Instead of fight the moss that grows under trees, consider cultivating it.
I’ve heard this lament time and time again: “I can’t grow a lawn in the shade.” Or: “I’m getting mostly moss in my lawn.” So rather than continuing to fight Mother Nature, maybe it’s time to stop fighting her and embrace her ways and grow moss instead of turf.
As trees mature, less light reaches the lawn, eventually creating a dense-shade environment. While growing turf in the shade is a challenge, if you really want grass there, choose shade-specific grass mixtures. But even these require at least filtered sun for healthy turf to have a decent chance to establish properly.
Fescue grasses tolerate shade better than most grasses; however, under trees with a dense canopy, you’ll need to reseed frequently. At best, it’s an ongoing effort to grow grass in the shade. Alternatively, you can consider shade-loving ground covers for these areas. One idea worth considering that may be the best: If you see moss coming in, consider cultivating it instead of wasting time trying to kill it.
The presence of moss indicates, among other things, that your soil is acidic. To grow grass where moss now lives, you need to raise the alkalinity of the soil. The most practical way to do this is to add lime to the soil surface. Moss grows in the opposite environment. If you decide that you are getting more moss than lawn, and decide to grow moss, add sulfur to your soil to encourage the moss to spread. In addition, moss thrives with moisture and shade. Mosses are drought-tolerant once established, but require watering or misting for the first two to four months after planting. During dry periods, moss will curl up and go dormant, and green up when it rains.
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There are several methods of cultivating moss in your garden. The simplest approach to moss is to let it plant itself where it’s happy and watch it spread each year. I follow this method in shady areas of my yard and I don’t have to do anything! No watering, fertilizing, mowing or chemical applications. What could be simpler?
If you want quicker results, moss experts recommend a few cultivation methods. George Schenk describes five different methods of establishing a moss carpet in his book, “Moss Gardening.” Noted author William Cullina posts one method on his website (http://www.williamcullina.com/mossprop.html) that involves the use of water-absorbing gel, moss spores and beer.
The above recipe describes a relatively new packaged product called “Moss Milkshake,” available from Moss Acres (www.mossacres.com), experts on cultivating moss. Just add water (or beer) to the dry moss spores in the half-gallon carton and apply to a bare soil surface. Keep the surface moist until the fragments grow together. Moss Milkshake is available at many garden centers — contact Moss Acres for more info. The company also sells sheets and clumps of moss for an instant effect.
You can also transplant existing moss. Just make sure you put it in a shady, moist spot free of leaves, weeds and debris. Scratch up the bare soil a little bit first before planting and keep the moss moist for the first few weeks.
In an environment that is conducive for moss to thrive, one of its only enemies is smothering agents such as heavy leaves. If you find the notion of removing leaves from a large area of moss to be a challenge, you can purchase netting to cover the moss in the fall. Leave it in place until all the leaves are down, and then dump them into your compost pile.
After years of fighting Mother Nature in my efforts to grow grass where moss was happier, I no longer do battle. I’ve learned it’s much easier in the long run, and she really does know better. From an environmental standpoint, moss, like turf, sequesters carbon dioxide, filters impurities from the air and holds a great deal of moisture. But considering the fact that moss requires none of the inputs that turf does to keep it looking good, moss now looks a whole lot greener to me, and that was the goal from the start all along.
Joe Lamp’l, host of “Growing a Greener World” on PBS, is a Master Gardener and author. For more information, visitwww.joegardener.com.