How to Get Rid of Moss in Grass

large area of grass with moss growing in a patch in the center

Moss growth is a sign of a larger issue with your lawn. It could indicate poor soil conditions, such as compacted or acidic soil, or it could have to do with the amount of sunlight your lawn receives. 

Read on to learn three ways to get rid of moss, and what you can do to keep it from coming back. 

How to get rid of moss

There are three main ways to get rid of the moss in your yard: 

  • Scarifying Rake
  • Chemical herbicide
  • Organic DIY herbicide

Scarifying Rake

Sometimes you can simply rake moss away without applying anything — chemical or otherwise — to your yard. 

You could try using a regular rake, or upgrade to a Scarifying Rake. Scarifying Rakes go a little deeper, with the ability to remove moss, thatch, and dead grass while opening up the soil to receive more airflow and nutrients. 

Steps to getting rid of moss with a rake:

If the moss isn’t cleared easily with a rake, you might need to turn to an herbicide to kill moss growing in your yard. 

Regularly scarifying or aerating your lawn can help prevent fungal issues such as slime mold and red thread.

Chemical herbicide

Herbicides that target moss are typically iron-based and add nutrients to your yard, whereas weed killers will decrease the quality of your soil.

Apply herbicide during peak moss-growing season, which is typically in the spring or fall. 

Because it’s iron-based, be sure not to spray moss killer on any hardscaping, unless you’re into a vintage (rusty) look. 

Pro Tip: Normal weed killers won’t kill moss, so make sure to buy one that specifically targets moss. Always follow the instructions on the label.

Organic DIY herbicide

If you want to avoid spraying chemicals in your yard, you can make your own safe and organic herbicide at home to act as a moss killer. 

For every 1,000 square feet of moss-infested lawn, you’ll need:

  • 2-4 ounces of dish soap or 1 small box of baking soda
  • 2 gallons of water
  • A sprayer

Mix the water with the soap or baking soda, then put the mixture into a sprayer. Spray until the moss is saturated. The next day, you should be able to rake the dead moss away. Be sure to dispose of it in a way that the spores cannot escape and generate new patches of moss, such as placing it in sealed garbage bags. 

What is moss?

Moss is an ancient plant that evolved from algae and grows wherever moisture can be found. It can grow on soil, logs, and even rocks. 

Moss reproduces when the wind blows and its spores spread throughout the lawn. What makes moss unique is that it doesn’t have a vascular structure like many other plants, but instead it absorbs and moves nutrients around directly through osmosis. 

Moss can grow wherever your grass isn’t thick enough to block it, but it is not invasive and does not cause your grass to die. If your grass is dying it is likely due to poor soil conditions. 

How to identify moss

There are more than 15,000 species of moss, ranging in color from green to gray, yellow, orange, blue, and black. Moss can have tiny leaves and branch-looking structures. They don’t have roots, stems, or other elements of a vascular system. 

Common types of moss you might find in your backyard include: 

  • Sheet moss – grows flat and can be peeled back like a sheet
  • Cushion moss – grows in clumps directly on the soil
  • Rock cap moss – grows in clumps on the ground
  • Hair cap moss – grows in clumps directly on the soil
  • Sphagnum moss – often found near bodies of water; the largest species of moss

Pros and cons of moss

Moss isn’t always a problem. Some homeowners choose to include moss in their landscaping or use it as a ground cover or grass alternative for their lawn. 

ProsCons
✓ No mowing
✓ No fertilizer
✓ No erosion
✓ Insect free
✓ Weed free
✗ Increased water needs
✗ Low sun tolerance
✗ Low foot traffic tolerance

How to keep moss from coming back

Moss is usually a sign that your yard can use some TLC. 

Conditions that harm grasses — moist, acidic, and compacted soil — are the conditions that make moss grow. The top ways to end your moss problem for good are to raise your soil pH level, dethatch to get rid of excessive thatch, aerate your lawn, fertilize, and reduce the level of shade that reaches the moss patches.

Raise soil pH

Moss prefers an environment with a low pH. Get your soil tested to determine if your soil acidity is the root of the moss problem. 

You can get your soil tested through your local Cooperative Extension Office or a DIY soil test at home. Soil testing will let you know if your soil is too alkaline or acidic, and what elements (potassium, nitrogen, phosphorus) should be added to amend the soil. 

To lower soil acidity, add lime during the fall. If your soil pH is near 5, a lime application is recommended. Apply 25 pounds of lime per 1,000 square feet of lawn in the spring and another 25 pounds per 1,000 square feet in the fall. 

It can take several months for your soil pH level to change, so don’t expect immediate results. You also can apply fast-acting lime at any time of year for quicker results.

Dethatch

illustration explaining thatch on grass

Thatch is the layer of dead grass, leaves, roots, and other organic matter that slowly builds up in between living grass and the soil underneath. Excessive thatch can contribute to compacted soil and excess moisture, which are favorable conditions for moss. 

Dethatching is a form of deep lawn raking that removes the excess thatch, allowing air, water, and nutrients to pass through more efficiently to the ground. 

To see if you should dethatch to solve your moss problem, determine the thickness of the thatch.

How to tell if you have excess thatch:

  1. Grab a shovel. 
  2. Dig out a section of your yard, 3-inches deep. In between the grass and soil is a brown, spongy layer — this is the thatch.
  3. Measure the thatch. 
  4. You’ll need to dethatch If the thatch is more than a half-inch thick.

Aerate

illustration showing how aeration works and the benefits of aerating soil

Moss thrives in a moist environment, so its growth could be a sign that your lawn has poor drainage. Poor drainage also prevents healthy grass from growing, giving moss even more room to spread out. 

Poor drainage can be caused by:

  • Dense soil (ie. clay)
  • Compacted soil from heavy foot traffic
  • Depressions in the soil, causing flooding

Lawn aeration is a process that creates small holes in the ground to allow air, water, and nutrients to seep deeper into the ground and the roots of your grass. 

Aerating can help fix each of these poor drainage problems. To test if you have compacted soil, grab a shovel and try to stick it in the ground. Your shovel should easily be able to reach at least 6 inches into the ground. If it doesn’t, that’s a sign that your lawn needs to be aerated. 

Pro Tip: If deep depressions in the ground are leading to flooded areas of your yard, you can fill them in with dirt or install a french drain system.

Fertilize

illustration depicting organic fertilizer and synthetic fertilizer

Fertilizing your lawn regularly can help keep your grass healthy and growing strong. Fertilizer enhances the nutrients in your soil to better feed your grass. Improving your lawn’s health helps prevent issues with pests, diseases, fungus, and moss. 

Fertilize twice a year, when your grass is about to enter its peak growing season. If you have warm-season grass, fertilize during the summer. If your grass is a cool-season variety, fertilize during the early fall. 

Pro Tip: Check the weather before fertilizing. Avoid fertilizing before a rainstorm, because the rain will wash it all away.

Reduce shade

Moss prefers to grow in the shade, and most popular turfgrasses do not. Most grass types need at least six hours of direct sunlight or 12 hours of indirect sunlight per day. If moss is thriving in a shady patch of your yard, see if there’s anything you can do to reduce the shade. Some ways to reduce shade in your backyard include:

  • Pruning trees
  • Pruning bushes
  • Thinning out the canopy

If this doesn’t work, you might want to try another variety of grass or a shade-tolerant ground cover.

FAQ about moss

1. Should I let moss grow on my lawn?

While you should still check your soil conditions, moss is far from a villain in your yard. It’s not a weed — it’s a harmless plant that grows where grass won’t. Some people even use moss as a low-maintenance alternative to grass.

Moss lawns require more water and are less durable than most turfgrasses. However, they’re low-maintenance since you don’t need to worry about mowing, fertilizing, and controlling pests or weeds. 

There are plenty of other alternatives to grass, including clover, thyme, and even artificial grass.

2. How do I grow grass in a shady area? 

There are a few things you can do to give your grass the upper hand in shady patches of your lawn. Plant a grass type that’s shade tolerant, such as fescues, perennial ryegrass, or shade-tolerant varieties of St. Augustine, Zoysiagrass, and centipedegrass. 

Try to prune trees and bushes around the shady area to allow more light to flow through. Good lawn maintenance practices will go a long way, as well. 

3. How do I keep my lawn healthy?

The most important way to have a moss-free lawn is to make sure your lawn is healthy.

Keep your lawn healthy by:
Taking care of your lawn mower
Mowing the lawn regularly
Watering regularly
Keeping an eye on thatch growth
Fertilizing regularly
Keeping the lawn free of debris
Weeding
Overseeding
Aerating

There are many ways to take care of your lawn, and it can seem overwhelming at times. If you don’t have the time or need a hand with lawn care or a landscaping project, Lawn Love experts are ready to help. 

Main Photo Credit: Mary-Frances Main | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Sav Maive

Sav Maive is a writer and director based in San Antonio. Sav is a recent graduate from the University of Virginia and is a loving cat and plant mom.