How to manage moss before it takes over your lawn
by Louise Estabrook
August 29, 2013 08:35 PM | 1372 views | 0 0 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print
You may have noticed when cutting your grass recently that what was once your nice, thick, green lawn has turned into a not-so-nice, thick, green something else? What is this “stuff” that’s taking over the lawn? And can it be stopped from spreading over your entire yard? Most likely the problem is moss.

Moss is simply a plant that is looking for a home and if the right conditions are provided, it can quickly take up residence and do quite well. This is the way nature intended it, so let’s see what created the conditions for these two turf pests to occur in the first place. Mosses are small plants which produce a mass of fine stems that can survive under very shady conditions. Moss will take over and grow where the shade is so dense during the summer that not enough light is present to support growth of a turfgrass such as fescue or bermudagrass. Moss also thrives during periods of high humidity and in water-logged soils like we had earlier this year due to heavy spring and summer rainfalls.

The good thing to know is that moss is not parasitic and therefore does not kill grass like a disease will. One factor that is always associated with moss growth is that the growing conditions for lawn grasses are poor. Moss is an opportunistic plant — if the lawn doesn’t thrive, moss will gladly take advantage of the situation. The principal problems are usually hard, compacted soils that restrict root development. Soils with high clay content — like the soils we have here in Cherokee County — are easily compacted from foot traffic and the settling of clay particles over time as water works through the soil profile.

The best solution to this problem is the use of a soil aerator that removes plugs of soil from the ground, thus enhancing soil drainage. If the affected area has very little grass left, it is better to start over. Till the soil to a depth of six inches to break up the restrictive layer. This will also facilitate incorporation of lime and fertilizer into the soil. A soil test should be taken to determine plant nutrient needs.

Moss can become very thick under heavy shade conditions. Thinning trees or pruning limbs to improve light conditions and increase air circulation is often helpful. If grass won’t grow in these areas it may be necessary to utilize a shade-tolerant ground cover or simply cover the area in mulch. But don’t be fooled — moss will grow happily in the sun, too!

Moss thrives in areas where the pH is very acidic. The solution to raising the soil pH is the addition of lime. It would be a fairly safe bet that if you have a lot of moss, then your pH is very low and the amount of lime recommended to fix your lawn will be measured in hundreds of pounds per 1,000 square feet. Since only 40 pounds per 1,000 square feet is advisable to distribute at any one time, I recommend the following: Take a soil test first — go down in about 20 spots in your yard, and pull a small quantity of soil from each hole at a four inch depth. Mix all of these samples together and bring them into the Cherokee County Cooperative Extension office to be tested. After you have pulled your soil test, go ahead and apply 40 pounds of lime/1,000 square feet. When your results come back in about two weeks, you’ll already have made the first application of lime and you’ll be ahead of the game.

Many people ask if there are chemicals available to eliminate moss. Although some chemicals are effective, they are only temporary and the problem will return in time. The chemicals will kill the moss, and then you need to rake it out by hand. If you don’t buy the chemical and don’t kill the moss, you can still hand rake it out just as easily, so why go through the trouble of trying to kill it first? Of course, either way, if you don’t change the environment the moss is growing in, it will reappear.

Of course, there is always the option to embrace your beautiful moss. It can be easily transplanted on the surface of moist soil areas. Given a little coaxing, moss can be the foundation of an amazing shade garden. Take a look at pictures of Japanese gardens!

Information about Extension Solutions for Homes and Gardens can be found on the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension website at or by contacting the Cherokee County Extension Office at 100 North St., Suite G21 in Canton at (770) 479-0418. The Georgia Extension Master Gardener Program is a volunteer training program offered through county offices of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.

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