A Stroll Through the Garden: Moss and how to control it

A few years ago − another time far, far away − a friend at church asked me about a shade lawn issue they have had for a number of years. I don’t know how many calls I have received over the years asking for help on how to get a lawn back or stones clean and have a nice lush green lawn in the shade with a safe clean path.

Well, this year I guess I’m going to be a little like Darth Vader and advise my Luke Skywalker clients to give up and go over to the shady side. Darth said to young Skywalker, “Give yourself to the shady side. It is the only way you can save your lawn Luke. Yes! Your thoughts betray you. Your feelings for your lawn betray you. Your feelings for your lawn are strong.” This time we all should listen to Darth when he talks about the power of the shady side.

There are 12,000 different species of moss that grow in dense green clumps or mats in damp or shady locations.

There are 12,000 species of moss, the tallest being about 20 inches, averaging about 0.10 to 3.9 inches. Mosses are small, non-vascular flowerless plants that are in the unusual Bryophyta division. The mosses grow in dense green clumps or mats in damp or shady locations of which liverworts, lichens and hornworts are members. Moss leaves are generally one cell thick and not a sophisticated way of conducting water or nutrients into the plant.

If you feed your lawn regularly, the grass will have a good chance to do better than the moss. When you mow your lawn below the recommended height, you will weaken the grass and allow the moss to do well. You can strengthen the lawn if you can cut out the lower branches on any tree including evergreens.

For a shady lawn I recommend first power raking out the moss and then aerating the bare spots where the moss has been removed and then top-dressing the lawn with a good soil mix and grass seed mix. If you have tested your soil and discovered your soil is acidic, then apply lime at the rates that the tests would reveal.

Moss can damage stone walls and cause discoloration, like the moss seen here at Schoepfle Gardens in Lorain County.

A few weeks ago, my dentist asked me about getting rid of moss on his stepping-stone paths in his yard. Seems that his paths are rather on the long side. What I like about all of this is that he has already succumbed to the shady side of whether or not to keep the moss in the yard. The challenge is the stepping-stone path.

Over the years I have used a shovel and a knife to scrape most of the moss. The challenge is that you will scrap metal against stone. It will be loud. Knives can be used to remove the moss quickly. I don’t recommend light sabers.Ammonium sulfamate is a chemical that is a water-soluble solid so that it can be sprayed with a garden sprayer. You should always follow directions. This mix of water and ammonium sulfamate needs to be kept away from other plants. Use proper safety equipment and gloves to apply.

I have used pressure washers in the past on a variety of mosses to scrub sides of houses and concrete. Small portions of space where the moss is growing should be removed at a time. The heat and the pressure remove the moss. Larger areas will take more time and more water.

Household bleach also kills moss on a 1:1 ratio bleach to water. This mix will also work in a sprayer and scrubbing the stone thoroughly before hosing the mix off the stone. You should also have protective gear for this effort.

Moss on trees like this ginko tree at Wolcott Lilac Gardens in Kent, OH, is typically not harmful to the tree's health. But the extra weight on older trees could make them less stable.

Both baking soda and borax can be sprinkled over moss; let it stay on the moss for a day. This moss will crumble and disintegrate under the powder. What is nice is you will sweep up the debris in 24 hours and dispose of it.Both the baking soda method and boiling hot water application poured on moss avoid using harsh chemicals. You can then use a stiff brush to scrub off the moss. Wash the stone to remove any leftover debris from the stone.

Sodium pentachlorophenate is another anti-moss chemical. If you use this chemical regularly, be aware that it can cause cancer. If you follow the instructions with this chemical, expect the moss to be gone in a week. This method kills the moss for several weeks. There are other anti-moss compounds that can be used. We must all follow directions Luke!

Borax and white vinegar or water can also be used. Mix ¼ cup of borax with 1 gallon of water or vinegar in a bucket. At this point you can spray the borax mix on the moss with an agricultural sprayer of some sort. Manually you can scrub this compound into the moss. This mixture can also be worked into the moss with a scrub brush until the moss is saturated. Eventually the moss dies and turns brown.

At the end, Darth told Luke he was right about himself as we look at the moss and killing it. The moss is not our enemy.

If you see an issue in your garden as you stroll through this week, e-mail me at ericlarson546@yahoo.com and I shall do the best I can to answer them. You can find a link to my blog at my website ohiohealthyfoodcooperative.org. You can leave your comments there soon.

Eric Larson of Jeromesville is a veteran landscaper and gardening enthusiast and a founding board member of the Ohio Chapter of Association of Professional Landscape Designers.

This article originally appeared on Mansfield News Journal: Solutions to moss in your yard and gardens