Moss out …or moss in [the lawn]

Category:  Northwest Gardening
Description:  Instead of fighting the moss using chemicals, like Moss Out, some homeowners are growing a moss lawn.
Author: Tom Barrett
Sunday, April 21, 2019

In the Pacific Northwest, there is one thing we do very well. We grow moss! For many of us, it grows so well, in fact, that we have decided to grow moss in place of a lawn. Then again, sometimes we don’t have much say about it. Generally, moss will stake a claim to our lawn if we don’t constantly kill it with something like Moss Out. For some homeowners, growing moss in the lawn results from giving up and letting it have its way.

Moss Lawn

Moss in the lawn

While a moss lawn may not be as durable as a turf lawn, there are real benefits to growing a moss lawn even if it wasn’t the original plan. No more fussing with Moss Out! No more harsh chemicals that kill the moss and, unfortunately, other organisms too. That’s good news for all the worms and little critters we rarely see and tend to be undervalued.

Switching to a moss lawn means that instead of being a slave to the “perfect grass lawn” with weekly mowing, over-seeding, fertilizing and seasonal raking, we can now let our region do what it does best and grown a soft, green, bare-foot-loving carpet of moss.

How to grow moss

Most mosses grow best in shaded areas – While turf lawns require a minimum of 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight every day, in areas where lawns don't get that much sunlight, moss is a good alternative. A decent amount of shade will help the moss stay cool and keep from drying out. This also helps to discourage grass from sneaking through, as it will do in sunny areas.

Plant in acidic soil – Generally, moss will shrivel up at the taste of sweet dirt, so you won’t want to apply lime. If you need to have the pH of your soil tested, contact us at Environmental Construction Inc. We can help you create the perfect conditions for growing a moss lawn or create a landscape design that incorporates varieties of moss in locations where they will grow best.

Water regularly – Moss thrives during our rainy seasons, especially spring and early summer. It is a bit harder in the mid to end of summer when our weather tends to be warm and dry; although, if a heat spell doesn’t last too long, the moss will usually fair just fine. During especially dry periods, you will want to water with an irrigation system, or better yet…use rainwater that you have stored in rain barrels for such an occasion. Rainwater has just the right pH balance for growing moss. See our webpage about Rainwater Harvesting. HELPFUL HINT: Keep the moss fed by adding a little buttermilk to your water (approx. 1-3 times a year.)

Remove the leaves – Moss needs to breathe. We normally recommend leaving the leaves around bushes and some flowering plants as they provide added nutrients and help control weeds. This is not the case with moss. Too many leaves can smother the moss lawn and cause fungi to grow, like mushrooms. Using a gentle blower while the leaves are still dry is the best approach. Gently sweeping with a broom can also do the trick to remove debris. Since moss does not have a root system, a rake should not be used! This can destroy a moss lawn.

Keep it weeded - A thick layer of moss is a difficult match for pesky weeds, but if you do see them pop through you will need to remove them by hand. Weed killers will also kill the moss and are not recommended.

Types of moss

The following are some of the mosses that grow especially well in the Pacific Northwest. Most will easily spread into a moss carpet if the soil and conditions are right:

  • Atrichum
  • Brachythecium
  • Calliergonella
  • Mnium
  • Plagiothecium
  • Polytrichum
  • Leucobryum
  • Racomitrium
  • Dicranoweisia
  • Sagina subulate (aka. Scottish moss)

This may seem like just a lot of big words that are difficult to pronounce, but they are some of the most beautiful mosses.

Moss Planters

Moss out of the ordinary

As I was preparing this blog, I came across the most interesting flower planters -- a naturally green frog and basket. These planters are covered in moss, and one might wonder, "How do they do that?"

I am thinking you take bits of moss and stick them onto a porous structure, like a cement figurine or wicker basket, using buttermilk. Then you keep it growing by regularly misting with water and storing in a shady spot. That is my best guess. It sounds like a fun project to try this spring.

We know moss grows well on cement block or rock walls, brick patios, and walkways in the Pacific Northwest. Why not grow moss on a cement frog or wicker basket? Just think of the many other structures that moss could adhere too: pots, benches, repurposed items. What a unique way to create a delightful country garden.

Roof moss removal

If you want a moss lawn, that’s great! but a moss roof is damaging and not a good idea. There may be a couple of solutions for roof moss removal you can try that shouldn’t cause much damage to the singles or metal roof on your home or shed. I have not tried zinc strips, but they are said to work (temporarily) and not damage the roof. Spraying with a vinegar and water solution can be effective so long as the solution does not drip onto nearby plants. The best solution is probably to carefully scrub the roof with eco-friendly laundry detergent, then gently spray with a water hose.

Roofs are usually best cleaned by a professional, but if you are a do-it-yourselfer, we recommend you first scrape thick moss from the roof then follow with gentle cleaning. I noticed a customer purchased a very long (25-30 foot) soft scrub brush with a hose attached. This looked like it would be a good tool for cleaning dirt, bits of moss, algae, fungi, and debris from a roof.

Environmental Construction Inc. is not in the roof moss-removal business, but as part of our full-service Garden Stewardship Program, we would be happy to help you locate a company in the Seattle area that can help with this service. Our goal is to do whatever we can to help with all your outdoor maintenance and landscape design projects.

The fact is… when you live in the Pacific Northwest, MOSS IS IN whether we like it or not. Contact us at Environmental Construction Inc. for help with creating the perfect growing environment and choosing the right moss for your new moss lawn.

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