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Moss where there should be grass

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Mar 30, 2013, 05:50 PM
Moss where there should be grass
My home is 50+ years old and the property used to be a wooded area. I think that nature wants to reclaim its space. It doesn't like grass growing in my yard, moss prevails.
How can I convince my dirt to prefer grass over moss?

Thanks in advance.
Mar 30, 2013, 10:15 PM
I would ask first what the growing conditions are in that area of your yard that are favorable to moss, rather than grass. According to this site, moss needs moisture, shade, humidity and a given pH level (acidic). See

There's also some good information on growing moss here: http://www.mossandstonegardens...og/how-to-grow-moss/.

I think you'd need to change the conditions of your yard that allows the moss to thrive to ones that are inhospitable to it.

My limited experience with moss is that it's opportunistic and will establish itself in areas where there's especially firmly packed soil or concrete with little ventilation. Both areas were shady to the point of getting almost no sun. The lawn was hard packed clay; the driveway was obviously hard as well. Neither had good ventilation.

Do you know if your previously forested yard was densely packed with trees, saplings, undergrowth and/or wild plants before it became your home? Is the soil clay and well packed? Does it drain easily or retain moisture? Does it get any sun at all?

I do recall reading somewhere in one of my gardening magazines that an area can be made conducive to moss by pouring sour milk on the ground. I never tried it as I don't particularly like the smell of sour milk, in the garden or elsewhere. I don't what the alternative is to make the area less hospitable to moss. Fresh milk?? Confused

I know nothing about the ideal growing conditions of grass as my use for grass is limited to contributions to the compost pile, but I suspect that your yard is more conducive to moss than grass. I think you have to make it less appealing to the moss, tell nature that the yard is yours now and take her moss elsewhere.

What you might do is try creating small test areas, perhaps digging up the soil and adding well rotted compost then grass seed, and see what happens. If you drink coffee, add the coffee grounds to the soil; worms like them and will help aerate the soil.

Good luck.

This message has been edited. Last edited by: GardenSprite,
Mar 31, 2013, 09:44 AM
I would try for a moss garden look. Heck it has very little in the way of up keep. It does not have to be the entire space, just that shady section where nature is proclaiming its independence. Wink

Popeye only reached for the Spinach can as a last resort...
Mar 31, 2013, 12:50 PM
Sparky, a moss lawn would certainly be less labor intensive and lawn mower, no gas, no oil, no mowing on hot days, no need for a cool beverage to cool down. Big Grin

The second link I posted has photos of a beautiful moss garden in lieu of lawn at the base of an elaborate stone terrace and wall. It's really beautiful.
Mar 31, 2013, 12:54 PM
Thanks GardenSprite and CommonwealthSparky,

The ground is pretty hard-packed, but their doesn't seem to be much clay.
If I made a moss garden, that would occupy 3/4 of my yard.
I'm guessing that the area used to be predominately maple trees, but LOTS of large pines have been introduced (my neighbor has a line of them along the property border). I suspect that a combination of the shade from the trees and the PH from the fallen needles create an environment conducive to moss growth. I don't know though, because I have moss far from that property line too.
Mar 31, 2013, 01:24 PM
SN, I thought the presence of pine needles might make the soil more acidic so I did a quick check and found this site which claims the acidity factor to be untrue.

As to the far reaches of the property hard to tell, especially if it's not certain what grew there before.

Again, other than small test spaces to determine what can eradicate the moss, I don't know what to suggest except thinking about all the spare time you'd have by not having to care for a lawn Wink.

Actually, what happens when you've sodded or planted grass? Does it even take hold and grow or just die out? Could it be that there are grubs in the lawn?
Mar 31, 2013, 08:59 PM
I haven't tried sod, but I've re-seeded several times. Grass will start to grow and I've tried to keep up with watering. I've broadcast organic fertilizer too, but there are large areas where the grass just won't firmly establish itself and eventually dies out.
Apr 02, 2013, 12:53 PM
SN, what exactly happens when the grass dies? Does it turn brown first? Does it kind of shrink back into the ground? How long from the sprouting stage to the die-off stage?

Any photos to show it in the dying stages -sometimes plants in their death throes can reveal clues to what's happening.

It might be worth the time and cost to get a soil sample tested at a local agricultural extension service. In Michigan, ours is affiliated with Mich. State University, but I don't know what might be available in other states. Your NY Dept. of Natural Resources or similar agency might be able to help.

You mention also that you've "tried to keep up with watering". Has your area suffered from droughts? How often do you water and do you check the soil to see how deeply the water penetrates? If the water isn't getting to the roots, that might be the cause of the die-off.

You might also want to do some research to determine what kind of grass is best for your area. Perhaps a different variety might have a better chance of survival.

Lastly, do you have any photos of the large areas where the grass can't get established, especially some close-up photos of the soil. If you can dig down 5 - 6 inches and provide photo closeups, that might help as well.
Apr 02, 2013, 04:02 PM
moss grows in damp , shaded areas with little or no sun, if that is where you are having the problem,try not to water as often and try to enjoy the soft cool feeling when you walk on it
Apr 02, 2013, 04:59 PM
Originally posted by GardenSprite:
Sparky, a moss lawn would certainly be less labor intensive and lawn mower, no gas, no oil, no mowing on hot days, no need for a cool beverage to cool down. Big Grin

The second link I posted has photos of a beautiful moss garden in lieu of lawn at the base of an elaborate stone terrace and wall. It's really beautiful.

Not to highjack the tread {guilty as charged}, thanks for the link to moss beds as I have book marked it today.
Some areas just are not the best for lawns, but perfect for moss. Big Grin

Popeye only reached for the Spinach can as a last resort...
Apr 03, 2013, 05:24 PM
Originally posted by CommonwealthSparky:

Not to highjack the tread {guilty as charged}, thanks for the link to moss beds as I have book marked it today.
Some areas just are not the best for lawns, but perfect for moss. Big Grin

CS, glad it helped. I found some other good sites on moss but they weren't on point for SN's questions.

I found a few articles that I bookmarked myself which might interest you: (especially good article with lovely photos)

Interesting thread on growing moss on this forum (including whether beer, yogurt, buttermilk are the better motivators for growing moss):

There's also a forum on mosses (and other shade plants) here:

If I run across some more sites with good information on mosses, I'll PM them to you.
I have learned that there are quite a variety of mosses which can be used. I'm pretty sure I also found a few varieites of mosses in one of the many garden catalogues I order (one of which is a wholesale catalogue which features great prices for reasonable quantities of plants).

SN, I'm out of suggestions except that we have Nona's sunshine truck (See his Sunshine Removal post) haul all my sod to your house and I'll take your moss in exchange. I plan on doing away with my lawn anyway and the moss will be a nice replacement.

I'd be interested in a follow-up as to whether any of the suggestions work.

Good luck!
Apr 03, 2013, 09:48 PM
Thanks again GardenSprite, CommonwealthSparky, and nona.
You've given me a lot to "chew on".
I'll try to get some pictures this weekend.
There is a Cornell Cooperative Extension near me, I'll look into getting my soil tested.
Apr 04, 2013, 12:28 PM
How about planting a shade-loving ground cover instead of grass? It would contrast with the rest of your mossy yard, plus lower maintenance and easy to grow.
Apr 07, 2013, 08:49 PM
Here are links to pictures of my "lawn".
Moss and junk
Other ground cover mixed in
Moss and dead stuff
Moss and dirt
Moss mixed with grass
Hole dug into lawn
Barren area of lawn

Thanks in advance for any ideas on how to make this "lawn" a bit more attractive.
Apr 07, 2013, 11:56 PM
First photo - the chunked soil looks like it has a lot of clay in it, unless it's actually just mud (left side of photo, grey stuff clunked up)

Second photo - I'm pretty sure you have Ajuga ground cover. It can spread if you let it and makes a nice soft green to deep burgundy cover. It's not as aggressive, in my experience, as some other ground covers.

Third photo - is the dead stuff the dead grass? Your moss isn't quite as thick as I expected it to be.

Fourth photo - see comments on first photo. Was this soil dug or raked - I'm wondering why the soil is chunked up, as if it had been upheaved. I've also seen something like this in smaller chunks after adding coffee grounds to the soil for the worms to feed on. But the soil is more friable.

Sixth photo - now I see what looks like a lot of sand on top with something else below it, but it doesn't look like great soil. Doesn't seem to have much tilth to it. I also see some roots which I suspect are the remains of some grass.

Last photo - I think there's something definitely amiss with the soil. This looks like hard clay, though as opposed to sand as shown in photo #6.

I fall back on one of my original suggestions -try a trial patch, add compost. You can also rake up the loose grasses and stuff and mix them in. Add coffee grounds, water if you don't have rain more often than once a week and if it isn't substantial.

If the soil is as dry and sandy as it appears in photo #6, you might want to add some peat moss as well. See if this helps change the texture of the soil.

Plant a little bit of grass and see how long it survives. You could also have the soil tested before you do this, as I really think the soil is the problem.

None of these areas look like the typical areas conducive to moss growth.

Here's a decent article on the different soil types, with photos that are helpful.

The larger photo opposite the first paragraph in the article shows some pretty decent soil.

These are also good articles on soils and soil amendment:, which also has a method for home testing of soil (first time I've learned of this method). (If you use a colander to sift the soil, just be sure not to borrow one from your wife's kitchen!)

Another article on sight testing of soil:

And another article for soil testing by a lab:

If after all this it turns out that there's something in the soil that's just not conducive to lawn, you could consider ground covers that are compatible with the type of soil you do have.

Herbal lawns are another possibility. They don't have to be mowed and release a wonderful fragrance when walked on. And they're beautiful.

You could also consider pavers for some part of the lawn, adding container planters for color and greenery.

I'm still betting there's a lot of sand in some parts and clay in other areas, especially the last photo. I'd love to hear what you find out.

I do think that addressing the soil content is the first step, though.

This message has been edited. Last edited by: GardenSprite,