How to Manage Moss in the Lawn and Garden

Mosses are common in many lawns, especially during wet years. Mosses are small, thread-like plants that form green mats on the soil surface. Mosses are adapted to a wide range of environmental conditions. Mosses can be found in moist and dry sites, sun or shade, and in acidic or alkaline soils.

moss in shady garden bed
Moss often grows in places where other plants cannot thrive (shady, wet, compacted).  It may be best to embrace it and utilize it as a groundcover instead of trying to eradicate it. 

Is Control Necessary?

Moss does not harm or kill grass, perennials, or other plants.  The appearance of mosses in a lawn or garden is usually a sign of poor growing conditions. Conditions that encourage moss growth include excessive shade, low fertility, poor drainage, compacted soil, or any combination of the above.

If conditions are suitable for moss, they are likely challenging for other plants.  Because moss has proven to grow in this area, you can embrace it and utilize it as a groundcover instead of a typical lawn or traditional shade groundcover.  When growing in these conditions, moss becomes a green, low-input, easy-to-care-for lawn alternative.  

Control of Mosses

If moss removal is desired, there are several options depending on what part of the landscape is affected.

Control of Mosses in Lawns

Mosses don't harm or kill turfgrass plants.  However, mosses grow in thin, weak lawns.  Poor turfgrass vigor is often due to excessive shade, low fertility, poor drainage, compacted soil, or any combination of the above. 
Mosses can be temporarily removed by hand raking.  (Mosses don't have true roots and rake up easily.)  However, the underlying conditions responsible for the poor stand of grass must be corrected to achieve a permanent solution. 

If shade is a factor, prune low-hanging branches of trees and shrubs to allow more light into the area.  Plant shade-tolerant grasses in shady areas.  The fine-leaf fescues (creeping red fescue, hard fescue, and chewings fescue) tolerate considerable shade. 

moss in shady lawn
Mosses grow in thin, weak lawns caused by excessive shade, low fertility, poor drainage, and/or compacted soil.

Conduct a soil test to determine the soil pH and nutrient levels.  If the soil is deficient in phosphorus or potassium or needs liming, the soil test report will indicate which materials to apply and the proper amounts.  If adequate phosphorus levels are present, choose a lawn fertilizer containing no additional phosphorus when fertilizing the lawn.  The best times to fertilize lawns in Iowa are spring, September, and late October/early November. 

Areas that are constantly wet because of poor drainage may need to be regraded so that water will drain away properly. In some situations, tile drainage may be necessary to correct the problem.

Compacted soils can be improved by aerating the lawn with a core aerator in spring or fall.  Core aeration should improve water infiltration and promote the drying of moist soils. 

Control of Mosses in Gardens

Mosses in perennial beds and other landscape areas are typically found in damp, shady locations.  As in lawns, mosses don't harm perennials, shrubs, trees, or other ornamentals.  If you find their presence objectionable, remove mosses with a rake or other garden tool.  To discourage mosses from coming back, periodically loosen the upper one to two inches of soil with a hoe or hand cultivator.  This will promote drying of the soil surface.

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Last reviewed:
March 2024