When we hear “moss lawn” or “moss garden,” we see fairytale visions of lush, pliant layers of dew-speckled green, begging for bare feet. Maybe a misty beam or two of morning light filtering through the treeline. But, after speaking with Nashville, TN, moss expert Paul Moore — aka “Moss Man” — we’ve learned that while moss landscaping can be all of those things, sure, it turns out that the whole concept is actually much more practical than that.
If you live in a region where it’s challenging to grow grass, moss landscaping should definitely be on your radar. For starters, moss likes to grow where grass doesn’t, so you can achieve a vibrant green lawn even if you live in an area where growing grass is an uphill battle. Second, once a moss lawn is established, it requires little to no upkeep — no mowing, no fertilization, no more nurturing grass seed one season to watch it die the next. And then, there’s the fairytale factor. Moss can be charming, inviting even, and it’s definitely underrated.
“One thing I always tell people is that you’re a candidate for having a moss garden or a moss lawn if you can’t grow grass,” says Paul. “Basically, moss generally grows in compacted soil with poor fertility — typically shadier, but not always, and maybe it doesn’t drain well. Turfgrass likes full sun and good soil and lots of fertilizer. So if you don’t meet those criteria for growing a turfgrass lawn, then moss is a viable candidate.”
Paul co-owned the Moore & Moore Garden Center with his father for 35 years, and he pioneered the local interest in native plants back in the 1980s, cultivating many varieties in his own home garden and offering tours. But his beginnings as the “Moss Man” came about by accident, when he became frustrated with his struggle to maintain a grassy lawn.
“Every fall I would plant grass seed and by summer it was dead and dying, and I did that for years.” One year, he simply gave up, and at the same time, noticed a small patch of moss and wondered what would happen if he nurtured it. He kept an eye on it — and kept it clear of weeds and debris. Cut to several seasons later, and Paul had converted his entire lawn into a mossy oasis.
Though he’s officially retired from the garden center business, Paul’s love of native plants is forever, so he continues to educate and consult on moss landscaping projects of all kinds and is happy to share his wealth of knowledge. Interested in trying your hand at a moss lawn of your own? Read on!
Moss Lawn Advantages + How to Grow One
“The advantages of a moss lawn are that it’s green year-round, requires no mowing, no fertilization. The only thing that you have to be concerned with is weed control,” says Paul. Weeding is the only caveat. If weeding isn’t for you, then a moss lawn probably isn’t either.
“When people are curious about a moss lawn, I always encourage them to find a small area [where moss is already growing], just a small patch somewhere near a garden bench or something, and learn its behavior and its characteristics. That way, you can expand it.”
If you don’t have a naturally occurring patch of moss in your lawn like Paul did, there are ways to create one! As Paul explains, moss species don’t have roots; they have rhizoids, which will simply adhere to the ground in the right conditions — so transplanting moss is usually quite easy:
- Find a relatively moist, shady part of your lawn for the experiment.
- Using a flat, wide tool with a sharp end (like a barbecue spatula), scoop large, hand-sized pieces of moss from a source of growth.
- Place each section of moss on the ground, staggered eight inches to one foot apart.
- Patience is key — keep the area clear of debris, and in about a year, the pieces of moss should expand and grow together.
More of Paul’s essential tips for growing and maintaining moss landscaping:
- Once you’ve established moss growth, weed control is important. Paul prefers to avoid chemicals, so he weeds his lawn aggressively by hand twice a year, which keeps weeds easily manageable for the remainder of the year.
- If you wish to transplant moss but don’t have a source nearby (with permission of the owner), you can purchase from a sustainable retailer. Paul’s go-to source is Mountain Moss in Brevard, NC — owned and operated by Annie Martin (aka Mossin’ Annie), a friend and colleague of his.
To learn about Moss Man Consulting and see more of Paul’s stunning photography, visit his website. Keep an eye on his events calendar, too; he regularly participates in moss-centric events around the Southeast!
All photography courtesy of Paul Moore.
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