Lawn & Garden

9 Important Things to Know About Moss Lawns

Moss lawns offer a sustainable, environmentally friendly alternative to traditional turfgrass lawns, but they have different requirements that are important to know before investing in one.
Lori Lovely Avatar
japanese garden with moss lawn and large rocks surrounding a small stream with bonsai trees near rocks


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Tired of mowing the grass week after week? Perhaps it’s time to consider a moss lawn. Common in Japanese gardens, moss lawns are a low-maintenance alternative if conditions are right. Swapping turfgrass for moss as a lawn has many benefits beyond eliminating mowing, particularly if your lawn has poor soil, rocky conditions, or a steep slope.

Moss lawn care is minimal. A moss garden will require lots of shade and plenty of rainfall, but is otherwise relatively easy to maintain in most USDA growing zones. Able to withstand light foot traffic, moss provides a verdant, sustainable option for the lawn.

1. A moss lawn never needs mowing.

Choosing a lawn of moss instead of grass means an end to mowing. Because moss is a slow-growing, nonvascular, non-flowering plant that rarely grows taller than 4 inches, it doesn’t require mowing. In fact, about the only lawn maintenance a moss ground cover requires is providing about 2 inches of water daily to get it established. Some homeowners also water during periods of drought, but if they don’t, it will go dormant—much like turfgrass—until the next rain. Because moss has no true roots and is therefore unable to draw water from the soil, it absorbs water and nutrients through its leaves.

2. Shade is a must for growing a moss lawn.

Because moss typically grows in damp, wooded areas, it’s commonly considered a shade plant. However, while most moss varieties prefer at least partial shade, some can handle partial or even full sun. For example, sidewalk moss (Bryum caespiticium) tolerates full sun, but because it grows in clumps, it’s less desirable for a lawn. Nevertheless, most moss varieties will wilt or turn brown if exposed to too much sunlight. Therefore, a landscape heavily planted with trees is likely to be more suitable for a moss lawn.

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3. You can skip the fertilizer.

One of the benefits of moss lawns is that they don’t require fertilizing, saving the homeowner time and money. Moss can grow in poor soil without supplementation. Don’t be concerned if the moss changes colors; unlike turfgrass, moss does not signal nutrient deficiency by changing color. The cause is more likely to be a change of moisture or season. In fact, fertilizer can cause moss to turn brown and die. Moss absorbs nitrogen—the nutrient it needs most—from rain.

4. Moss is not as durable as turfgrass.

large stone slabs of footpath in bright green moss lawn

Most moss varieties can’t handle more than light foot traffic, so it’s recommended to add a walkway for heavily traveled areas, and to keep kids and pets off moss. However, it isn’t as delicate as some might think. Because moss does not have a true vascular system, it can withstand some compression caused by foot traffic. The cellulose (the fiber that makes up plant cell walls) remains flexible, free from damage when trodden on. Sheet moss (Hypnum imponens) is quite durable and can handle foot traffic, which is why it’s a frequent choice for moss lawns.

5. Once established, moss lawns don’t require irrigation.

After moss has taken hold, it typically requires no watering. During a drought, it will go dormant, much like turfgrass. It will soak up moisture during the next rain and look lush again. This is a time- and money-saver for homeowners, considering that watering landscapes accounts for one-third of residential water usage in the United States, for a total of approximately 9 billion gallons of water per day.

A big part of the usage is turfgrass, from which water can evaporate quickly. Although the water needs of moss are low and it can survive drought periods, it’s not advised to grow moss in arid regions.

6. You can skip the pesticides and herbicides, too.

Another money-saving, environmental advantage of moss landscaping is that pesticides and herbicides are rarely needed. Moss generally does not respond well to herbicides, so gently hand-pulling weeds is recommended instead.

Mosses are bryophytes, which means they lack true roots, stems, or leaves. Instead of moving water and nutrients through a vascular system, they absorb them directly into their bodies. Thanks to this primordial system, if herbicides are necessary, those containing glyphosate can be safely used on moss to kill weeds without damaging the moss itself.

7. Moss can help control erosion.

Moss is suitable for planting on rocky terrain and on slopes and steep hillsides, where traditional turfgrass seed is often washed away by erosion, as is soil. Moss forms a dense mat that helps hold soil in place. In addition, moss can absorb and hold a great deal of moisture. Sphagnum moss, for example, can hold 20 to 30 times its weight in water. This allows it to prevent pooling common on a turfgrass lawn, and to resist erosion during flooding.

8. It’s typically more expensive to plant moss than grass.

Installing a moss lawn can be expensive, largely because live mosses for landscaping aren’t as available as grass seed. Plus, starting a moss lawn requires buying each individual moss sheet. It also requires some labor to choose the best spots and pin each moss sheet down to secure it until it attaches. Some estimates for planting a moss lawn range from $4 to $10 per square foot.

However, the return on investment may be well worth it, because growing moss for a lawn tends to be less expensive than turfgrass, due to moss’s low water requirements and the fact that it doesn’t need mowing, fertilizing, or spraying for weeds.

9. A moss lawn can benefit surrounding plants.

Acting as a ground cover, moss’s soil erosion protection also aids in soil conservation, which benefits surrounding plant life. Because moss absorbs water quickly and slowly releases it, nearby trees, shrubs, and other plants profit from a source of moisture. Insects and birds also use moss to their advantage. Birds use it for nests. Birds, toads, and other animals hunt for food (bugs) in the moss. Attracting pollinators is another way moss benefits nearby plants.

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Types of Moss for Lawns

close up of moss with light green strands
Dicranum scoparium, Photo:

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there have been 8,000 to 9,000 true species of moss identified worldwide. While almost all mosses prefer shade, some can tolerate a certain amount of sunlight, from full to partial—an important consideration when choosing which to plant in your yard. Another factor to take into account is the amount of moisture they require.

Here’s a selection of popular mosses for different light and moisture conditions:

  • Climacium americanum: Tree moss can grow in deep shade or partial sun. A tall moss, it can grow up to 4 inches high, even in waterlogged or very wet areas.
  • Dicranum scoparium: This rock cap moss is soft, dense and bright green. It grows in full or partial shade in acidic soil and can tolerate dry conditions.
  • Hypnum imponens: Sheet moss, or feather moss, is a low-growing moss that can withstand light-to-medium foot traffic. It prefers shade but tolerates partial sun, just not direct afternoon rays.
  • Polytrichum commune: Blue moss can grow in shade, sun, partial sun, or partial shade. It’s a good choice for erosion control on wooded slopes or sandy creek beds.
  • Atrichum angustatum: Star moss is a compact, low-growing moss that prefers sun, partial sun, or partial shade, but can handle full shade.

How to Grow a Moss Lawn Step-by-Step

There are no moss seeds to plant, but learning how to grow moss isn’t difficult. It is usually transplanted. The moss plant reproduces by releasing spores into the air, which can germinate virtually anywhere, given enough moisture. Moss is one of a few plants that can grow without soil.

  1. Prepare the ground with a rake, clearing weeds and debris. Turn the soil, level, and rake.
  2. Water the soil so it’s thoroughly soaked, but has no standing water or puddles.
  3. Place the moss on the soil and press down. Secure the moss with stones or landscaping pins to ensure it makes contact with the soil.
  4. Water to keep moss moist until it’s well established (usually 4 to 6 weeks).

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FAQ About Moss Lawns

hand holding moss raked from lawn with two rakes on grass

A deep green blanket of soft moss might sound like the perfect answer to an eco-friendly lawn that can reduce your fossil fuel footprint at the same time as it lessens your yard work. But moss lawns are not for everyone. Before deciding, check out these quick answers to some commonly asked questions about moss lawns.

Q. Is moss good for the lawn?

Moss is not invasive, just opportunistic, according to Washington State University. Spotting moss where it wasn’t planted can indicate a problem with soil compaction or drainage, but is not a cause for concern if it grows near turf. In fact, moss is a low-maintenance alternative to turfgrass, needing no watering, no mowing, no fertilizing, and little to no pesticides.

Q. Can moss lawns survive winter?

Some varieties of moss can grow in the winter and even photosynthesize through snow. A few types can even grow in sub-zero temperatures.

Q. How long does it take to grow a moss lawn?

It can take 12 to 18 months to achieve full coverage, and up to 2 years for a thick carpet. The time it takes to cover the ground depends partially on how closely moss sheets were planted.

Q. Does moss need more water than grass?

Moss needs less water than turfgrass and, in fact, rarely, if ever, needs to be irrigated once established.

Q. Are moss lawns expensive?

Moss lawns typically cost more to start than turfgrass, but because they need little to no maintenance, the payoff is greater.