Carpet of Green

January 25, 2020

Our backyard is dominated by a grove of trees. When we first moved to this place there was a grassy area between the house and the grove. Over the years the trees have continued to grow slowly shading most of the area. This past year I realized that my lawn guys never mowed the back and only did a bit of string-trimming once or twice a month. Over two wet years, moss had taken over the open space where grass once grew.


While we still have a carpet of green, it is much less work than grass. Moss lawns have been a landscape trend over the past few years. Moss is very low maintenance in that it never needs to be mowed or fertilized. It requires daylight and moisture, tolerates moderate traffic, and grows where grass will not. It likes a pH around 5.5, compacted soil and shade or semi-shade.


Photo: The "lawn."


Mother Nature provided my native moss lawn, but you may purchase one. Moss $4-$10 a square foot. Typically it is shipped dry. Place it over soil that has been cleared of weeds and debris. Make sure you have good soil-to-moss contact and water. It will green up in a few days.


Alternatively, you can take moss from spots where you don’t want it and place it where you want a moss ground cover. I have done that to fill in areas. If you place the pieces about six inches apart, they fill in fairly quickly when kept moist.     


Mosses are primitive plants. The oldest moss fossil dates from 320 million years ago. Moss is nonvascular, meaning it manages without the inner system that delivers food and water to plant parts. Lacking true roots, moss is a mat of leaves and stems that directly absorbs water and nutrients. There are thousands of species of moss and it is found on every continent including Antarctica.

Mosses are primitive plants, with roots--except they haven't got any--in the misty dawn of earth's prehistory.


A spongy mat of moss is made up of thousands of tiny individual mosses that group together to increase absorption and retention of water which is critical for them to reproduce. Mosses make important contributions to an environment. They remove

 carbon dioxide from the air, filter water, stabilize soil and provide habitat for insects and other invertebrates.


Photo: A mossy path.


You may be wondering how the moss lawn fared during our “flash drought” last summer and fall. Outside the tree line we have a perpetually wet area that has been the doom of more than one lawn mower. Several years ago we created a tidy bog garden that has been enlarged to encompass more wetland. Though mostly sunny, it is surrounded by moss. Toward the end of September, the area became pretty dry. Some patches of moss turned brown but it came back as soon as rain returned.


As you can see in these photos, the lawn remains green throughout the winter. It tolerated autumn leaf raking well.

 In the right spot, moss can be a real problem solver.


Master gardener Ann Bartlett allows a few herbs and flowers to grow in the moss plantations surrounding her home.

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