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Moss problems in grass

Too much shade and moisture can produce a bumper crop of moss
Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech University

If the green in your lawn is moss and not grass, there's a problem.

David Robson is a horticulture specialist at the University of Illinois. He says there are two conditions that make moss pop up – when the soil is moist, and when there's little light reaching the ground. Moss is shallow-rooted, fast-growing, and will deplete soil nutrients. It can also indicate other problems such as compacted soil and low fertility.

To get rid of the moss, change the environment.

"You can trim bushes, you can trim the trees, you can allow more light in, that's going to help the grass, you can aerate your soil to allow it to drain, you can put in drain tiles, French drains, it's going to be a lot of work," says Robson.

If the lawn is too acidic or alkaline, add fertilizer or lime. Raise the cutting height of the mower to improve the vigor of grass. There are chemicals that kill moss, but unless you change the environment, moss will come right back.

If this all sounds like too much work, Robson says, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em".

"The environments that are perfect for moss to grow are perfect for ferns to grow, for hostas to grow, a lot of our shade plants," he says. "If somebody's seeing a lot of moss in their yard, my response to them is unless they are fixing the soil or allowing more light through, consider changing the plant below and that means removing the grass and growing something that actually would like that type of environment."

Moss is likely to invade in the spring, but growth usually slows down in the summer. However, it tolerates drought and rehydrates when it rains.

If the moss isn't bothersome, Robson says it's okay to just leave it there. On the positive side, he says it'll never grow tall or need to be mowed!

More tips from Oregon State Extension

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