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Jessica Walliser

Test soil, then attack moss problem

Jessica Walliser
| Thursday, April 19, 2018, 8:55 p.m.
In a garden or lawn environment, moss tends to grow in compacted soils with very poor drainage. It also tends to take hold where soil fertility is low and acidic soil conditions exist.
Jessica Walliser
In a garden or lawn environment, moss tends to grow in compacted soils with very poor drainage. It also tends to take hold where soil fertility is low and acidic soil conditions exist.

Question: I have several flower beds that are always moss-covered. They are in an area of hot sun in the summer. How do I get rid of the moss?

Answer: As you've discovered, despite their reputation, mosses are not relegated to shady woodlands or damp streamsides. They can grow just about anywhere.

Unlike plants, mosses reproduce via spores and they can be found growing in any environment that receives adequate moisture for at least part of the year. Mosses don't need much soil, if any, to grow. That's why they can be found growing on roofs, rocks and even on concrete walls and walkways.

Moss growth and reproduction most commonly occurs in the spring, when there's ample moisture around. In the summer, moss growth stops.

In a garden or lawn environment, moss tends to grow in compacted soils with very poor drainage. It also tends to take hold where soil fertility is low and acidic soil conditions exist. It's often more prevalent in shade, though this does depend somewhat on the species of moss.

The key to getting rid of the moss in your garden beds lies in the soil. Order a soil test through the Penn State Extension Service (412-482-3476) and correct the likely pH and fertility issues in your flower beds as they recommend. More often than not, this is all it takes to reduce or eliminate moss growth. You should also correct any drainage issues in the beds by adding organic matter such as compost to the beds on a yearly basis. This opens up channels in our clay-based soils, improving the drainage and allowing air and nutrients to percolate through the soil.

Since mosses lack true roots, it's easy to rake them out of garden beds and lawns every year. It's a job that's easily done with a soil rake or even a garden hoe.

The good news is that moss will not harm your flowers in any way. It is, however, indicative of other issues that can prove problematic to the performance of your flowers. If the soil pH is too acidic, the ground is compacted and the soil is low in fertility, this will support good moss growth, but it will not do a good job of supporting flowering plants. Fix those issues and improved flower performance will be an added benefit.

If you had presented a question about moss growing in your lawn, I would have shared the same advice. Moss-filled lawns are symptoms of soil issues, as well. Test the soil's pH and fertility and make any necessary corrections. Have the lawn aerated every two to three years and address any necessary drainage issues. For lawns, an annual fall over-seeding in areas where moss grows can also help. Healthy lawns grow in healthy, non-compacted soils.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com. Send your gardening or landscaping questions to tribliving@tribweb.com or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.

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