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The grass around our petal beds at the Southside Permaculture Park has been a nuisance since the lawn mower cannot get in between the beds. We could put stone or wood chips in between to combat this but that would decrease biodiversity and get rid of ground cover plants that add important benefits to the structure of the soil. Instead, I am starting an experiment on growing moss in these areas.

Moss, a part of the Bryophyta division, has many benefits and makes lawn mowers and weed whackers unnecessary, saving time and money and cutting carbon emissions. One of the first plants on earth, Moss can grow practically anywhere except in really dry, arid regions which makes our park a good place to experiment with replacing grass with moss. It can help retain moisture because when it rains, the root-like rhizoids soak up all the water and then slowly releases it to their surroundings. Moss also helps with erosion because of its sponge-like qualities and since our park is sloped we want to slow down the rainwater as much as possible. Once the moss is established in an area, you will not have to use any pesticides or fertilizers and it will keep the grass and weeds at bay. While moss will not overtake grass and spread ambitiously, once established the grass will not grow there. Beneficial insects like to live in moss while the typical garden pests do not and will not harm or eat moss. It also is disease resistant so fungicide or anything of that nature should not be necessary. Research has also found that moss may help filtrate toxic elements like silver, copper, and mercury as well as oils and dyes. This is especially good in urban areas like South Bethlehem with lots of stormwater runoff that collects toxic materials and can help create healthier soil in our park as the water flows through. Moss has even been known to be the first plant growing at mining sites because it can handle metal and other toxins. Another benefit of moss is they are wonderful at carbon sequestration. Sphagnum peatlands sequester more carbon than all rainforests combined. All of these benefits make moss the perfect new addition to our park or even to your yard if you would like less maintenance.

To start a moss lawn I first had to gather some preexisting moss. I went into the forest and found some mossy bark and rocks and took some from sporadic locations so that I wouldn’t be disrupting a moss population in one area too much. I tried to pick mosses that were growing in already partially sunny to sunny places because the spaces around the petal beds are under similar conditions. Once I had enough moss I went home and used plain yogurt and shredded up the moss and blended those together. This moss slurry then needed to sit for a couple of days so that the moss could generate spores.

The yogurt serves as an adhesive for the moss so that it can stick to surfaces. After waiting a couple of days I went to the park and scoped out the best location to start a moss lawn. I found some moss already growing on the north side of the herb spiral near a petal bed and decided this would be the best.

I ripped up the grass and other weeds in a small patch and spread the slurry as evenly as I could. Now we just have to wait about 3 to 6 months to see if any moss pops up. I lightly mist the area with water from time to time because moss doesn’t need a lot of water to get going. Hopefully, this all works out and I can expand the moss around all of the petal beds and this will help keep weeds out of the beds as well. If I get a lot of moss growing in that area I may decide to transplant it directly to other beds instead of doing more moss slurry. Soon that weed wacker will be obsolete!

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