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Here's how to deal with moss growing in your Alaska lawn

I didn't really want to write a column about moss in lawns, but there were so many questions last week that I simply must.

I know I have written about it before. Many times, in fact. But somehow the message keeps getting lost — perhaps because it is one we don't want to believe.

First of all, you have to understand moss develops naturally in Alaska lawns. The stuff thrives in our humic-acidic soils. Add to that the occasional volcanic dusting. And, finally, toss in a healthy dose of high-nitrogen lawn fertilizer and you have the makings of a perfect storm for moss growth.

And, obviously, grow it does.

The Moss Garden of Saiho-ji Temple in Kyoto, Japan. Some of the world’s great gardens are moss gardens, and it will inevitably grow in your Alaska yard. Why not quit fighting moss and embrace it? (Getty)

If it is just a light infestation, one you catch when moss first starts to become visible, it is possible to rake and use detaching tools to remove it. It will come back, but you can greatly slow it down by taking some of the actions noted for serious infestations.

If yours is thick and cannot simply be raked up, there are a couple of choices.

For a really moss-free lawn, the best option — and some might add, the cheapest as well — is to sell your house and move out of state to a place where moss doesn't naturally grow in lawns. Really, this is the easiest method.

Removing embedded moss and preventing it from returning is next to impossible without a tremendous amount of work. It is too bad all those websites and moss-killing products don't admit this. I do.

The second option is to invest in that tremendous amount of work.

First, kill the moss. Buy a product billed to do the job. These usually contain ferrous sulfate or ferrous ammonium sulfate.

I am told it is possible to use baking soda sprayed on the lawn, but I cannot substantiate that. The commercial moss killers are guaranteed to do the job. They turn the moss black.

However, their job is to only kill the moss. You must remove it from your lawn on your own. There may be a machine that helps do this, but usually it is just back-breaking raking and hoeing. It is not a one-day job and if you really have moss, it is not for the faint of heart.

Once the moss is off the lawn, you need to adjust the pH of the soil or replace it. Most people spread around lime to accomplish the chore. The problem is that it takes an entire Alaska season to raise the pH of the soil by just a point.

If yours are very acidic — and you should have the pH tested so you know how much lime to add, you have a few years of applications before the moss won't grow back. Ugly, huh?

When the pH is finally adjusted, you will need to reseed the lawn.

I am not sure what the heck you are supposed to do in the intervening years as moss will return to grow again as the whole process continues: There will be another volcanic eruption in the next few years and there will still be a lot of peaty humus in your soils. At least you know to not use high-nitrogen fertilizers ever again.

So, in sum, let me be clear if you have not gotten my message. Our lawns are filling in with moss. I know this is not what many (and maybe even most of you) want to hear, and I hope all of you who wrote in or stopped me did so while you can still simply rake out the little moss you have.

If not, welcome to Alaska. Your lawn is now a sourdough lawn.

The real question you want to ask yourself is, why fight it?

Personally, I am overjoyed by the presence of this soft, green, beautiful matting and am waiting patiently for our entire yard to fill in with moss. Some of the most beautiful and famous gardens are moss gardens. To think: I may yet have one right out my window — and I don't have to do anything to make it happen!

 

Jeff's Alaska Garden Calendar

May 27 is Alaska Public Gardens Day: Free entry to the Alaska Botanical Garden all day.

Plant sale at the Alaska Botanical Garden: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Members can enter at 9 a.m. More information at alaskabg.org/event/plant-sale/.

Workshop on grafting watermelons: May 24 at the Alaska Botanical Garden. Limited space. More details at eventbrite.com/e/grafting-watermelons-tickets-33345636697.

Planting out: You can do so, but make sure you have hardened off your plants so they don't suffer sun- or wind-burn.

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