That’s Not the Green I Want: What to Do When Moss Takes Over


Looking out on a beautiful green carpet…of moss?  Moss is a small green, branching plant with tiny leaves that grows on the surface of soil and thrives in shady, moist conditions.   If you’re like most people, “forest floor” is not the look you’re going for on your lawn, but sometimes moss creeps in and starts to take over—or at least it seems that way.

The truth is that moss isn’t sneaking up and killing your grass, it’s simply filling the areas where grass isn’t growing well.  So, the bigger question is: Why is your grass dying?  Clearly, you have an area that is more favorable to the growth of moss than grass.  Moss thrives in shade and loves moisture and acidic and/or unfertile soil, none of which are conducive to the growth of healthy grass.  You can try pulling the moss up or killing it, but until you change the growing conditions, it will be right back.

So, what do you do?  Evaluate the situation.  Take stock of your space.  How many hours of sun is this particular area getting everyday? Is it well-drained?  What’s the pH level of the soil?  Is the soil fertile?  Is it too compact?  These are all things you need to know to begin to solve the problem because you may not have just one issue going on—you may have a “perfect storm” for grass destruction.

  • Shade:  You can plant more shade tolerant grasses, but if you’re getting less than four hours of sun everyday, no grass is going to grow.  You’re out of luck unless you’re able to safely and conveniently remove obstructions like branches, bushes and other foliage that might be blocking the sun.
  • Acidic Soil:  A simple test will tell you if this is one of your problems.  Grasses generally like a pH level between 6 and 6.5 (grasses differ, so do your research), so if your soil is lower, moss might be the happiest camper you’ll get there.  You can easily collect and submit a soil sample for testing.  If your soil’s pH level is lower than recommended for grass growth, applying lime will raise it.
  • Soil Fertility:  Again, you’ll need to have your soil tested to find out if it is low in nutrients.  If it is low in one or more nutrients, applying the proper amount of fertilizer at the right time will solve the problem.  Grass needs nutrients to grow, but moss—not so much.
  • Poor Drainage:  Moss loves moisture, so if an area of lawn is fuzzy and green instead of spiky with grass, you may have a drainage problem.  Improving the drainage in a low-lying area will help, but what if your area isn’t low-lying and drains just fine?  Then, maybe you’re over watering.  Grass needs to be watered deeply, but not necessarily often, so avoid watering on a set schedule.  Watering deeply encourages deep root growth and makes grass more drought tolerant.  If you’re watering on a set schedule, your lawn may be too wet, and you’re not only encouraging moss to grow but a shallow root system in your grass.
  • Compact Soil:   Grass doesn’t grow well in compact soil because it can’t get the air, water and nutrients that it needs down to its roots; moss, on the other hand, will thrive because it doesn’t live in the soil, it lives on the soil.  Moss gets everything it needs above the ground.  Compact soil can also prevent proper drainage and can cause a moisture problem.  If your soil is too compact, it will need to be aerated; a lawn-care company like Scotts can take care of this for you or aerators can be rented at many stores.

Once you’ve taken stock of your moss situation, you’ll be in a much better position to fix the problem.  If multiple factors are at work or there’s just no way to correct something as vital as a lack of sunshine, consider creating a natural area in your yard.  Research and purchase some shade-friendly plants and mulch the area.  Add a water feature, a picnic table or bench, and/or other decorative touches and create a space where people can gather to get away from the heat and relax.  Maybe an outdoor “room” is just what your family needs to lure them out for some time together.

You can also contact your nearest Scotts LawnService Professional to help you keep your lawn looking beautiful!