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You Want to Eradicate Moss? Really?

A moss lawn in a shady area can be a beautiful addition to a landscape.

A moss lawn in a shady area can be a beautiful addition to a landscape.

One of the tenets of our approach to lawn care is that “weeds” are messengers sent by Mother Nature to tell us something about the soil below. You can kill the messengers any number of ways — with chemicals, natural products, flaming, boiling water, or pulling them out — but you don’t really change the message when you do so. The weeds will generally keep coming back until you do something about changing the soil. In other words, if your lawn is mostly dandelions and not grass, it’s because your soil conditions favor dandelions.

Moss, to some folks, is the worst weed of all. People call or write all the time about ways to eradicate moss from that six-foot strip of land between their house and the neighbor’s house. My facetious answer is, “Well, you’re going to have to bulldoze your neighbor’s house.”

The general term of moss can refer to any of about 300 or so species of primitive plants that are most commonly found in forests, but they will also adapt to open lawns if the conditions are correct. In some cases, moss forms quite quickly, but in other cases it can take years to colonize. I recall once camping with my mentor, Dr. Richard Churchill, on top of a granite mountain in Western Maine. After a day of hiking, I was more than ready to pitch my tent atop the nice, soft moss carpet — but he wouldn’t let me. “It took at least a thousand years for that moss to form on that rock,” he said. “You wouldn’t want to ruin it in one night, would you?”

A very uncomfortable night on bare stone aside, I’ve learned to love moss even on lawns in the past 15 years. It never needs mowing, watering or fertilizing. The moss-covered area of my property abutting the north side of the house facing the forest never, ever needs attention, except for the occasional branch that blows down. Why on earth would I want grass to grow there that I would only have to mow?

If you do want to be rid of moss, please don’t run out and buy one of those moss-killing compounds. They are generally very environmentally toxic. Instead, take a look at why the moss is growing there in the first place. Here are the probable reasons:

SHADE — In a lawn environment, the most common reason for moss is lack of sunlight. To be rid of the moss, you may have to remove the lower branches of trees — or cut down the tree altogether. When buildings can’t be moved, you may need to learn to live with the moss, or plant another shade-tolerant ground cover.

MOISTURE — Fast-growing mosses are attracted to persistently wet areas. If an area of your landscape cannot be readily dried by the sun or other means, you may resign yourself to the moss.

LACK OF AIR MOVEMENT — I know golf course superintendents who run large fans in shade areas of golf courses so that moss and fungal diseases don’t set in. If you have an area of your property that is shielded from the win, it can be an ideal location for moss to settle in.

ACID SOIL — Moss is almost always an indicator of a low pH, especially if it’s growing in a sunny area. Adding lime or wood ash may be necessary.

LOW FERTILITY — Whenever you see moss growing in sunny areas, the second consideration after pH is general soil fertility. If the soil is just plain dead or lacking organic matter, moss can creep in.

SOIL COMPACTION — Moss doesn’t typically grow on sandy, well-drained soils. It’s almost always found on compacted clay sites, because the clay holds moisture so effectively. Aerating and altering the soil structure can help alleviate moss.

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

Number of Entries : 1024
  • http://www.gardeningrhythms.com Paul Holowko

    As a Permaculturist, I would not want to get rid of moss because it tells me what type of soil I have. I would consider Moss to be a “pseudo” pioneer plant where your soil it trying to recover naturally.

    Moss normally grows on the Northern side of an object (rock, tree, etc…); but I have moss growing on all sides. One of the tricks to removing moss is to grow soil. That means put more organic material in that area. Also make more sun light come through and reduce water. (Check your irrigation system for leaks; that is the number on indicator for me when an irrigation system has a small leak that I can’t see by simply walking by. You may have break down and stick your finger in the ground to check the moisture content.) Also increase air flow by planting a tree or bush nearby to act as a wind block and force air around the block to flow through your wet area. A fence will do that also, just watch the shadows.

    Last, plant a nitrogen fixer in the area to push out the moss. This will improve the soil and chase away the moss. At the risk of making the area look like a hippy common, plant clover. There are perennial versions of clover (with nice flowers) that comes back yearly. Plant Sedums.

    Back to growing soil. Use compost as a bi-yearly amendment to help improve the soil. Not fertilizers. You can also plant mycelium. And in a year or so you will have editable mushrooms for a couple of years. Just add straw. There are a number of places online to buy mycelium.

    Paul Holowko

    http://www.gardeningrhythms.com

  • lee

    Based on my personal experience, shady low fertility acidic soil trumps sand – my shady albeit sandy area has lots of moss growing in the grass.

  • Pingback: Before You Try to Kill Moss, Read This | Safelawns Daily Post and Q&A Blog

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