There is green in the lawns! It may be moss but it’s still green so I’ll take it for now. With the record rains and snow we’ve had since last fall, conditions are now perfect for moss development. As the weather warms it is thriving.
Moss is an ancient plant that evolved long before our modern plants. Today our plants use their vascular systems to transport water and nutrients up and down the plant stem. The moss plant simply absorbs water into its leaves and uses direct photosynthesis to create the nutrients it needs to grow and propagate. It spreads by sending millions of tiny spores into the wind. The spores that settle into hospitable spots spread the colony.
While moss might be a pain to many homeowners, native people in cool climates around the world have used moss to insulate houses, boots and as a sponge to absorb liquids of all kinds. Today, we use peat or sphagnum moss to improve the water holding capacity of plant containers and soil.
The very basic growth habit of moss has stood the test of millions of years of biological change so it is no wonder it can be difficult and time consuming to get rid of. Moss thrives in moist shady acidic soils in areas that don’t drain well or are under the canopy of thick vegetation. Often it creeps in as our landscapes mature and the trees and shrubs begin shading more and more space. Our recent run of wet weather has only improved the environment for it this year.
To really get rid of moss, you have to change the environment where it is growing. First if you have areas that don’t drain well, improve drainage by changing the land contours so the water drains away faster. This might require some serious landscaping. After our recent rains, identifying these areas won’t be hard. Check your sprinkler system to ensure that the area isn’t getting too much water.
If your landscaping has become overgrown and large shrubs and trees are blocking the sunlight, it’s probably time to do some thinning and plant removal. Plants do have a useful lifespan in a landscape and when they get too big, they need to be replaced. Pruning out dense foliage will allow more light to reach the lawn and improve air flow which will dry the area more quickly.
Lastly, improve the soil condition by aerating the area at least twice a year to allow air and nutrients into the soil. If the soil is heavily compacted, consider lightly rototilling the ground. Apply agricultural lime to the area to raise the pH. Lime works better than the moss removal chemicals that merely kill the moss plants. Fertilize the area regularly. Once the soil conditions have been improved, reseed the area with a fescue-based, shade-tolerant grass seed mix.
As an alternative to all this work, just bag the lawn and create a moss garden, no mowing and lots of green.
Master Gardener Pat Munts is the co-author of “Northwest Gardener’s Handbook” with Susan Mulvihill. Munts has gardened in Spokane Valley for more than three decades. She can be reached at pat@ inlandnwgardening.com.
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