7 Reasons Why Moss Grows on Your Garden Soil

Moss can grow nearly anywhere—it covers trees and rocks and even can hide entire slabs of concrete. Sometimes, you can even find moss growing over your garden’s soil. What does it mean when that happens?

Moss grows on your garden soil when it doesn´t have enough drainage, or it’s too compacted. It also loves shady soil and soil with poor aeration. Changing your garden can help get rid of the moss and improve soil conditions, but it shouldn’t hurt your plants.

This article has all the reasons why moss grows on your soil. If you notice moss appearing, your soil likely isn’t in good condition.

1. There’s Poor Drainage

Moss needs moist soil to grow. If the ground never seems to dry out, it doesn’t have good drainage. Constantly damp soil can harm your plants since it can lead to root rot, so you’ll need to fix it.

If you want to remove moss, slow down your watering routine and allow the soil to dry more between sessions. You can dry the garden out faster by breaking up the top layer of soil with a trowel every few days.

Adding a few different materials to your garden will add more drainage by creating air pockets and absorbing the water. The best options include perlite, newspaper, or wood mulch. They will help eliminate the excess water in no time.

Seeing moss growing on your garden soil can mean it lacks proper drainage. It’s best to deal with this problem early so your plants don’t wilt due to root rot. 

Why Your Garden Isn’t Draining Well

There are a few reasons why your garden might not drain water well. If the soil’s compacted, it is much harder for water to travel through it. You’ll notice water building up on top of the ground in that case.

If there’s a large rock buried in the soil, it can also block water from getting where it needs to go.

2. The Soil Is Too Compacted

Moss thrives in compacted soil because it doesn’t have roots to dig into the soil. Unfortunately, that’s not good for your garden plants. When soil becomes too packed, it becomes more challenging for plants to dig through the earth with their roots.

Severely compacted soil can cause other problems as well. For instance, it can suffocate roots or disrupt fertility levels in the ground.

You can fix compacted soil by breaking up the first few inches (over 10 cm) in your garden. Then, mix in some perlite or vermiculite. These materials help reduce compaction and keep air pockets in the soil, which your plants need. They also keep the ground loose and lessen the risk of it becoming compacted again. 

There are ways to prevent your garden soil from becoming compacted again. You should always avoid walking in your garden. If you need to step on the soil often, you may consider adding a stepping stone there. They help distribute your weight so you don’t push the ground together as much.

3. There’s Too Much Shade

You’ll also notice moss if your garden is always in the shade. Moss relies on shade to prevent water from evaporating since it needs to be in highly moist conditions to survive. Luckily, you won’t need to uproot your garden and move it elsewhere to give your plants more light.

Bringing more sun to the soil makes it more difficult for the moss to spread. Eventually, it will die off and won’t return. Plus, your plants will surely enjoy access to the extra sunlight.

You can always repot your plants and move them instead. Fabric pots are lightweight and excellent for growing vegetables, flowers, or herbs. You should also research the plants before moving them to ensure you know how much sun they need, as many species of plants prefer different amounts of light.

Otherwise, here are some gardening strategies you can use to bring more light to your soil: 

Paint Nearby Walls White

White paint on a wall can reflect sunlight, making your garden appear brighter. You can paint fences, shed walls, or even the side of your home white.

Use a Strategically Placed Mirror

Like white-painted walls, mirrors also reflect light. You can place one in a bright area and point it to the shadier parts of your garden. You’ll need to be careful to use only one mirror, as you can scorch your plants.

Thin Out the Canopy

If a large tree or shrub is blocking the sun from reaching the soil, you can try to thin it out without removing it entirely.

4. The Soil Doesn’t Have Enough Aeration

Moss growing over soil can also indicate that your garden doesn’t have enough aeration.

There are a few other signs that your garden needs more aeration, including: 

  • Water pooling on top of the soil
  • The soil feels hard or compacted
  • Your plants are starting to wilt or look dry
  • Your plants lose their color and become dull

You can aerate the soil in your garden using the same method as breaking apart compacted soil. Use a rake, garden fork, or shovel to turn up the top few inches of the earth. You can also mix in some perlite to help add more aeration.

Some gardeners also mix the moss into the soil to improve aeration. It’s a good option if you also want to fertilize the soil because the moss will break down and add nutrients to the earth.

5. The pH Level Is Off

A lot of moss in your garden can also mean that your soil’s pH is off. While moss prefers acidic soil, it’s very hardy and can survive in alkaline soil. You’ll need to test your soil’s pH before making any changes.

A pH monitor can be a good option, so you don’t need to use test strips. I recommend trying the SONKIR Soil pH Meter from Amazon.com. It offers an accurate pH level and lets you know the overall condition of your soil. It can also show you the moisture and sunlight levels in your garden. 

Once you know the soil’s pH, you can make a few adjustments to change it. Moss can be very adaptable, so you’ll want to simultaneously make other changes to the soil’s condition to get the best results.

Plenty of methods and materials are available if you’re adjusting the pH in your garden.

Make the soil more acidic by adding sulfur or fertilizer. Some mosses, such as sphagnum peat moss, will make the soil more acidic, so you can always mix it in your garden. On the other hand, you can make the pH more alkaline by using lime or wood ash.

Changing your soil’s pH can take a long time and requires a bit of trial and error, but your plants with thrive once you get it right. Plus, you’ll notice the moss disappearing from your garden.

6. The Soil Lacks Nutrients

Moss also prefers to live in low-fertility soil, meaning that your garden lacks nutrients. Your plants won’t do well in these conditions. They will stop growing and producing vegetables, so you must make changes immediately.

Adding compost, fertilizers, and mulches can help to improve the soil’s condition. If you need clarification on what nutrients the soil needs, you can send some samples to a laboratory. It’s worth noting that different plants have varying preferences for nutrients, so you’ll want to know what vitamins and minerals they need the most.

Moss doesn’t require a lot of nutrients to grow, making it easy for it to take over a low-fertility garden. It has very shallow hairlike rhizoids used to cling to the substrate and creates most of the food it needs through photosynthesis, allowing moss to thrive where other plants can’t.

Signs of Low Fertility

The best way to tell if your soil is lacking nutrients is to test it. Some test kits will show you how much phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium are in the dirt. However, consider checking for various minerals as well by getting a comprehensive soil analysis at a gardening laboratory.

Here are some signs that your soil is low fertility:

  • Your plant’s leaves turn yellow, brown, or crispy.
  • Your plants experience stunted growth.
  • Your plants don’t produce fruit or vegetables and struggle to flower.
  • Your produce has blossom end rot. 

7. There Are Tree Roots on the Surface

If tree roots are burrowing under your garden, they can cause moss to form on the soil. Large tree roots close to the surface can disrupt the roots of other plants. When the tree roots stick out of the ground, moss can also grow on top. It might not take long for the moss to spread to the soil.

The tree roots also can displace other plants in the garden, so the moss has less competition in the earth.

You’ll need to remove the tree roots to help with moss control. Plus, the tree roots compete with the plants in your garden for nutrients, so it’s best to remove them anyway. 

Here’s how to protect your garden from invading tree roots:

  1. Identify which tree is sending roots into your garden. 
  2. Dig a long, wide area between the tree and the garden. You need to dig deep enough to reveal the tree roots.
  3. Prune the tree roots back. Depending on the tree’s size, you may need a large saw to cut through the roots.
  4. Set up a tree root barrier in the hole.
  5. Fill in the hole.

You must add some barrier in the hole so the tree roots can’t return to your garden. Some budget materials that work well include plastic sheets and fabric.

However, you can spend more on a high-quality metal tree root barrier if you want to. These are usually best for larger trees that have more durable roots.

Massive tree roots can be problematic in gardens. Whether or not they’re causing your soil to have moss problems, you’ll want to get rid of them. Removing the tree roots from the garden shouldn’t kill the tree, as long as you prune them carefully.

Keep Your Plants Away From Trees

You shouldn’t plant near tree roots. Planting too close to a tree can cause its roots to burrow in and take nutrients from the soil that your plants need. Tree roots are stronger than most other plant roots and can damage them. Besides, you don’t want your garden under a canopy as it needs sun.

You must give the tree enough room to spread out its roots without it invading your garden. Professional gardeners recommend giving giant trees 30 to 50 feet (9-15 m) of space, while small and medium trees get 10 to 20 feet (3-6 m).

How Moss Affects Your Garden

The moss shouldn’t hurt the plants growing in your garden. However, moss can indicate that something’s wrong with your soil, which could cause damage to anything you’ve planted there. The above reasons can make it harder for your plants to grow. They may even wilt if the soil conditions are bad enough.

Adjusting the soil will remove the moss and make it easier for your plants to thrive. Many gardeners recommend adding limestone to the earth to change its pH and make it harder for the moss to grow there. 

You don’t always have to remove moss from your garden. You should only get rid of it if it seems like your plants are suffering or you can’t take care of them properly because the moss is in the way. 

Remember: You’ll need to be careful to use a treatment that will remove the moss without killing your plants.

Moss isn’t harmful to gardens. So, it’s usually not the moss that kills plants but the soil’s conditions. If the pH is way off, the ground has lousy drainage, or the garden doesn’t get any sun, your garden is sure to start wilting. However, those conditions can also cause moss to grow there quickly.

If the moss doesn’t hurt your garden, you can always leave it alone. Some gardeners like how the moss looks with their other plants. You can also mix the moss into the soil using a rake or shovel to help add more nutrients to the earth. The moss will probably return, but it makes for a good mulch.

In short, you only need to remove moss from your garden if you want to. Moss is an indication that something’s wrong with the soil in your garden, but it’s not what’s killing your plants.

How to Eliminate Moss

You can get rid of moss by improving soil drainage and letting it dry out. Moss won’t grow in dry soil, so you’ll want to go without watering it for a little while. Then, you can remove the moss with a rake.

Adding more light to the garden and raising the soil pH can also help significantly. In general, you need to make your soil less habitable for moss. If you can do that, it will go away naturally and won’t return.

Even if you remove the moss, it can always come back. You’ll need to change your garden’s conditions to make them less appealing to moss. Plus, you’ll need to be consistent in keeping up with the changes that you made. If a small piece of the moss’s root gets left behind, it could quickly spread again unless the soil changes.

It can take a while to get rid of the moss that’s growing in your soil. However, if your garden becomes overrun, it’ll be worth it. You’ll need to be as consistent as possible with your gardening routines if you want to adjust the soil.  

What It Means if Moss Keeps Returning to Your Soil

If you went through the trouble of changing your soil’s conditions only for the moss to return, you might not have made the correct adjustments. Moss is highly adaptable, making it hard to determine which of the seven reasons caused it to grow in your garden in the first place. It can also be due to multiple reasons.

You’ll want to keep track of what changes you make to your garden and note what it does to the moss. You can move on to another if it doesn’t react to one method.

If the moss keeps returning to your garden, it is still an excellent environment for the moss to thrive. While you might’ve already changed the soil’s conditions, you must make more to eliminate the moss. 

However, you might not need to deal with the moss since it’s not harmful to most gardens. Your focus should instead be on creating an environment where your plants can thrive.

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