Lawn moss

Lawn moss can quickly take over a lawn if the conditions for its growth are right, but what can you do to reduce its effect and stop it in its tracks? Pippa Greenwood explains.

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lawn moss
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Lawn moss is green (mostly), bouncy and I think it is fascinating too BUT if you’re a lawn buff, moss is the stuff of lawn-nightmares, creating a patchwork of varying shades of green! So if your lawn is plagued by this primitive plant, what can you do and why is it such a problem in some gardens and not others?

What causes lawn moss?

  • Moss infestations generally only get out of hand when the growing conditions are better for them than they are for the grass itself. This may mean that the original lawn site wasn’t great or that the soil or site preparation wasn’t up to scratch.
  • Mosses tend to love damp, heavy, acidic soils and lawns, which have been created in positions like this can be much harder to manage.
  • Moss also thrives on lawns that have been poorly maintained or which have been used very heavily (so resulting in excessive wear and compaction).
  • Shade from nearby buildings or trees also hugely increases the chances of problem moss levels.
  • If the lawn has been subjected to drought or to waterlogging this too will encourage mosses to invade.

How can I solve a mossy lawn?

lawn aeration
Aerating your lawn will help in drainage. Image: Martin Mulchinock

Before you dash out to the garden centre for some moss killing chemical bear in mind that the moss will be likely to re-invade pretty promptly unless you can also get to grips with the underlying problems. You need to address the cause of the problem rather than treating the symptoms i.e. the moss itself.

Regular spring and autumn lawn care can make a big difference.

  • Aeration, ideally using a hollow tine aerator so that you can create longer lasting improvements in drainage, will alleviate waterlogging.
  • Scarifying, raking out the dead grass and ‘thatch’ which accumulates at the base of the grass plants that make up your lawn will allow the grass to breathe.
  • Feed your lawn by using a lawn feed specially formulated for the time of year, this raises the nutrient levels of the area, deterring the growth of moss, which thrives in poor soil.
  • It will also help if you ensure that there is no underlying drainage problem, that the lawn is mown regularly, but never cut too short or ‘scalped’ and that you avoid walking on it when it is wet, frosted or snow-covered.

All this will of course not only help to deter moss but will also help to keep the lawn grasses growing well and looking great.

Moss control

scarifying
Scarifying helps remove thatch. Image: Martin Mulchinock

At this time of year you can also rake out the moss, but remember that once it is gone all the lawn’s lovely lush-greenness will be gone too and the bare patches left will make your lawn look worse initially!!

If you are not happy to use chemicals you can rake out the moss straight away but there is a risk that the moss may be spread further in the process. I’ve known gardeners collect up lots of this un-treated moss and use it as a free hanging basket liner – if you do try this, just one word of warning, lawn mosses don’t tend to be quite as moisture absorbent as the sphagnum moss sold for the purpose, so you’ll need a thicker layer. I also find that it doesn’t ‘tangle together’ as well as Sphagnum either, so again do ensure you use plenty.

Ideally the lawn moss should be killed off using a proprietary product formulated for use on lawns and containing a moss killer. Then once the moss has been killed it can be raked out, without the risk of it spreading. Then, if the lawn is suddenly full of bare patches, it’s best to over-seed it, but do make sure you choose a grass seed mixture which will ‘match in’ with the existing lawn….or else you’ll end up with a different sort of patchwork quilt effect!

Pippa Greenwood

About Pippa Greenwood

Pippa’s gardening passions include grow your own and the things gardeners hate most – pests and diseases! She gives many gardening talks and worked for the RHS for years, spent 13 years as a presenter on BBC Gardeners’ World and since 1995 has been a regular panellist on BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time. She was also the gardening advisor for the murder-mystery series, Rosemary & Thyme. Vist Pippa’s website www.pippagreenwood.com for gorgeous vegetable plants with advice from Pippa, pest controls and more
@PippaGreenwood
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