Moss creeps through area lawns

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 10, 2017

By Darrell Blackwelder

For the Salisbury Post

Moss seems to be a continuing problem for many lawns in Rowan County. The carpet-like weed is often a symptom of existing cultural problems that occur mainly in cool season fescue lawns.

Correcting these problems in the fall before over seeding and fertilizing may help eliminate the occurrence of this problem.

Moss grows as a result of poor growing conditions such as poor drainage, low light, poor fertility and low pH of the soil. Any one or a combination of all of these conditions is conducive for moss to development. For example, a fertile, well-drained soil can have moss in areas of the lawn with low light intensities.

Clay soils drain very slowly, holding excessive amounts of water, creating the perfect medium for moss establishment. Fill in low areas to allow for proper drainage after excessive rains or irrigation.

Low light is another a major culprit of poor turf establishment and excessive moss growth. Poor quality and thinning turf occurs in areas with more than 50 percent summer shade.

Now is a good time to judiciously prune lower tree limbs to increase light to increase turf growth. It may be necessary to replace thinned or bare areas under trees with ground covers if light cannot be increased. Consider incorporating shade-tolerant ground covers such as periwinkle, liriope, cast iron plant or pachysandra. These all adapt well in areas with deep shade.  Mulching natural areas is another design option.

Proper fertility with a correct soil pH will discourage moss growth and development. Soil tests eliminate guessing as to the application rates and fertilizer formulations, especially with lime. Soil test kits are available from the Cooperative Extension Service. Homeowners are responsible for sending the samples to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture.

In most situations, a vigorous healthy lawn is the best way to prevent the growth of unwanted weeds, including moss. Now is an excellent time to renovate lawns. Those with moss in their lawns should work to eliminate the problems associated with lawns which are thin and weak, rather than treating the symptom.

Physical removal of the moss may be the only solution in renovating an existing lawn.  The use of a heavy bow rake is often the only option.

Some homeowners have adapted moss as part of their landscape and enjoy the carpet like appearance. Moss-covered lawns can be quite picturesque and do have merit where grass absolutely will not grow. However, a moss-laden lawn also has problems.


Darrell Blackwelder is the retired county Extension director with horticulture responsibilities with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County.