The ultimate lawn for shady spots is a moss lawn. It’s green all year, never needs mowing, is highly drought tolerant, will put up with any kind of weather, and is extremely shade resistant: what more could you possibly ask for? Since you want the look of a living green carpet in those shady spots and lawn grasses simply don’t grow well in the shade, sometimes a moss lawn is really your only alternative!
Of course, moss lawns do have a major flaw: they are simply not very tolerant of foot traffic. That’s because they have no roots to fix them firmly to the ground and excessive movement will tear them loose. Yes, you can walk across a moss lawn occasionally without damaging it, especially if you put your foot down flat, but walking quickly, running, or playing will soon ruin it.
That’s why, if there are any sections where there will be regular foot traffic, it’s better to install a path or stepping stones through the moss.
Otherwise, though, mosses really make an almost perfect lawn.
Easy Does It
The most laidback way to install a moss lawn is to buy sections of living moss. Yes, just like you’d buy sections of sod to create a grass lawn.
Bryophyta Technologies, for example, offers perfect squares of moss carpet grown on a thin fabric base that you can assemble readily, just like a sod lawn, and can also cut to the desired shape.
Other sources, like Moss Acres and Mountain Moss offer irregular patches of wild-harvested moss that you must assemble yourself, like a green jigsaw puzzle… but at least a jigsaw puzzle where you’re allowed to cut pieces to fit!
In addition, most moss suppliers offer different varieties of moss suitable for all climates and growing conditions.
If you purchase living moss, you simply have to prepare the soil, weeding thoroughly first, then install the moss, holding it in place with staples or small pegs. And there you go: a moss lawn!
Contact the suppliers for more details.
A Lawn of Native Moss
If your budget doesn’t allow you to buy moss sections, you can still install a moss lawn using wild moss from your neighborhood. Here’s how.
Although theoretically you can install a moss lawn at any season, it’s more practical to do so when the soil is moist and will remain so for some time. In most climates, that would be in the early spring, but if you live where fall is the rainy season, that would be the best time to start.
First do a soil test. You’ll be looking for a pH of 5.0 to 5.5 (distinctly acid). It’s not that mosses need a acid soil in which to grow (they’ll thrive in almost any soil; in fact, even without soil), but an acid soil will make the surface less appetizing for invasive plants that would otherwise be difficult to control in a moss lawn. If the soil is not acid enough, add garden sulfur (available in garden centers) to bring its acidity down to the desired level.
Next, remove any other small understory plants that might outcompete mosses if left in place. Trees and shrubs are not a problem.
Now compact the soil with a water-filled lawn roller (you can readily rent one from a tool rental company). Again, this isn’t really for the mosses themselves, but in order to keep undesirable plants from setting up shop. Having no roots, moss doesn’t require the deep, loose soil most higher plants prefer and will thrive on compact, rock-hard soil.
Harvest moss from elsewhere on your property or from a nearby site where you have been given permission to do so. Warning: it is illegal to harvest moss from parks and public lands!
Now run the moss through blender with a cup or two of water. This will break it up into small fragments, each capable of producing a new plant. No, it is not necessary to add yogurt, buttermilk or clay, contrary to a popular garden myth.
Pour the mixture here and there, then spread it evenly with a rake. Roll again to fix the moss to the ground.
The final step is especially important in drier climates, or during drier seasons. Temporarily install a mister or a very fine sprinkler that will cover the entire surface of the new moss lawn. The idea is to create a fog or mist, not a heavy rain. Now, twice a day, sprinkle lightly for 15 minutes (use a timer to automate the misting). This will keep the moss slightly damp at all times, stimulating renewal and growth.
After 5 weeks, your moss lawn should be well underway and you can begin to wean it from the fog system over a period of about 3 weeks, dropping to one session per day and then one every 2 days, then none whatsoever. It takes about 2 to 3 months to create a moss lawn that is still thin, but at least presentable.
The following year, your moss lawn will be better established and will densify and thicken with no help from you. You’re now well on your way to the most laidback lawn in town!