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Home Grounds, Gardens and Home Pests > Home Grounds Blog > Posts > Love it or Leave It? The Mossy Lawn

Q- Person #1, Moss is growing in my front yard, part of it is under a tree and part is in the sun.  I don’t particularly want it growing there.  What can I do to get rid of the moss and why is it expanding - is it because of all the rain we’ve had? 

Person #2, I have a shady yard with some large rocks scattered around.  I like my shade and want to enhance the rocks with moss but it won’t establish in a thick carpet like it will in the woods behind my house.  What can I do to encourage its growth?
mossy lawn.jpg
A - Ah, if we could only get the two of you together!  This is a good example of “one man’s weed being another man’s prize.” However, there is help for both situations; let’s take the “get rid of” scenario first.

Garden moss is a rootless mass that has tiny filaments capable of taking up nutrients and moisture, but that means it will dry out faster than rooted plants.  This means that when the weather dries up and turns sunny, most of the moss will disappear from the full sun areas. However, it will return with adequate moisture, as moss is most prevalent on compacted, poorly drained, acid soil.

Changing the conditions that make moss “happy” are the best avenues to ridding your lawn of an unwelcome guest. Test your soil’s pH and try to keep it at 6.5 or higher.  Moss loves low pH, so raising it to 6.5 will kill the moss.  That means though, if you’re crazy about acid-loving plants, you may need another tactic for the moss. If water collects moss may grow lush.  Try aerating the soil to allow for better drainage. Pruning nearby trees and shrubs to allow more sunlight will also help eliminate conditions favoring the growth of moss.  You can chemically treat moss in your lawn with a product containing potassium salts of fatty acids or pelargonic acid.  But these are short-term fixes, as moss will grow back unless the underlying conditions that support its growth are changed.

OK, we can get rid of moss, at least temporarily.  What about those who want more moss in rock gardens, or on the ground under tree canopies where grass cannot grow? Basically, reverse the methods described above.  Remember, moss likes moisture, shade, and acidic soils.  So, replicate these conditions, and moss will begin to grow.

If you or your neighbor have moss in an area where you don’t want it, move pieces of moss from that area to a more desirable location. Scratch or lightly loosen the soil.  You’re “inoculating” the area with the transplanted moss, so be sure the filaments can make good contact with the soil. Thoroughly moisten the soil surface and place moss on top. Press the piece of moss firmly into place.  You may want to place light rocks on the surface to hold it down.  Keep the transplanted moss moist for the first few weeks.  If rainfall is absent, you’ll need to water.  Remember the soil too, it should be acidic.

And yes, there is a recipe for making moss stick to rocks, bricks, or pots; it involves mixing buttermilk or plain yogurt with fresh or dried chopped moss. Mix together until creamy; if mixture is too thick, add water; if too thin, add more moss.  Paint the mixture on the surface of rocks, pots, etc. and let sit for a day or two.  It may take a few weeks, but you should see moss appearing.  To perpetuate moss growth, keep the painted objects well moistened and in a shady environment. 

Mosses are a simple way to keep a green groundcover in the shade.

written by Bethany A. O’Rear of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, C. Beaty Hanna Horticulture & Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. 


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