Want To Cut Grass Out Of Your Life? Try Moss Summertime doesn't have to mean hours behind the lawn mower, at least for shade-dwellers. Forty years ago, David Benner, horticulturist and moss enthusiast, killed all the grass on his property and cultivated moss in its place. Benner has 25 different moss species growing in his garden near New Hope, Pa.
NPR logo

Want To Cut Grass Out Of Your Life? Try Moss

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/106470901/106470881" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Want To Cut Grass Out Of Your Life? Try Moss

Want To Cut Grass Out Of Your Life? Try Moss

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/106470901/106470881" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


FLORA LICHTMAN: Hi Ira. This week we have a - I think it's seasonally appropriate. People are spending a lot of time right now mowing their lawns. And our senior producer Annette Heist is no exception. And so, we started looking into grass alternatives.

FLATOW: Alternatives to growing that, because you've to mow it every week…


FLATOW: …people put all kinds of stuff on it.

LICHTMAN: …fertilize it.

FLATOW: Weedicide, insecticide, all that stuff.

LICHTMAN: So, is there a better way, is the question. And we went on a little field trip to meet David Benner, the moss guru.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: The moss guru?

LICHTMAN: Yes, that's right.


LICHTMAN: Yes, no moss, I mean, yes moss.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: And where was he?

LICHTMAN: He's in Pennsylvania, outside of New Hope, near the Delaware River. And he got rid of his grass 40 years ago.


LICHTMAN: In lieu of moss. So, he explains this history of how he killed his grass, which basically he made the soil very acidic using ammonium sulphate and sulfur powder.

FLATOW: Wow, he killed the grass.

LICHTMAN: Killed the grass and, you know, a year later he had moss lawns everywhere.


LICHTMAN: Now, not everyone can do this. You need shade.

FLATOW: Right, when you went out to - visited him and you did - if you go to our Web site at sciencefriday.com, there's the video you made with Annette exploring.

LICHTMAN: That's right. I mean, it's a spectacular garden.


LICHTMAN: Really is amazing.

FLATOW: Does it look like grass or it looks like little mounts of moss, you know, that you see growing?

LICHTMAN: It's very green. I mean, you know, it doesn't look like grass because it's much shorter.

FLATOW: Right.

LICHTMAN: It's sort of like a carpet.

FLATOW: And you don't have to mow it?

LICHTMAN: Don't have to mow it, he says, you don't even have to water it. This was sort of surprise.

FLATOW: Yeah, I thought you need a lot of water for moss?

LICHTMAN: Apparently moss is really resilient. So, even if you - it goes weeks without water, it'll kind of dry up, but then - he says anyway that, an hour after a rain storm, it springs back to life.

FLATOW: I've tried to get moss off my shingles on the roof. And it knows how to come back. I've been up there with everything.

LICHTMAN: Yeah, I mean, I think, acidic soil, he says, it'll sort of take off. And one thing that I thought was really interesting, this was kind of like a mystery solved moment for me, was how moss grows on rocks and tree bark. And the answer is that there are no - moss doesn't have roots. So, really, any flat surface that it can grow on and it takes in its nutrients through the air and from rain water, through its leaves.

FLATOW: Right.

LICHTMAN: Or its moss body.

FLATOW: Its moss body. So, you don't have to - that's why it doesn't need to be fed and worried about and taken care of it.

LICHTMAN: Right. And why it can grow kind of almost anywhere.

FLATOW: Especially here in the East. We have all this acid rain, right? You like that acid soil.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LICHTMAN: Yes, exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: So, it's - but you can't have sun.

LICHTMAN: No, you can't have sun. It's really for people who have a shady yard…

FLATOW: Northern exposure, so to speak because that's where it grows on my end. And you have the video up on the Web site. If you want to do this yourself - can you like put plugs of moss that will spread on its own.

LICHTMAN: Yes, so, his son actually has a business, Moss Acres that, you know, sells moss. But he said that you can also kind of transplant it just in little pieces.


LICHTMAN: …to places in your lawn. And it'll fill in. Now, it takes kind of a while, but...

FLATOW: Yeah, it's a long term project.

LICHTMAN: Long term project. But it sounds like it might be worth it.

FLATOW: I think so.

LICHTMAN: No mowing.

FLATOW: No mowing. Well, anyhow, Flora has got our Video Pick Of The Week out there in Pennsylvania, a tour of the guy's moss farm I guess.

LICHTMAN: His, yes, his moss garden and Annette's house.

FLATOW: And Annette's house. So, you can see both on our Pick Of The Week on sciencefriday.com's Web site. Thank you, Flora. That's about all the time we have today. And please take a few minutes out while you're looking at the video of the moss on our Web site at sciencefriday.com, click on the right side, where we've little survey. Just take a couple of minutes and fill out the survey, it'll help us know who you are. And give us little more information about you. Have a great weekend. I'm Ira Flatow in New York.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.