How to Get Rid of Moss in Your Lawn
Homeowners don't have to resort to using herbicides to get rid of moss in a lawn. These alternate methods are natural, effective, and won't harm your family or property.
Low-growing greenery that reproduces by means of spores, moss can be a lovely velvety addition to your landscape if grown intentionally—but few folks want clumps of it in the middle of the lawn. In fact, the appearance of moss may indicate that all is not well with your turf.
The damp conditions that favor moss growth are not conducive to a healthy lawn, and as grass suffers, moss will continue to flourish. Moisture and shade help moss thrive in autumn, winter, and possibly even spring. Moss growth may slow in summer, although certain species continue growing all year long.
Read on to learn how to get rid of moss in the lawn, as well as make simple changes sure to restore its natural beauty.
What is moss, and why does it grow in my lawn?
Moss is a non-flowering plant with stems and leaves, but no true roots. With somewhere between 11,000 to 15,000 moss species identified, moss can grow anywhere on the planet, except in salt water. Mostly known to make their homes in moist or shady locations, some types can survive extreme conditions of hot or cold.
Unlike many other plants, moss can grow virtually anywhere because of its shallow “roots,” called rhizoids, which anchor the plant in place on rock, bark, soil, and more. Its highly absorbent surface draws in moisture and nutrients, but moss makes its own food through photosynthesis.
Moss is a resilient plant that reproduces by releasing spores into the air, typically once in the spring and once in the autumn. These spores only require moisture to germinate, and mature into moss plants that commonly make their home in lawns with weak or thin grass.
Though not especially competitive or aggressive (like weeds are), moss is opportunistic, and grows in lawns that aren’t particularly healthy. Moss in the backyard forms in many problematic lawns, including those with general lack of care, excessive shade, compacted or poorly draining soils, low soil fertility, high or low soil pH, and poor air circulation.
How to Control Lawn Moss by Raking It
Unlike most other plants, moss doesn’t have true roots, which makes it relatively easy to remove with vigorous raking or scraping. This process of raking is called scarifying, and removes moss and thatch (dead grass) from your lawn. As you rake, expect a bit of grass to come out along with the moss; however, because grass has longer roots, it should survive a thorough raking.
Raking pulls out the surface moss, but may leave behind remnants and spores. Some homeowners apply moss killer before they rake, but this is mostly done in vain as it will only impact moss on the surface. If you are using natural or chemical moss killer for lawns, apply it after you have raked out as much of the moss as possible. After raking and removing the moss, you can reseed this now-thinned area of lawn. Following are a few different ways to rake moss out of your lawn:
Rake by hand.
To get rid of a small patch of moss in the backyard, use a spring-tine lawn rake. The trick is to rake at the moss from different angles to loosen and lift it. Then, collect and toss the moss into your compost bin or trash.
Use a mower dethatching blade.
For a more extensive moss problem or to simply make the task easier, you can remove moss while dethatching your lawn. Fit your lawn mower with a dethatching blade to pull up the thick layer of dead grass accumulated between the soil and the living lawn, and get rid of moss in the process. Dethatching makes it easier for water and nutrients to reach the roots of your lawn and, ideally, is best done in the spring or early summer. If your primary goal is getting rid of moss in the lawn, you can dethatch at any time of year.
Rent a power rake.
These gas-powered machines, available for rent at home centers for about $75 per day, resemble lawn mowers. Instead of neatly clipping the tips of the grass, however, power rakes aggressively remove thatch—along with moss—from the soil line. Power raking can be tough on your lawn, however, so it’s best to consider this option only if your lawn has an inch or more of thatch, along with heavy moss growth.
What should you do with lawn moss once you rake it up?
Following moss removal, you’ll be left with a pile of moss. What should you do with it? If you haven’t used any chemical moss removers, you can add the most to your compost bin. Moss has a high lignin content, so it takes a long time to decompose. A hot-bin compost is the most effective for breaking down your moss, at a setting between 104 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
Aside from composting, you may choose to leave the moss out in small piles for birds to use for their nests, dry it out and sell it to artisans or craftspeople, or even use the dried-out moss as kindling to start your next campfire.
How to Get Rid of Moss in Your Lawn Naturally
Whether you have pets, kids, or you’ve cultivated a healthy outdoor ecosystem, there are many reasons to tackle your backyard moss problem naturally. There are a few natural ways to remove moss from your lawn, though some are more effective than others. Certain household staples have a reputation for killing moss without dangerous or toxic additives. Here are some of the ways you can kill moss in the backyard, including a couple products that are often recommended but don’t really work.
Killing moss with vinegar is a remedy used by many homeowners, and it’s pretty effective. This kitchen staple contains acetic acid, which is harmful to moss. The problem is that vinegar is also a contact herbicide: It will damage the moss onto which it’s applied, but it can also damage other plants surrounding the moss if they come in contact with the vinegar.
Apply vinegar to mossy areas on a still, dry day. Pour undiluted vinegar in a spray bottle and spritz the moss, taking care not to soak the soil. Do not water your grass afterward, as it may wash the vinegar away before it has a chance to work. If the moss is still alive after a week, spray it again with more vinegar.
The idea behind using dish soap is that it will dry up the moss, turning it a yellow, orange, or brown color, so you can rake it out easily. This technique yields mixed results, and you may need to reapply the soap daily before you see a change in the moss. Here’s how to kill moss with dish soap: In a watering can, mix 1 to 2 tablespoons of gentle dish soap with one gallon of water. Pour the mixture evenly over the moss. After 24 hours, the moss may start showing signs of drying out, which is when you should reapply more dish soap and water.
Another natural moss killer for lawns is lime (limestone or calcium carbonate). Lime is a natural way to raise the soil’s pH and make it more alkaline. However, the diversification of moss species means this plant can grow in all types of soils, so, depending on what type of moss you have, changing the pH by adding lime might be unlikely to kill the moss in your yard. Applying lime to your garden is more indirect—it won’t kill the moss you have, but it may make moss less likely to grow in the future. If you go this route, it may take 4 to 6 months of applying lime to change the pH balance of the soil to notice any difference.
Killing moss with baking soda is a trick some homeowners have tried. Similar to using lime on moss, some gardeners use baking soda to change the pH of the soil under and around the moss. Of course, the results are pretty much the same as when using lime. Adding a mixture of baking soda and water increases the pH, but this is not a solution that will solve your moss woes.
How to Control Lawn Moss with Chemicals
If you kill moss with an herbicide, the moss can easily be mowed or lifted out of your lawn. There are major disadvantages, however, to using chemical moss killer for a lawn, and doing so should not be done lightly—and only as a last resort. There are two chemicals commonly used to kill moss:
- Iron sulfate kills moss in the lawn by drying it out. This chemical turns moss black, often within hours, and kills it entirely in just a day or two. Iron sulfate won’t hurt your grass—in fact, it’s a component of most lawn fertilizers—but it will create rust spots or stains on nearby concrete, brick, or stone. Be sure to wash away any stray herbicide right away with water and a scrub brush; stains that linger can be removed with a trisodium phosphate and water solution. This chemical can cause respiratory irritation, nausea, and headaches.
- Glyphosate: The active ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate has mixed results on moss. It will, however, kill any grass or other plants it comes in contact with. We never recommend using glyphosate for moss or any other yard problems.
Note: Remember that children and pets should always be kept out of the yard when applying herbicides.
How to Prevent Moss From Growing on Your Lawn
After getting rid of moss in the lawn, it’s important to investigate the underlying conditions that allow it to flourish, so it won’t come back. Here are some of the most common causes of moss in your lawn and how to address them:
- Make sure your soil isn’t soggy. Moss thrives in damp conditions. If your lawn is receiving too much water or it doesn’t drain well, moss (as well as patches of mildewed or dying grass) is bound to crop up. Cut back on watering to improve the situation.
- Watch what you grow in the shady parts of your yard. Moss prefers shady spots of the lawn, such as underneath trees or where structures block the sun in the yard. Because most grass does best in full sun anyway, you may wish to devote shaded areas to shade-tolerant, hardy shrubs, ground covers, or perennials such as rhododendron, pachysandra, and ajuga.
- Check to see if your soil is acidic or infertile. Checking your soil’s pH and nutrient levels is easy to do with a soil test kit, which you can purchase at a garden center or home improvement store. If your soil is acidic, which is hard on grass but great for moss, add lime to balance your lawn’s pH. If soil fertility is an issue—low levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, or potassium are often the cause—the soil test kit will guide you towards the best supplements or fertilizers to remedy the situation.
- Compacted soil: Heavily compacted soil negatively impacts grass growth by preventing water and nutrients from reaching the roots, but it doesn’t bother moss one bit. Break up hard soil by aerating your lawn with a power or manual aerator annually, or as needed.
The question isn’t how to get rid of moss in a lawn, it’s how to make your lawn healthier, so moss doesn’t have the opportunity to grow there. After all, it’s a slow grower that only does well when grass struggles. Solve your lawn issues and your moss problem should disappear.
That said, it may be worth embracing the moss in your lawn. It’s not all bad. While some homeowners work to remove it, others are trying to grow moss in their yards. You may want to think about the perks of moss, including low effort year-round greenery, a solution for erosion issues, temperature control for the soil, and more. If Mother Nature thinks moss is the best ground cover for a particular area, who’s to argue with her?
There is a lot to know about how to kill moss in your lawn or remove it from your grass. The information above offers a lot of information about how to kill and remove moss from your property; however, you may have some lingering questions. These frequently asked questions and answers about moss removal may help you find the information you seek.
Q. What will kill moss but not grass?
Diluted dish soap should kill moss without killing grass, though it may weaken the grass surrounding the area where you apply the soap mixture. Concentrated dish soap, on the other hand, is made for breaking down fats and oils, which can affect the oil-based tissues of the grass. Iron sulfate will certainly kill moss in the backyard, and your grass will thrive, however, this chemical option may not be the healthiest choice.
Q. When should I kill moss in my lawn?
The best time to try to kill the moss in your lawn is before it releases its spores and creates more moss. Late winter and early spring are great times to remove moss, which gives you time to fix any issues in your lawn or soil before moss starts actively growing again.
Q. Will grass grow back after removing moss?
Grass can grow back after you rake out or kill moss in your yard. Keep in mind that removing the moss is only one part of helping your grass grow back. Following moss removal, you must address the underlying issues of your lawn to create an environment where moss doesn’t like to grow and where grass will thrive.
Q. Does raking moss help grass grow?
Raking moss can help your grass grow, as scarifying removes moss and dead grass, so they don’t clog up your soil. Removing this debris allows air, water, and nutrients to get into the soil more efficiently, and makes the lawn healthier, which may encourage new growth once the lawn recovers.
Q. What kills moss naturally?
A mixture of dish soap and water or undiluted vinegar are two ways gardeners kill moss naturally. Of course, the best way to kill moss in the backyard naturally is with proper lawn care and maintenance, which creates an environment that does not encourage moss to grow in the first place.