Moss is one of nature’s indelible beings. It’s a primitive species that hasn’t changed much in the 400 million years since dinosaurs roamed the earth. Its simplicity makes it incredibly resilient, which is why you’ll find moss growing almost anywhere, even today. It grows on soil, trees, rocks, and even in urban settings on concrete and asphalt. Moss has unique ecological properties that allow it to grow alongside grasses and in many places inhospitable to them. If you find you have moss in lawn grass or taking over your landscape, I’ll tell you how to diagnose problems in your soil, eliminate it, or why you may want to consider simply accepting mossy areas in your landscape.
Let’s get started and dive into my ultimate moss in lawn guide.
What Causes Moss to Grow?
Different conditions promote moss growth, and moss in your yard indicates your environment is less conducive to grasses.
That said, moss does not kill grasses in your yard, but it does benefit from conditions that are harmful to grasses. Moss is one of nature’s great opportunists, and it fills in the gaps as grass thins out.
It’s difficult to catch early signs of moss, since its green color hides it in your lawn, but there are steps your can take to curb its growth.
One of the best ways to prevent moss growth in your yard is to make sure your lawn is happy and healthy. Troubleshooting your lawn means knowing what causes moss to thrive. You need to find out why moss grows in your yard to solve this problem.
The Wrong Amount of Water
When watered properly grass will grow in thick enough to ward off moss from growing. Knowing the specific amount of water can be tricky, though, and it depends on the season.
If grass gets too much water, the root systems will adapt and root higher in the ground, which is harmful to grass. When the season turns hotter and drier, the grass will dry up with it.
Excessive moisture encourages moss to grow because grass can’t grow properly in those conditions. Excessive moisture can also drown the grasses root systems and causes grass to suffocate.
Moss acts like a sponge and absorbs moisture, which helps it grow. Grasses also can’t grow with too little water, and it will brown and thin out, which leaves openings for moss to grow.
How to Address Water Issues
To begin to address this, install a rain gauge in your yard (I have this one from Amazon) to determine the water level.
The simplest fix would involve adjusting your watering techniques to adapt to your yard.
Keep in mind – too much water in your lawn may not be an issue of watering, it could be an issue with drainage.
Drainage systems are pretty inexpensive to DIY, but it’s hard work. If you’re daunted by that project, you can always hire a professional to improve drainage in your yard.
During the hot, dry months, your lawn will dry up very quickly. Lawns use 12-times the amount of water on a hot day as they do on cloudy days. How often and how much you water depends on your climate, as well as your grass and soil conditions.
It’s best to water your lawn in the early morning for water to seep into the soil. The afternoon is the next best time, but water early enough for grass and leaves to dry before nightfall, so as not to overwater instead.
You want to water 1 to 2 times per week, and water long enough so grass gets 1 to 2 inches of water each week. The soil should be saturated 6-inches below the surface to promote a deep, resilient root system.
Watering less frequently and for longer periods is best for established lawns, but stop if you see standing water anywhere in your yard.
Infertile Soil Conditions
Moss grows in yards if the soil is compacted or too acidic. Grass needs oxygen to reach the root system to thrive. If your yard is compacted or has excessive thatch, grass will struggle.
Aerating your yard will solve the issue of compacted soil.
Doing so will loosen up the soil and allow free flow of water and oxygen to the roots, bringing the nutrients your lawn needs, as well.
Removing lawn thatch can be done with a thatch rake or an iron rake. Rake in a push-pull motion over the thatch to tear it out, then rake with a quality leaf rake. If you don’t use fertilizers or pesticides, your discarded thatch can be used for great compost.
After completing either of these steps, make sure to water and feed your lawn regularly to keep it growing in strong. The healthier you make your lawn, the better it will be defended from moss growth.
The Importance of Testing Your Soil
Mosses grow well in acidic lawns that are harmful to grasses. Grass grows best in lawns that are slightly, but not too acidic. You can test your lawn’s acidity by purchasing a soil test kit (I’ve used this one from Amazon, but you can get one from your local extension office as well).
For optimal grass growth, your lawn should have a pH level between 6.0 and 7.0. Adding lime to your lawn will lower your soil’s acidity, making it sweeter, and therefore raising the pH level.
That said, adding lime to your yard is not a miracle moss cure, despite what you may have heard. But a lime application usually won’t hurt your lawn either, and it’s pretty cheap and easy.
Additionally, lawn test kits will give you levels on other nutrients your soil might need. If your grass isn’t healthy, it could just need fertilizer.
Lawns need vitamins, just as people do, and if grass doesn’t have enough nitrogen, phosphorous, or potassium, its health suffers. Properly feeding and fertilizing your lawn will make it healthy enough to withstand moss growth, and you can even purchase fertilizer with moss control ingredients added.
However, lawns with other ailments can still fall victim to moss. Insects and disease will hurt your lawn, leaving it open to moss growth. Also, if your lawn has a lot of foot traffic, or your grass has damage from pets, moss can grow.
Surprisingly, one of the more common risks to lawns is mowing it too low. The optimal length for grass is about 4-inches and should be mowed down to 3-inches.
Grasses need sunlight to grow, whereas moss has no issue growing in shade.
Heavily shaded lawns often have moss growing in them more easily.
Removing shade could be as simple as pruning and trimming your trees or shrubs to let more sunlight into your yard.
If there’s no easy way to increase sunlight in your yard, you can adapt your lawn to work with the shade.
You could even plant shade-loving wildflowers in that section of your property to cut down on maintenance and support pollinators.
Getting Rid of Moss in Lawn & Yards
Unfortunately, once moss establishes itself in your yard, it’s difficult to remove.
The easiest solution to getting rid of moss is hiring a professional to do the leg work for you. That said, removing moss is more time consuming than strenuous, and it can be done by yourself at home.
Moss is unique among unwanted lawn plants.
Standard treatments, like herbicides which you may use to remove standard lawn weeds, don’t kill moss.
Moss removal is similar to thatch removal. You either rake it with an iron rake to remove existing moss or use a dethatcher with adjustable tines.
A dethatching blade needs to be low enough to the ground to barely touch the surface of the lawn. After the moss is removed, mow the grass short, almost to bare soil, to prepare it for applying moss control products.
Moss control dries out the moss and is best applied when moss is still growing early in spring, or during fall and winter.
Moss is loose in the soil while it grows, so it is most easily removed. These products typically contain fatty acids or ferrous sulfates, which are particularly good at drying moss out.
How to Prevent Moss from Coming Back
After all the hard work of removing moss from your lawn, you need to put in measures to keep it from coming back.
Moss spreads by releasing spores, which means there is no way to fully remove moss from your yard permanently. What you can do is address the underlying issues causing moss to grow. This is the best way to keep it from coming back.
Regularly watering and feeding your lawn the right way will keep it healthy enough that moss will be unlikely to grow.
For an added measure, add moss control products into your normal lineup. Lilly Miller has a line of products under the Moss Out! Brand that are highly effective and are also paired with fertilizers. You can find them locally, or on Amazon.
Monitoring your soil acidity and applying lime is a longer-term fix, but one that cannot be rushed. This is also true in the cases of drainage installation. Once those issues are solved, you can address your moss issues in earnest.
Becoming One with Moss
For all the trouble that goes into removing moss, depending on the severity, it may be more beneficial to let it grow.
Moss has stood the test of time—its age is a sure sign of that. Dinosaurs no longer roam the earth, but moss is still going strong.
Where grass can be a high-maintenance endeavor, a moss lawn requires little to maintain. The only environment where you likely won’t find widespread moss is in desert climates.
Different species will grow in different areas, so if you’re serious about developing a moss lawn, you’ll need to decide which type is best for you.
The Two Types of Moss You May Find in Your Lawn
The two types of moss are acrocarps, which grow like tiny pincushion, and pleurocarps, that grow outward, low to the ground.
- Acrocarps grow upright and are slow spreaders, forming a moss carpet.
- Pleurocarps spread quickly, stay low to the ground, and tend to grow rapidly.
Moss spreads spores to reproduce. They grow a stalk with a seed capsule at the end that releases spores into the wind. These stalks only release where moss is comfortable growing.
This means that if the moss already in your yard releases spores, you can tell your lawn is an ideal location for a moss yard.
Moss grows in a multitude of fashions that form beautiful alternatives to grass, especially if grass doesn’t grow well in your climate. Basic fern moss is durable and will green up nicely in conditions unsuitable to grass.
Peat moss and Irish mosses are extremely easy to establish and can be found at most garden centers.
Establishing a Moss Lawn
The best way to make sure your moss lawn is successful is to learn which moss is right for your climate.
If you already have moss growing in your yard, then that is the secret to finding that out. Find out what type of moss that is, and you can let it spread over your yard.
If moss is widespread in your yard, letting a moss yard grow is as simple as removing the grass to clear up room for it to spread. Hand pick grass from the mossy area, then around the moss to let it spread.
Do this process slowly since you need to make sure the moss will still grow once it’s exposed to more sunlight.
Having moss installed professionally is also an option, or you can purchase some from a nursery.
For a low-cost method, ask around with your neighbors. Moss is a nuisance for many people, so if you want it to grow in your yard, you’ll do them a favor by clearing out their yard for them.
When replanting moss, try to duplicate the conditions they came from. Moss growing in sunlight should be put in a sunny spot, and moss from a shaded area should go in a shaded area.
To transplant moss, clear the soil of debris and water it. Place the moss in place and press it into the ground using a flat shoe. The moss needs to be placed close together, so it attaches evenly into the ground. Walk slowly on it daily to allow your weight to further help it attach to the ground.
Attend to it for up to 5 months, until you see spores develop. Water the moss using a mist attachment to help it grow and thrive in your yard.
Here’s a follow-up to the video above, where you can see a moss lawn fully established:
The Ecological Benefits of Moss
There are many reasons to grow a moss garden or moss lawn.
It lowers your weekly work requirements since moss lawns don’t need to be mowed and are simpler to attend to. However, the reduction in work for you is also a benefit to the environment, since the environment also doesn’t want you mowing your lawn every week.
Lawn mowers are notoriously bad carbon emitters. One hour of lawn mowing releases air pollution equivalent to letting 40 cars idle for the same amount of time.
If cutting your carbon footprint is something you care about, a moss lawn may be the solution for you.
Grass lawns are costly for the environment. While already grown grass removes CO2 from the atmosphere, it doesn’t remove nearly as much as is produced while maintaining the lawn with regular mowing.
Moss, on the other hand, is a carbon sink. Moss removes more CO2 from the atmosphere than it produces, in part because it’s a simpler organism and because it requires less maintenance. It then uses the CO2 it pulls from the air to grow and expand as it fills in your yard.
After 400 million years, mosses have changed little within that time. Their processes are so simple, yet they accomplish an amazing amount with what little they do.
The leaf-like structures of moss are only a single cell-line thick. Moss accomplishes the same photosynthesis processes with one cell-line than what many plants with complicated vascular systems evolved to do.
Moss is particularly sensitive to air quality since it is often used as a bioindicator. If moss grows in an area, it shows your area is cleaner by comparison.
Air pollution from motor vehicles or factories, like Carbon Monoxide, Sulphur Dioxide, and Nitrogen Oxides, are harmful to mosses … so moss growing in your lawn indicate your yard is cleaner overall.
How Moss Sustains Animals
Moss will also feed and sustain many animals now facing threat to their habitats.
Birds use moss while building nests, and moss also is home to various bugs that pollinate plants and provide food for birds and amphibians.
Lightning bugs love mosses and nest in them yearly, meaning your yard will be glowing every summer.
If you live in hilly areas, where erosion is a key concern, moss does wonders to prevent that.
Areas most prone to soil erosion are poor in nutrients and at risk to be washed away in the next heavy rainfall. Moss doesn’t absorb nutrients from the soil, and it helps your yard retain water. It absorbs water quickly and slowly releases it into the soil, regulating the water flow and holding it like a sponge.
Moss holds to the ground using a root-like rhizoid system, and it absorbs its nutrients from the air. Grasses also have rhizoid systems; however, it’s their system of obtaining nutrients from the ground.
Moss is incredibly easy to maintain, compared to grasses. Not needing to mow your lawn or fertilize it regularly saves time and money, all while benefitting the environment by reducing your carbon footprint.
Grasses tend to be imported and likely require extra effort to keep non-native grasses alive in your area. If you let the existing mosses in your lawn grow, you know they’ve already chosen your lawn as a suitable location.
Moss in Lawns – Now You’re Prepared
As the owner of LawnChick.com, I’m obviously all about grass, and if you want to get rid of moss in a lawn or yard, the tips I’ve provided in this article will help you do just that.
But if you’re open to it, and are eco-conscious, there are certainly benefits from leaving moss in your yard, and even embracing moss and transitioning part or all of your yard to a moss lawn.