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March: Moss Free Lawns

We in this area are fortunate not to be affected by flooding as in other areas of the country but the soil has at times become saturated with water for very long periods of time. These conditions together with a period of warm mild weather will encourage the growth of moss.

Did You Know? Sphagnum moss was used as a field dressing during the First World War, because of its absorbent and healing qualities and was responsible for saving the lives of many soldiers.

If your lawn is like mine, you may have a real moss problem because the moss unlike the grass has continued to grow during the milder weather and in my view, we have two choices; kill the moss or keep it.

Leaving moss to continue to populate the lawn, smothering all but the strongest of grasses means most of the time the lawn will remain green and lush, particularly if you apply a lawn feed without moss killer such as Miracle Gro Premium Lawn Food and especially if we have another wet year. This is ideal if you have young children as when they fall the soft moss will cushion their fall. But you must accept that in the event of a dry period it will look pretty grotty.

The plus side of this is that there is very little work to do, the mowing is considerably reduced and with the mower blades set high to just “top” the remaining grass is no effort at all.

For those of us who wish to maintain an impressive lawn, we must control the invasion of moss. There are many types of mosses but the most common in this area is sphagnum almost always found in shady, long established wet and poorly drained lawns.

Sphagnum moss can be tackled in two ways; cultural and chemical. Indeed, it is wise to combine the two. All mosses are best controlled when in full growth – March and October being the months when growth of moss is at its peak.

Encouraged by the generally warm, humid conditions, it chokes out the fine grasses that are much slower growing during these months. There are a number of moss killers available from your garden centre and there is a recognised benefit in applying both fertiliser and moss killer at the same time by using a combined product such as Evergreen Moss Kill or Evergreen 4in1.

In this way not only is the moss killed but also the grass growth is boosted thereby quickly spreading and filling the bare patches. Approximately two weeks after application when the moss has turned from green to brown then black, the lawn must be thoroughly raked to remove the dead moss.

For small patches rake from the edge of the patch to the centre to avoid spreading any remaining moss spores. For large areas it is worth investing in or hiring a mechanical rake - you will be amazed how much is removed. This will achieve two objectives. Firstly, it will remove dead moss and decaying debris such as small autumn leaves or grass cuttings not collected by the mower.

Secondly, it will pull to the surface stems of spreading lawn weeds such as creeping buttercup to be cut off by the lawn mower. The next task after mowing with the blades set low is spiking the lawn with your garden fork to a depth of approximately four inches at eight to twelve inches spacing particularly where you have noticed any water lying after heavy rain.

Spiking penetrates the compacted surface soil enabling water to drain away taking fertiliser with it to the roots. It is advisable to use a garden fork for small lawns but it’s quite hard work, so do a little each day.

Lawns that have been heavily infested with moss will be left with large areas completely devoid of grass. These will require over sowing with a suitable grass seed. Rake the bare patches to produce a fine even surface.

Adding some multipurpose potting compost at this time will definitely improve germination and speed the establishment of the new grasses. It is important to wait four weeks after applying your moss killer before sowing as any residue of moss killer could damage the embryo shoots and roots emerging and after sowing to let the grass grow. Set the mower blades high so that just the tip of the grass is removed. This will encourage growth and strengthen the new grass plant as there is a larger leaf area to collect energy from the sun.