If there's shade, there will be moss — and how to keep unplanted saplings alive

For The Baltimore Sun

I live in a wooded area and have tons of moss. I put down lime twice last year, which made it unhappy, but then I overseeded in the fall and now have more moss than ever. A store advised us to put down a moss killer product. We follow the University of Maryland's lawn care guide and, other than fertilizer, our lawn is chemical/pesticide free, and therefore safe for us and our pets, which is important to us. What do you recommend for moss?

There are 5 main reasons for moss, and you have the big one: shade. The other four are: overly wet soil (2018!), poorly draining/compacted soil, low fertility and low pH (acidic) soil.

To grow a good lawn, you need to correct all these underlying problems. Grass is not a shade plant, so you are fighting nature when you live in a woods. Moss comes in many shapes and shades and can make a fascinating groundcover. It grows in conditions where grass can't, is totally deer resistant and requires no mowing, so consider leaving it in areas where you can. Moss can handle foot traffic, though not repeated heavy traffic.

We do not recommend moss killers. If you choose to seed grass, it’s easy to rake off the moss. In light shade, choose a fine fescue mix, first doing a soil test to identify nutrients needed. In heavy shade, search ‘lawn alternatives’ on the University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center website.

Our mail order saplings arrived early February. The package said "plant immediately." The roots have been in water ever since. Can these trees still be planted?

It's critical to keep roots moist until planting, but saplings can't always tolerate having roots completely immersed in water for long periods. That can drown them.

At this point, are the stems still flexible? If you scratch the bark, is there green underneath? If so, they’re still alive and, yes, plant as soon as you can. As long as the ground is not frozen or so wet and clumpy that it won’t crumble (called "unworkable soil"), then you can plant. You do not have to wait for any particular air temperature.

Next time, keep roots moist by wrapping them loosely in a plastic bag. Add damp sawdust, shredded newspaper or peat moss to prevent them from drying out. You can also temporarily place your trees in a trench of moist soil in a shaded location (known as “heeling in”).

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Maryland’s Gardening Experts” to send questions and photos.

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