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Skaggs: In shade, moss is a winner over grass

POSTED: October 10, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Homeowners across North Georgia know that in order to maintain an attractive fescue lawn, over-seeding is required. Certainly, fescue lawns have taken a beating due to the drought of 2008. However, I am often asking how to rid a lawn of moss in order to plant grass.

Moss is simply a plant looking for a good home, and if the right conditions are provided, it can quickly take up residence and do quite well.

Moss will take over and grow where the shade is so dense during the summer that not enough light is present to support the growth of grass such as fescue. Moss also thrives during periods of high humidity.

The good thing to know is that moss is not parasitic and therefore does not kill grass like plant diseases do. It is, however, a good indicator that your lawn needs help!

Moss thrives due to one or more of the following conditions:

Hard, compacted, clay soil that restricts root development

Moderate to dense shade (little to no direct sunlight)

Soil that is moderately to highly acidic (soil pH less than 5)

Unfortunately, soils with high clay content, like the soils we have here in North Georgia, are easily compacted from foot traffic and the settling of clay particles over time as water works through the soil profile.

The best solution to this problem is the use of a soil aerator that removes plugs of soil from the ground, thus improving air exchange and enhancing soil drainage. While solid tine aerators are commonly sold, they do very little to alleviate soil compaction. Some experts even feel that solid tine aerators do more harm than good.

If the affected area has very little grass, it is better to start over. Till the soil to a depth of 6 inches to break up the restrictive layer. This will also facilitate incorporation of lime and fertilizer into the soil.

Soils with low fertility and low pH (acidic) lead to poor growing conditions for grass and make it easier for moss to become established.

Improving the drainage with the incorporation of organic matter is also beneficial. Low areas that do not drain well should be contoured. In some cases, the use of drain tile can help remove excess water and improve growing conditions for turfgrass.

Moss can become very thick under heavy shade conditions. Thinning trees or pruning limbs to improve light conditions and increase air circulation is often helpful. If grass won't grow in these areas it may be necessary to use a shade-tolerant ground cover or simply cover the area in mulch.

Many people ask if there are chemicals available to eliminate moss. Although some chemicals are effective, they are only temporary and the problem will return in time. Iron sulfate (available as Scotts Moss Control Granules and Bayer Advanced 2-in-1 Moss & Algae Killer) can be applied according to label directions. However, the only sure method of eliminating moss and algae is to remove them by hand raking.

Above all, remember that getting rid of the moss is the easy part. If you do not change the cultural and/or physical conditions that encourage moss, the lawn will continue to decline and the moss may be the only green part of your lawn. And, that's OK - moss is actually not so bad.

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.



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