japanese culture, moss gardens are considered highly desirable and are cultivated with great care. There are landscape businesses in this country devoted to moss and its use. Moss, once established, requires little in the way of irrigation and weeding, and, of course, never needs to be mowed.
When one weighs all that is involved in taking care of a grassy lawn, a moss lawn may be a good alternative after all.
For more information on lawn care, contact Paige Burns Clark at [email protected] or 910-997-8255, or check out our website at North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Richmond County Center.
How to Get Rid of Moss in Your Lawn
This article was co-authored by Anthony "TC" Williams. Anthony "TC" Williams is a Professional Landscaper in Idaho. He is the President and Founder of Aqua Conservation Landscape & Irrigation, an Idaho Registered Landscape Business Entity. With over 21 years of landscaping experience, TC has worked on projects such as the Idaho Botanical Garden in Boise, Idaho. He is a Idaho Registered Contractor and a previously Licensed Irrigator in the State of Texas.
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Moss consists of tiny plants that form a habitat for small invertebrates. Most mosses are native and benign, part of a natural succession of vegetation. They cover bare ground and prevent soil erosion. Moss does not kill your grass, but it can creep into your lawn if your grass has already started dying. In order to get rid of it, you will need to use physical and, possibly, chemical methods of removal. In recent years home owners and gardeners have become more interested in encouraging moss because of its beauty and as part of an effort to minimize use of chemicals around the home. A perfect lawn could include some moss, and the world would not come to an end! But if you can't stand the sight of moss in the lawn, then read on.
Getting Rid of Moss in Your Lawn Naturally
The most common way to get rid of moss naturally is by using dish soap. The best time to kill moss is when it’s actively growing, in late spring to early summer or late summer to early fall.
Using dish soap
If you have a small patch of moss, you can mix 1 gallon of water and 2 ounces of dish soap into a spray bottle and spray the mix onto patches of moss. For larger lawns you should double the proportions of each.
Spray the mixture onto patches of moss and drench them thoroughly. Within 24 hours, the moss will dry up, turn brown, and die. Rake up the dead moss, and re-seed the areas. Finish off by placing soil on top of the seeds.
Raking and dethatching
If you’re dealing with a limited moss problem, you can try simply raking it up, going at it at different angles to loosen it up. Once you’ve gathered all the moss, place it in a trash can.
For a speedier fix, use a power rake—a gas-powered item that can remove thatch and moss— or fit your lawn mower with a dethatching blade to speed up the process.
Will A Waterlogged Lawn Cause Moss?
A waterlogged lawn is a problem that could enable the condition of your lawn to deteriorate into a lawn that has patchy and bare areas and this would be a condition that could enable moss to grow into these bare patches.
Moss does tend to thrive in damp conditions so if you have a permanently damp lawn this would make it a prime area for moss to take over, however, if your lawn is waterlogged and underwater this is not good for any plants.
When your lawn is waterlogged the condition of the grass will quickly deteriorate and if it is underwater for long enough the grass will completely die and this is a disaster in the fight against moss.
So you have a lawn that gets waterlogged and you think this may be a contributing factor that is causing moss in your lawn.
The solution is quite simple, you have to fix the drainage of your lawn.
The simplest fix would be to use a garden pitchfork and make lots of deep holes in the areas that are affected or if you have an aeration tool this would be an ideal way to improve the drainage of your lawn to prevent a moss problem.
A Preface to Moss Lawns
The beauty and benefits of moss lawns are thought-inducing for surrounding communities. Those who witness it will likely consider the value of sustainability and ecological biodiversity in our environment. Moss lawns are simply lawns that use moss, a fitting alternative to grass used commonly in communities such as the United States. Grass requires an exhausting frequency of upkeep with the common results of an imperfect lawn. Moss, however, can maintain itself and use less of our resources providing a game-change to landscape architecture that will provide health to our environment. One country that could teach others about how moss can positively embellish lives is Japan.
Moss lawns encompass the theme of the significance of sustainability and the health of the environment as well as the theme of the beauty of our nature (which embraces artistic expression). Moss lawns fit the theme of sustainability and health for the environment since they require far less care than grass lawns in exchange for more benefits than grass lawns. For example, grass requires many more accommodations as it fits a specific type of environment, needs to be cut frequently, needs fertilizer (which is a pollutant), and needs a lot of patience. Moss could use some accommodations such as acidic and compound soil which can be solved with sulfur, but it needs much fewer resources than grass does as some additional rain will suffice for moss care. Moss is also supportive of biodiversity since it attracts many animals that could be considered visually pleasing including insects, reptiles, and birds to create a healthy food web and an appreciable biodiverse environment. The theme of the beauty of nature created by moss lawns is supported by the view of the moss lawn practice as an artistic expression because of their serene appearance and how they have the capabilities of attracting more beautiful life creating a feeling of unity and tranquility. Additionally, moss lawns can be personalized by any artist who wants to start one up in a unique way of expression.
This image showcases a moss garden as a product of typical Japanese Gardening. Japan is known for its work in Zen gardening for the public to enjoy. The origins of this image are not clear since all cities Kyoto, Fukui, and Tango are listed in the creator’s upload description, but the region Kansai could be denoting of where the image was taken. It was uploaded on January 1, 2014.
A moss planter created by Makoto Azuma displays that moss truly can be an art. This photo is by Inhabitat and is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
A moss carpet is displayed in Triennale, an art and design museum in Milan. The texture and life in the real moss carpet reveal the diversity and beauty of nature. According to Makoto Azuma, “my work for this exhibition shows the encounter and coexistence of two lifeforms with different origins. Living things connect strongly and straightforwardly, and conceal unlimited possibilities.” The Japanese artist Makoto Azuma additionally has an extensive history of botanical sculpting to show nature as an art form and will continue his work in the future. This image was uploaded on April 25, 2009.
Previously home to the famous actor Denjirō Ōkōchi in Kyoto, Okochi Sanso is now open through admission fees for public enjoyment featuring beloved moss lawns. This photo is by Geoff Whalan and is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Although visitors may come to visit the Okochi Sanso Garden in respect of the actor Denjirō Ōkōchi who previously lived in the villa, visitors also enjoy the garden for the Zen feeling created by nature by Japanese cultural standards. This includes the simplicity of the soft and self-sustaining moss which compliments the architecture it surrounds. Amongst the garden and villa are a museum for the former owner and a temple to meditate at. It is a salient characteristic that the appreciation of nature and mediation go hand in hand in Japan. This image was uploaded on November 3, 2016.
Looking at further research at the images displaying moss, they all can be traced back to the same origin. All images display the long-lived gardening culture of Japan. Part of Japanese culture is the intimacy and respect of nature leading to higher incorporation and protection of nature. Japanese Zen gardening consistently uses moss and it is not solely because of its abundance in Japanese nature, but for its ideals of transience and imperfection, also known as wabi and sabi. The simplicity of moss is also tied to Buddhist nature-appreciating values finding a moss landscape perfect to mediate with. Moss is so embedded into the culture of Japan that it is even mentioned in its national anthem.
The images above are inspiring to both appreciate nature as an environmental gift and celebrate it as an art form. After all, moss is incredibly talented at sustaining both itself and life around it. The exponential potential of variety in the ecological environment it creates leads to the artful gift of unity in nature as well. Just after a sulfuric and dense base of soil, moss is self-sustaining and attracts a wide variety of insects, then a variety of reptiles and amphibians, then a variety of birds, then a variety of mammals, and more. One could potentially attract colorful beetles, fireflies, birds, and create breathtaking scenery. People outside of this community who depend on grass could learn from Japan’s use of moss since grass is not nearly as supportive of other lifeforms, is far more demanding of water, uses harmful pesticides and fertilizers, and needs constant upkeep all to result in the eventual dying grass patches and balding.
All practices used in the images above use a clearer answer to an insufficient practice of grass. A reliable base like moss can be used to improve and embellish human and environmental life.
The culture and use of moss in Japan are integral to understanding its community values. The close bonded relationship between nature and people is unique to Japan and moss is among the adored parts of nature for Japan. Moss is considered significant for its appreciable transient, imperfect, and subtle beauty and it is celebrated by displaying moss in many gardens all around. Japan’s relationship with moss is also indicative of support for a healthy environment and appreciation of the beauty of nature which could be helpful for other surrounding communities. People apart from Japan, especially those who use too much grass, could take a look at its practices related to moss and learn to consider practices that allow sustainability within an environment, promotion of ecological diversity, and a celebration of nature’s exquisite qualities that all lead to the strengthening of a happy human environment.
- “Azuma Makoto: Flower Art Installations, News and Projects.” Designboom, 31 Dec. 2019, www.designboom.com/tag/azuma-makoto/.
- Burk, Cathy. “The Benefits & Ecology of a Moss Lawn.” Habitat Network, 7 May 2018, content.yardmap.org/learn/benefits-ecology-moss-lawn/.
- Choi, Leeji. “Azuma Makoto: ‘Time of Moss’ for Tokyo Fiber Senseware at Milan Design Week 09.” Designboom , 21 July 2014, www.designboom.com/design/makoto-azuma-time-of-moss-for-tokyo-fiber-senseware-at-milan-design-week-09/.
- Grant, Bonnie L. “Moss As Lawn Substitute: How To Grow A Moss Lawn.” GardeningKnowHow , 18 Apr. 2020, www.gardeningknowhow.com/lawn-care/lawn-substitutes/moss-lawn/how-to-grow-a-moss-lawn.htm.
- Hammett, James. “Japan’s Intimate Relationship with Nature.” Masami , 14 Jan. 2020, www.lovemasami.com/blogs/our-blog/japan-s-intimate-relationship-with-nature.
- P, Miki. “Okochi-Sanso Villa – The Most Breathtaking Villa in Arashiyama Kyoto.” Tokyo Creative Travel , www.tokyocreative.com/articles/20560-okochi-sanso-villa-the-most-breathtaking-villa-in-arashiyama-kyoto.
- Triennale Milano , triennale.org/en/visit/plan-your-visit.
- Wong, James. “Blade Runners: the Joy of Moss Lawns.” The Guardian , Guardian News and Media, 3 June 2018, www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/jun/03/blade-runners-the-joy-of-moss-lawns.
- Yoshitaka, Oishi. “Japan’s Emerald Carpets: The Cultural Importance and Environmental Promise of Moss.” Nippon.com , 30 May 2020, www.nippon.com/en/japan-topics/b02350/japan%E2%80%99s-emerald-carpets-the-cultural-importance-and-environmental-promise-of-moss.html.
How to Grow a Moss Lawn
Moss grows naturally in shaded areas, where the soil is acidic and humidity is high. Compacted soil that drains poorly also encourages moss growth. Moss traps moisture and nutrients in the underlying soil, preventing erosion. With no root system, moss extracts nutrition from the air instead of the soil. Some homeowners may notice moss growing in their lawns, where grass is struggling to grow. Gardeners who appreciate the physical beauty and ecological value of moss can cultivate it on their property, in shaded or wooded areas. The process can take months, so be patient.
Prepare the lawn. To kill any existing grass, using a combination of sulfur powder and aluminum sulfate. Or, remove it by hand. Dig any weeds and plants out of the soil, using a trowel. Clear the area of any twigs, acorns, pine cones, branches or leaves, using a rake. Tamp, or press, the soil lightly, using a shovel.
Determine the soil's pH, using a home testing kit. Clean and sanitize the tools you will use to collect your soil sample. Test the soil according to the kit manufacturer's instructions. If pH is higher than 6.0, decrease it, using powdered skim milk or sulfur sprinkled on the soil. Water the powdered area thoroughly to allow absorption. Test the area again. Repeat the process until soil reaches a pH between 5.0 and 6.0.
Extract a sample of healthy moss from your lawn or other mossy place. Combine the sample with 2 cups of buttermilk and 2 cups of water, inside a household blender. Blend the ingredients together, using the lowest speed. Blend until the mixture becomes thin and smooth. Add more water if the mixture is too thick.
Dump the moss, water and buttermilk solution onto your lawn where you want the moss to grow. Water the area thoroughly during the initial three weeks of growth, using a garden hose.
Zoobia Ilyas began writing professionally in 2010. Her work has appeared online for Sangam Literary Magazine, The Cynic Magazine, wiseGEEK and Gallery Femme. She writes fiction, memoir, nonfiction and social commentary essays specializing in women's issues in popular culture. Ilyas holds an honors Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Toronto.