In honor of Saint Patrick’s Day I’m going to post about one of the greenest plants in the landscape: moss. On both radio shows I get frequent calls from people who say that their lawn and gardens are being taken over by these plants. “What can I do to get rid of all this moss?” they ask.
Here is what I always answer: Moss grows on compact soil, in shade, and where it’s moist. Any of those conditions will promote the growth of moss. Don’t believe that moss means you have to lime the lawn…this is one of the myths addressed in my book, Coffee for Roses, and it’s completely false. Moss is happy to grow on alkaline and acidic soils.
My callers want me to give them an easy solution, and they don’t realize that they have actually invited moss into their garden party. They way lawns and gardens are treated will either discourage moss growth or welcome it in.
The growth of these Bryophytes (the traditional term for this division of plants) often shows that a garden and lawn have been neglected. A lawn that’s been regularly attended to with aeration, top-dressing with compost, mowing high and a sensible fertilization program won’t support moss unless it’s too damp and shady for the grass to grow.
And speaking of damp lawns, most automatic sprinkler systems are set up in ways that encourage moss growth. If you are watering more frequently than once a week, and not allowing the soil surface to dry, you’re sending moss an engraved invitation to move in.
Similarly, many people haven’t noticed that over time their yard has gotten shadier as surrounding shrubs and trees have continued to grow. This creates conditions where grass struggles while the moss thrives…so guess which plant leaves the party early? Yup, your turf.
You can buy moss killer at your garden center, or if you want an organic solution rake the moss off the soil surfaces or mix up one of the baking soda recipes you will find online. But if you don’t change the conditions that promote its growth (shade, moisture, compact soil) it will quickly return.
My question to you is this: do you really want to fight this lovely plant? If your yard is shady, maybe moss is the best plant for that area and you should forget about trying to grow grass. Moss is green 12 months a year and you don’t have to mow or fertilize it. In fact, I suspect that the lawn care industry has convinced people that moss is undesirable because there are more products to be sold for keeping lawns healthy and weed free, but no profit in letting moss grow naturally.
Moss is a fascinating plant. There are around 12,000 species in the division Bryophyta, and they thrive in a wide variety of conditions and habitats. Although mosses photosynthesize like other plants, they lack roots, stems and flowers. And you have to admire a plant that obtains nutrients solely from sunlight and rainwater.
I think moss is a stylishly dressed guest who converses beautifully with the other invitees in Nature’s celebration. Instead of viewing moss as a party crasher, I think of it as an A-list guest at all outdoor gatherings. You want to get rid of moss? WHY???