How to Grow a Moss Lawn, a Low-Maintenance Grass Alternative That Thrives in Shady Yards

The sustainable alternative to turf doesn't need to be mowed or fertilized and requires little to no additional irrigation beyond annual rainfall.

If you want a lush green lawn without the maintenance grass requires, consider converting to moss. A dense moss lawn can thrive in just about any climate and requires very little upkeep. Unlike a traditional turf landscape, moss doesn't need to be mowed or fertilized and requires little additional irrigation beyond annual rainfall. Not only will you appreciate having less yard work to do, but you'll also love the way your green space looks: The verdant carpet can transform any property into something that feels like it's straight out of a fairy tale.

What Is a Moss Lawn?

A moss lawn is exactly what it sounds like—a yard covered with a dense blanket of moss, a flowerless ground cover plant that doesn't have a vascular system and draws nutrients from its leaves rather than from the earth. "A moss lawn is a sustainable alternative to turf," says Katie Dubow, master gardener at Cottage Farms. "Several varieties of moss may be blended to achieve a more aesthetic look, encompassing an array of textures and shades of green."

moss lawn with rocks
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The Benefits of a Moss Lawn

There are a myriad of benefits to planting moss in your yard. "First, it will not need to be mowed, saving on fossil fuels and pollution," says Dubow. "It will not require fertilizer or herbicides like many traditional lawns—an added health benefit for areas where kids will relax or play." Additionally, moss doesn't need additional watering once it's established. If you live in an area where droughts are common, moss will go dormant and wait for the next rain to soak up moisture.

While moss is considered a sustainable option because of how much it cuts down on maintenance, the ground cover is also beneficial to nearby plants and wildlife. "Moss is a ground cover that absorbs water quickly and then releases it back into surrounding areas, which benefits companion trees and shrubs," says Jen McDonald, a certified organic garden specialist and co-founder of Garden Girls. "It is highly beneficial for insects and birds who rely on it as a food and habitat resource."

The Drawbacks of Moss

Despite all of its pros, there are a few cons to having a moss lawn. "They are generally more expensive than traditional lawns," says Joe Raboine, the director of residential hardscapes at Belgard. This is because there are more costs involved in starting a moss lawn than simply laying sod or sowing grass by seed.

Beyond budget, another notable drawback of moss is that it can be difficult to find the right location for planting. "Because most moss types prefer shade, finding a variety of moss that can perform well in sunny areas may be challenging," says Dubow. "Additionally, moss can handle light foot traffic, but is not recommended for high-traffic areas." In these spots, you may want to add a walkway to reduce some of the impact. But note that moss may still wear overtime if you have pets (and kids) that often romp around in your yard.

Moss Growing Zones

Another benefit of moss is that it can and does grow in most USDA growing zones. "Moss will grow naturally in most climates—except for the desert—but to achieve the best result you will want to find a variety of moss appropriate for your region," says Dubow. If you live in a very dry, arid climate, however, you should probably skip converting to a moss lawn.

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Most Popular Types of Moss

Whether you want to plant one specific moss in a small patch of your yard or cover your entire landscape in a mix of varieties, these popular moss types are all great options.

Hypnum imponens (Zones 4 to 8)

Commonly known as feather moss, this variety can handle moderate foot traffic and has a low growth habit that forms a soft carpet.

Leucobryum albidum (Zones 4 to 9)

A moss variety that has versatile sunlight and soil needs, pincushion moss thrives in areas that receive light foot traffic—like around a tree.

Dicranum scoparium (Zones 4 to 10)

Mood moss can handle drier soils in shady to partially shady areas. "This variety of moss can adapt to full shade," says Dubow.

Thuidium delicatulum (Zones 3 to 9)

This ground cover type (which is also regularly referred to as feather moss) has tiny fern-like fronds and is ideal for wetter areas; it can provide erosion control on slopes.

How to Plant Moss

It's recommended that you try growing moss in a smaller section of your yard, rather than committing to a full landscape. "Choose a location near a tree with shade to experiment," says McDonald. Once you've decided where you want your moss to grow, it's time for planting. "The best time to plant moss is in early spring, after the threat of frost has passed, so that the moss has time to acclimate before temperatures rise," says Dubow.

1. Test Soil Acidity

Soil quality is key when it comes to planting moss. "It needs acidic soil with a pH of 5 to 5.5," says McDonald. "You can find soil pH test strips online and can conduct a simple soil pH experiment prior to planting." To lower the pH of alkaline soil, try adding compost or manure to the existing soil while turning it over.

2. Prepare the Soil

Once your soil is the right pH, rid the area of any weeds and other debris. Next, turn over the soil and rake it. "Water the soil well before planting and soak the moss to rehydrate it as well," says Dubow. Hydrated moss should look green and lively.

3. Plant

Planting moss is relatively easy because it doesn't have a roots system that needs to be strategically placed into the ground. "Lay the sheets of moss on to the soil and press down firmly," says Dubow. "If wind is a concern, you can anchor the moss to the soil with landscape pins or lightweight rocks." Water the area thoroughly after planting to help the moss get established.

moss growing under tree near shade
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How to Care for Moss

Despite being very low maintenance, there are a few basic requirements to keep in mind when caring for moss. In general though, you won't need to mow the ground cover as it only grows to be about 4 inches tall. You also don't need to fertilize moss, unlike its turf counterpart. "Fertilizer can burn moss and may cause it to turn brown and die," says Dubow. "The main nutrient moss needs is nitrogen, which it will absorb from rainwater."


Most moss types won't be able to withstand living in an area with full sun. It should be planted in an area that is partially or completely shaded. If you have a yard with a lot of big trees that provide protection from the sun, your landscape can likely support moss.


As mentioned, maintaining the proper soil pH for the moss variety you're growing is essential. Some types that can handle shade will be able to tolerate slightly alkaline soils, but generally, you should ensure your soil remains acidic. "Check the required pH of your chosen moss variety and adjust the soil's pH accordingly," says Dubow.


Although moss will need a generous watering after it's planted, once the ground cover is established it can survive on rainwater alone. But this may change during times of extreme heat and drought. "In hot weather, a good soaking of water in the morning will keep moss healthy and lush," says McDonald. "In average temperatures, moss retains water which equates to no additional care." If you don't want to water moss—even when it's hot—the plant will simply go dormant and return to its normal beauty once it rains.


Moss is a very dense plant that naturally repels weeds, but sometimes you will see a few. "The occasional weed that may grow in your moss lawn can be pulled by hand; just be sure to press down on the moss afterward to reattach it to the soil," says Dubow. You should also routinely clean up any fallen leaves and debris that land on moss. "Leaf debris must be cleaned regularly, or it will kill the moss," says Raboine.

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