March 18, 2013

Moss adds to spring lawn chores


---- — As I’ve mentioned before, my daughter, son-in-law and grandson live in Portland, Ore. Thanks to Skype, we are able to see and speak with them several times a week. 

My son-in-law has been keeping me up-to-date on the progress of the bulbs he planted last fall. I think he was gloating when he told me last week that his daffodils are blooming and his tulips are up and beginning to set buds.

I, on the other hand, can report that I have only three crocuses that are just peeking out of the soil. I have been inspecting the yard and flower beds frequently, as the snow has melted. Although the lawn may be exhibiting a hint of green if I squint my eyes, and there are some very green patches that look suspiciously like weeds, the only other green in my lawn right now is moss.

Moss is a small green plant that produces spores spread by the wind. It starts growing in the fall when the soil is wet and usually reaches a peak in the early spring. Because grass doesn’t grow during the winter, moss is able to get a foothold in lawns that have bare spots. It lacks true roots but forms a thick green mat on the soil’s surface in bare areas. Moss is likely to grow where grass won’t if the conditions are more favorable for moss than grass. It does not kill grass, but grass does not grow where patches of moss are.

If the amount of moss you have in early spring is minimal, you may be able to remedy the situation by de-thatching it while it is healthy and vigorous. If you decide to reseed bare areas, remember that if you have a low spot or poor drainage, you will want to correct that. Feeding your lawn in early spring is not recommended. It will result in lush growth of grass at the expense of the roots and will not help to crowd out the moss.

During the summer when temperatures are warmer and the ground is drier, moss is less pervasive and grass grows more rapidly. However, if you have a lot of shade, low spots where moisture settles, poorly draining soil, low fertility, or acidic or compacted soil, you may have moss in your lawn year-round. If that is the case, you will need to correct the conditions that facilitate the growth of moss and impair the grass.

By the end of a hot summer, most of us who do not irrigate our lawns will notice that they look pretty dry and sparse. Any moss you have may dehydrate during the summer, but when the fall rains come, it rehydrates and begins to grow again. Fertilizing in the fall, around Labor Day, is the best way to ensure that your lawn goes into winter with a strong root system and is healthy enough the next spring to stand up to any encroachment by moss.

Spring Garden Day is being held at Clinton Community College on Saturday, April 20, and we are now accepting registrations at the office. You will be able to choose from 12 classes, and as always, morning coffee, pastries and your lunch are included in your registration fee. This popular event is held every other year and is great fun.

Jolene Wallace is the horticulture program assistant for Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. Contact her at 561-7450 or