Moss in Lawns

by Flora O’Brien, EMGV

Don’t get me wrong. I love all things mossy. But recently, probably because of all the rain, I’ve been getting questions about how to get rid of moss in lawns. In the spirit of equanimity I will address this subject.

If you have moss taking over your lawn the problem isn’t the moss, it’s the lawn. Turf grass struggles in areas that are too wet, too shady, too compacted, too acidic, too lacking in nutrients. These are the ideal conditions for moss, though. In order to eliminate moss, you must resolve these conditions.

Moss in Lawns
A moss lawn in Saluda, N.C., November 2017. Photo by Flora O’Brien.

First address the drainage issues. Limiting the amount and frequency of lawn watering would be a first step. Slowing or redirecting the flow of water by restructuring the topography might help. You could add topsoil or install terracing stones. Placement of a French drain or similar strategies will also work.

To manage excessive shade you might have to limb up or remove trees and large shrubs. Keep in mind that the roots of trees drink large amounts of water so removing them may add to your problems. You could expand the diameter of mulch under trees and around beds. You could also try planting a grass more tolerant of shade but all of them need some sun.

Dense, compacted clay soils like we have in this area will not support turf grass for long. Yearly aeration is recommended. Leave the plugs where they lie. They will decompose and add to the soil’s fertility.

Let’s talk about fertility. First take a soil sample. It may recommend the application of lime to raise the pH and suggest a fertilization regimen. When you mow the grass leave the clippings in place to feed the soil. Good cultural practices like regular mowing, fertilizing and watering will produce the healthy lawn that will resist the growth of mosses.

How about the moss that’s already there. For small patches, dig them out, including an inch or so of the base soil and plant them in another spot. Then add new soil, seed or sod. The entire lawn could be raked dislodging the moss, new soil added and the area reseeded. There are products on the market made especially for killing moss in lawns but if the underlying conditions are not corrected, the moss will return.

Now here’s the thing. If you have wet, compacted soil in the shade you are not going to have a successful lawn without major expenditures of time and money. So why not just let the moss establish itself? You will have a year round green carpet that never needs mowing, watering, fertilizing, spraying, or plugging. It is true that mosses don’t tolerate heavy foot traffic but you could add stepping-stones or pathways. Then find a small, dry area in the sun and plant a pocket of lawn there.

Moss in Lawns
NC State Fair garden vignette, October 2013, Photo by Flora O’Brien.

Resources & Further Reading

https://njaes.rutgers.edu/FS426/

https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/homeowners/030329.html

https://sampson.ces.ncsu.edu/2012/07/why-does-moss-grow-in-areas-of-my-lawn-and-not-my-grass-2/

This article first appeared in the Durham County EMGV Newsletter.