Moss Man speaks–lawn bad, moss good–moss rocks

The most common question I receive about moss gardening is from people who have decided to give up on their grass lawn in shady areas where naturally occurring mosses have crept in. They ask, “How do I eliminate the remaining grass?”

After attempting to grow a lawn in shade, only to fail in producing a satisfying amount of coverage to fulfill the ideal, frustration leads to an alternative–moss. Converting a grass lawn to moss where traditional attempts of growing turf were used; annual seeding, adding lime, selective herbicides, and watering are one of the most difficult scenarios to work with.

The mosses move in forming verdant green islands and showcasing their evergreen appeal. The homeowner begins to realize Mother Nature may be revealing a better plant for this location. At this point, the homeowner is typically pleased. Even if they can’t grow the grass they hoped for, the fascination that moss wants to grow offers them salvation.

Soon the moss is anointed and all the efforts to coax the grass is removed from the homeowners list of chores. The moss however proves stubborn and seems unwilling to hold up to the occupation of its newly bequeathed territory.

Then the question comes, “How do I remove the existing grass and get the moss to take over?” My standard answer underwhelms as I explain that it’s best to remove the grass by hand and water regularly. This is then followed by a plea, “Isn’t there some kind of chemical that I can apply?”

Many of us have become accustomed to gardening and cultivating our landscapes with the help of sprays and chemical controls. It’s a hard habit to break, potions line up like soldiers at the local stores to do the job once held by our sweaty hands. We want and expect to have an easy remedy in the form of a spray to rid dandelions, crabgrass, nut sedge, broad leaf weeds, and even moss (ouch). Pulling grasses and digging with a weeding tool seems like an impossible task for large areas, but tackled systematically it is manageable, and the least disturbing method that capitalizes on any gains the mosses have made.

Here are a few suggestions to create a moss lawn and to deal with a grass to moss conversion.

1.   Where there is nothing–a clean slate

If you have an area where there is no vegetation, you are beginning with a clean slate. This is usually due to leaves and debris that have been allowed to cover the ground and prevent any plants from accessing the soil. The leaf litter can be removed and the area prepared soils for mosses.

You can also create a clean slate by applying a thick layer of leaf litter and allowing it to do the work of clearing any vegetation for you over several months. For a quicker approach, vegetation can be removed manually using a flat shovel.

Beginning with a clean slate is often the best way to promote a self-sustaining and weed resistant moss lawn.

After the area is prepared for moss,  locate and transplant from your surrounding area placing patches of colonies directly on the prepared soil. Fragmenting the colonies will increase the coverage but also the time needed for establishment. After installation be sure to water deeply and step on the mosses to ensure direct contact between the mosses and the soil.

Begin a structured watering regiment  and keep the area debris free. A pre-emergent such as Preen Vegetable Garden Weed Preventer can be used to prohibit weeds from geminating.

Alternatively you can follow these steps but not introduce mosses and allow airborne spores to develop into a selection of mosses that suit the conditions. In about 3 months you will begin to see what looks like a green coloring on the surface of the compacted soil. This is the early stage of moss growth and it will develop into a moss lawn in 12 to 24 months.

2.  Where there are equal amounts of weeds and moss–join Team Moss

Join team moss and say goodbye to team grass. Every advantage given your new team will help turn the tide from grass (and weeds) to moss.

Capitalize on established patches of moss, encouraging their domination by removing competition (grass, weeds and debris) and using appropriate  watering techniquesCarefully hand pull grasses and weeds, ensuring to get the roots.

If your weeds overwhelmingly outnumber the moss, place leaf litter or black plastic over the area. This will block sunlight and starve the vascular grasses and weeds. The mosses will tolerate this for a longer period of time than the grass and weeds, thus killing the unwanted growth while maintaining most of the moss.  Check the progress every couple of weeks until the vascular plants have died.

3.  Temporarily remove and store the moss–divide and conquer

Create a clean slate by temporarily removing the mosses. Think of it as taking your new moss buddies for a vacation while you do some spring cleaning. Collect all the mosses and store them off to the side for a couple of weeks.

Larger patches can be collected as a whole and sparsely covered areas raked out. Set the mosses aside in a shady location, laying out the patches and piling up the loose bits that were raked in a shady location. You should water the stored mosses daily and they will keep this way for a couple of weeks, if needed.

4.  Apply herbicides—give in to temptation

If your volunteering mosses are  pleurocarps, applying herbicides has fair odds of working.  If they are acrocarps it is not advisable. On a dry warm sunny day, lightly mist the mosses with water, do this slowly on one area then another and repeat. Give the mosses time to absorb as much water as possible. Then allow the leaves of the grasses and weeds to air dry. The mosses will retain the moisture but the waxy leaves of the weeds and grasses will not. Apply a rainproof glyphosate, carefully aiming for the intended targets but avoiding a heavy application. A half strength mixture may even be enough to kill most invaders and reduce moss damage.

After the required drying time for the glyphosate, water the mosses again. After any damage to the mosses has healed, you can repeat the application. By watering the mosses and fully hydrating their cells before applying the glyphosate, the absorption rate is minimized. Watering afterwards will help further dilute any remaining chemicals.

Even though the herbicides may be easier, don’t try to accomplish this too quickly or in one application. It is also wise to test this technique on a small area first to check for success.

Let’s hope more of us change our perspective and go from saying, “There’s moss growing in my grass” to “There’s grass growing in my moss!”

 

David Spain aka Moss Rock

 

Order your Moss Rocks!  online today.  Moss is grand.  Moss is green.  Moss is good. Make the most of it; order Moss Rocks! today.

By: David Spain

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To learn more about Moss and Stone Gardens – Where Moss Rocks!, please visit our website.  Or email David Spain at info@mossandstonegardens.com.

Unless otherwise noted, all photo are credited to Ken Gergle.

25 thoughts on “Moss Man speaks–lawn bad, moss good–moss rocks

  1. TC

    Lawns are not bad!

    I sure wish folks would stop giving lawns a bad name! If you’re going to say lawns are bad, please justify why you make that claim.

    I love my lawn. It’s all natural. The only downside to having a large lawn is, of course, the mowing. For those who are able to go lawn-less, I say go ahead. But please don’t make us large lawn folk into “bad lawn” folk, we don’t do it to you!

    Reply
    1. David Spain

      Hey TC, the post if you read it, is not about bashing “lawn folk” but helping those unable to sustain a lawn in shade and choosing an alternative. As for the title of the blog post, it was used to go with the theme of the post and the photos, the connection is also in regards to the battle between grass and moss as one is changing over to a moss lawn. Congratulations on having an all natural lawn, you are lucky to be satisfied with it, many are not though and seeing ten pallets of fertilizer and lime being sold at the local corner hardware store each spring (and they are just supplying the immediate neighborhood) might be why many are complaining about the resource hungry turf grasses. As with all things there can be a balance and hopefully spreading the word about alternative ground covers will help to keep it. Thank you for speaking out TC, your comments are always welcome here.

      Reply
  2. Miriam

    Moss is so very very beautiful and your playful approach goes a long way in bringing the moss gospel to those as yet unmossed! Yet, I think it would be helpful for those blessed with shade to know that there IS a lawn that thrives in shade. I sing the praises of Eco-Lawn, a deeply drought tolerant shade-adoring lawn, that partners beautifully with shady environs and mossy beauty. http://www.eco-lawn.com.

    Reply
  3. Candace Seaton

    Do you have any idea if Over The Top grass killer, by Fertiloam, will harm moss? It works on cracks in my sidewalk, but I love my moss too much to experiment with it. BTW Love your classic good looks.

    Reply
    1. David Spain

      Thanks Candace for the compliments and for writing. I have not worked with the fertiloam product before, it is possible that the damage to the moss will be such that it can recover from an application. I would recommend a small test area before proceeding.

      David Spain

      Reply
  4. Kathi

    So thrilled to find your site and others like it. I just moved from NJ to Sequim, WA. I’m older and don’t want to have to cut grass. To my delight my yard has a lot of moss and you’ve encouraged me to KILL THE GRASS and promote a beautiful, lush, green moss lawn. I won’t be dressing like you.

    Reply
  5. Sylvia

    Hello David, I just came across your website by accident…and am I glad! I live in Northern California, 40 minutes outside of San Francisco. The summers tend to be pretty hot out here. I am landscaping my small backyard. To keep it low maintenance, I have decided to use pavers and would love to grow moss in between them. I don’t know much about plants. Is there a type of moss you recommend that would do well in full sun and in a hot climate? Thanks in advance.

    Reply
  6. Eve

    I love moss! I lived in wooded areas much of my life and appreciate the (no-cut, often glowy, never boring) beauty of moss, but I am currently living in an area that is sunny and shiny most of the summer (except for the small slice of shade between my house and my neighbors). This small strip of lawn is annoying to cut, often patchy due to lack of sunlight, and is much of the time full of weeds or other unwanted, non-grass flora. Is there any way I can have moss on my half without destroying my neighbors neatly trimmed swath of green?

    Reply
  7. chris

    Cool site! Glad to see folks with such a passion for this wonderful plant. I love moss because of the way it blankets the bare ground where there is no grass. Walking on it barefoot is also a nice sensation 🙂 and it is incredibly maintenance free!
    I have moss growing naturally in all of my shady areas on my property but there were areas that seemed like nothing could grow whatsoever. Before ever reading up on moss on your site – I actually did exactly what you detail regarding the spreading of moss by transplanting it. Although I did not step down on it or regularly water it. It even grows on the side of my houses(is the highly textured white brick). I can literally pull it off in large pieces and lay it down in bare areas around my house.

    Two questions:
    1. How do I identify the moss that grows on my property? I live in Georgia.
    2. Can moss get out of hand and take over my entire yard – or is that something a long time in the making?

    Reply
    1. David Spain

      Thanks Chris, identification of moss is difficult even with the help of the internet, many labeled photos are incorrect and difficult to make out necessary details. The good news is identification isn’t necessary for success and enjoyment! It is unlikely to have the problem of moss taking over, but conditions in certain geographic ares promote moss growth so lush and rapid that it is a yearly chore to reduce or remove it from unwanted areas. ~David

      Reply
  8. Lynn

    I purchased a small place in Clemson SC. The front and one side are near heavy full shade. Moss is growing and some interesting ground cover. To the horror of my neighbors I have been pulling up clover and grass (tedious) , replacing the clumps of moss that come up with the weed roots, then watering the moss. My question is, what is the best way to remove debris ? Can I rake the moss with a bamboo rake or do I need to hand remove every leaf, twig, nut? Should I use a leaf blower? Also, in the Fall when all these trees blush and drop their leafy garments do I remove the leaves immediately and often ? Could it be a moss yard is more difficult to maintain than a grass yard ?
    I do hope this site is still active.
    Peace

    Reply
    1. David Spain

      Lynn, a blower is the best tool for clearing debris. During heavy periods of leaf fall, laying netting out can allow for the leaves to be removed by rolling up the netting like a burrito. Leaf debris can be allowed to collect for a month before the moss suffers, however the longer you wait the wetter and heavier the chore of removal will be. Brooms and light weight rakes can be used with some success depending on the species of moss, but in general blowing is superior. ~David

      Reply
  9. Jeff Martinez

    Wow I am very impressed. I recently embarked upon the moss :). I also love its capability. I live in San Diego, CA and would like some advice on possible ways to get moss to thrive. I have a small patio, with a retaining wall flower bed and pavers and would like to have moss covering between the pavers and covering the retaining wall. Do you have any reccomendations? I read that Irish Mossis full sun but can you use the blender/buttermilk or beer method with Irish Moss to spread on the retaining wall? Any assistance would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

    Reply
    1. David Spain

      Jeff, we do not recommend the blender/buttermilk method. Irish moss is not a moss at all and does not share any of the unique properties of bryophytes. You can probably work with Bryum mosses (sidewalk moss) which are normally found growing in the cracks of sidewalks and around parking lots. Best of luck ~ David

      Reply
  10. Carly

    What does moss do in the winter when it snows? We are located in north Missouri. We are looking to just do the back part of our yard that has lots of little trees….. Should we put some rocks or a border of something in areas where it will meet the grass?

    Reply
  11. Karen Kettleson

    I just discovered your unique blog. I am still smiling!

    I fell in love with moss on our honeymoon in 1961, a canoe trip in the boundary waters of Minnesota. the moss was a thick blanket that felt so soft. Now in our retirement I have tried to have a moss garden which is fairly large. It is a hidden garden and could be wonderful. I do have moss, grass and weeds. From reading your recommendations I think I will start with about one fourth or one fifth of the area and kill everything. Then re plant moss. In that way I will be able to dig any thing our in that area. I have moss covered rocks in a flower/fern garden that I will move to the fern garden.

    Do you have any other suggestions?

    Reply
  12. Jenny

    Hi moss guys! This website is the bomb! So much information about moss!

    I live in a rental place in San Francisco where the backyard has been abandoned for couple of years. There are some mixture of dead and green weed or grass with deep roots. One day we decided to trim them all and planning to uproot everything to create a better backyard which we can enjoy. 1/3 of the yard is always in the shade, and between the tall grass and dead roots, I found some green moss!! So the question is, how should I cultivate and promote the growth of moss and remove all the weeds? The moss seems to be growing on loose soil and rooting themselves on the bottom part of the weeds. I think those are Pleurocarp.

    Reply
  13. A Narus

    After being inspired by this website a couple years ago, I started working on replacing my front yard with moss. I opted to do it without removing the grass. I kept the grass cut really short, sprayed it with grass killer (Grass B’Gone), and watered the moss weekly in summer. My husband also torched one area, down to the dirt. The results have been phenomenal. The moss took over and our front yard is now about 75-80% moss and will probably be 100% by next spring. I live in the Pacific Northwest where moss grows easily and the bright green color of the moss is gorgeous year-round. We have about 4 kinds of moss in our yard and I added Irish Moss between stepping stones. The mosses will keep spreading to form a thick carpet and a combination of green shades. I hope our yard–and your website–will inspire others to do the same.

    Reply

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