Moss is a perennial problem for lawns, especially if yours is in a shady area. So if your grass is gradually giving way to the spongy stuff, how do you fight back? And how do you avoid doing more harm than good?
We’re here to help! We’re going to take you through the range of different choices at your disposal. And we’ll throw in a more dramatic option if you need it. By the time we’ve finished, you’ll know exactly what to do to get rid of that pesky moss.
So step this way for a strong, healthy lawn!
How to get rid of moss in lawn
1. Prevent moss from growing in the first place
Prevention is always better than cure, and there’s plenty you can do to help keep your lawn moss-free. The key is to encourage strong, vigorous grass, so there’s no room for the moss to get a foot hold.
If you’re laying a new lawn, a good place to start is by choosing the right grass seed. If you’re growing grass in an area that’s shaded by trees or buildings, moss is likely to be a problem. It just loves those dark, cool growing conditions.
So select grass seed that’s specially formulated for shady conditions. You don’t need to research specific grass varieties unless you really want to. The packaging will state clearly if it’s suitable for shady lawns.
And if the shade is very deep, consider whether you can let in more light. Trimming back overhanging trees or shrubs can be a big help.
Good lawn maintenance is your friend here too.
Cut your grass regularly in the growing season to encourage new growth. But don’t cut it so short that you stress or scalp your lawn.
Overseed any bare patches, and aerate the soil if it’s compacted – just prod it with a garden fork to let in the air.
And rake up fallen leaves in the autumn, especially before they get damp. They’ll otherwise stop the light and air getting to your grass, and can provide a haven for pests.
If you’ve got very heavy soil, it’s also a good idea to “hollow tine” the ground every three to four years. That’s a job for autumn, and you’ll need a specific bit of kit called a – you’ve guessed it – hollow tiner.
It will remove narrow plugs of earth at regular intervals. You can then sweep a lighter mixture into the holes to improve drainage. A good formula is one part compost to three parts sandy loam and six parts sand. (Note that this needs to be sharp sand that doesn’t contain lime.)
All this will give you a good chance of minimising the amount of moss that grows in your lawn. And if you’re lucky, it might prevent it altogether.
2. Seek and destroy with moss killer
If moss has found its way into your lawn despite your best efforts, don’t despair! There are some excellent products especially formulated to kill it.
Look for options that include ferrous sulphate, also known as iron sulphate. This is death to moss – but make sure you use it in accordance with the instructions on the packet. Too much can damage your grass as well as the moss, leaving behind blackened patches instead of a lush green sward.
For the same reason, don’t be tempted to use ferrous sulphate in its pure form. It’s very easy to overdo it – and it’s not legally approved as a pesticide or moss killer.
If your grass could do with a feed, look for moss killers that also incorporate a fertilizer. These will have an NPK formula – standing for nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium – to tell you how much of each element is included.
Make sure you read the information on the packaging before you make your choice. Some moss killers aren’t suitable for use on lawns that have been established for less than six months. They may also require the grass to have been cut a certain number of times before being safe to use.
Moss killers usually take the form of pellets. You can either sprinkle them over your lawn by hand, or use a spreader for greater accuracy. Whatever approach you take, it’s best to do it when the weather is fine.
Some moss killers require the lawn to be watered after use, usually 48 hours after the pellets have gone down. Again, make sure you check the instructions on timing to get the best results.
3. Take a gentler approach with bacteria
If you want to steer clear of weedkillers, there are other options. A number of bacteria-based fertilizers are designed to keep moss under control. These will feed your lawn and break down moss at the same time. And because the moss will decompose, there’ll be no dead patches to scrape away – perfect!
These kinds of products are designed for use in milder weather, when temperatures are above 15 degrees Celsius. The British climate means that’s usually between March and October.
Give your lawn a good cut before applying the fertilizer. That will allow the product to get right down to the base of the grass and attack the moss. After applying, give it a thorough watering to activate the bacteria. Don’t be too keen to mow afterwards – you’ll need to give it about a week to do its job.
Generally speaking, this process works best on smaller, less dense patches of moss. If you tackle it as soon as it appears, you’ll have a better chance of success.
4. Remove the moss by scarifying
Scarifying is the process of tearing out the moss from your lawn. You can either use a wire toothed rake to do this or a mechanical scarifier. A rake is just as effective – but it is a lot of hard work, especially if you have a bigger lawn. Be prepared to take a long, hot bath afterwards to ease your aching muscles!
Scarifying simply means running the rake or scarifier over the grass. This will rip out the moss and dead grass, known as thatch. You can then remove it by hand.
Before you get started, apply a moss killer. if you don’t, you may actually end up making the problem worse.
That’s because when you move the moss, it will release spores that fall back to the ground. Give it a little while, and those spores will turn into brand new moss. If you’ve spent ages scarifying, that’s a profoundly depressing result!
The bad news, though, is that if the moss is thick, the killer may not do more than penetrate the top layer. So once you’ve finished scarifying, it’s a good idea to give your lawn a second treatment.
Don’t worry if your lawn looks in a bad state after scarifying – it’s supposed to! The grass will return stronger and healthier in a few weeks.
And if you’re scarifying with a rake, keep a bucket or wheelbarrow on hand to collect the moss and thatch. You’ll be amazed at how much you remove from even a small lawn. You can put the lot of it on the composter, where it will break down nicely.
And if all else fails – swap your turf for something else
You’ve chosen the right grass seed, cut your lawn regularly and broken your back scarifying. Your lawn should be moss-free, right? If only!
The harsh reality is that some sites will be a perfect habitat for moss. If your lawn gets lots of moisture and little light, the annoying stuff will almost certainly come back again.
If that’s the case, you have two options. You can keep up the fight, regularly applying moss killer, scarifying and doing all that great lawn maintenance. You may not be able to eliminate the moss entirely, but you’ll keep it under control.
But there is another way that, while it might sound drastic, may be better in the long term. You could swap your lawn for something else.
Perhaps another part of your garden has lighter, warmer conditions where the grass would flourish. Or perhaps your whole garden is shady, and relocating your lawn isn’t an option. If that’s the case, don’t beat yourself up about it. There are plenty of other things you could use the space for.
Why not consider some hard landscaping, like a deck or patio to escape the midday sun? Or a flower bed for shade-loving plants like hostas, ferns or brunnera?
Working with the conditions in your garden will give you better results in the long term, and with less effort. That means it’s worth considering how important it really is to have a lawn as part of your landscaping scheme.
Ready to get rid of that moss?
Whether you’ve got light moss patches or a fully-fledged spongy lawn, you can take action to address the problem. You can scarify, use moss killers or fertilizers, or pretty much any combination of those options.
But if you want your solution to be effective long-term, try and address the root causes of the moss. If you don’t, you’ll just find yourself repeating the process every few months.
And if controlling moss on your lawn is in danger of becoming a full-time job, it might be time for a more drastic approach. Moving your lawn or replacing it with another feature could be a better option.
Whichever approach you take, good luck with managing that moss!