Strange red moss in my yard in Northern Michigan

Asked May 26, 2020, 11:24 AM EDT

Hi, It has been a wet spring in Northern Michigan so far...and my lawn up at the cottage has shown some red moss that has started to really take hold. How can I control this? Thanks Bill Jenkins (College of Ag, BS, 1980)

Iosco County Michigan

3 Responses

Hello MSU Alumni Bill Jenkins!

This could be Sphagnum capillifolium, which is native in Canada and the northern US:

It is certainly flourishing because of all the rain we have received because mosses like "above the ground" water (they have no true roots). But they also like acidic sandy soils with low nutrient levels, and shady and partly shady areas. So, your shoreline area with a bit of tree cover and typical sandy soils of Iosco County/shoreline areas are ideal for moss, even without all the extra rainfall.

Folks in your situation have a couple choices: Learn to enjoy moss, or do the extra maintenance to keep it away. In a wetland/shoreline area, I would not recommend a moss herbicide because that will easily drain into water and contaminate it. Because moss does not have roots, it is really easy to scrape it off with a flat ended shovel. Then the next step is to replant the area with something else to prevent moss from growing. Grass does not grow well in sandy soils with poor nutrient levels and some shade. This means to have successful grass, you need to change those conditions by annually adding compost to the soil and cutting tree branches to ensure adequate sunlight. I would not recommend adding lawn fertilizer to the soil for the same reasons above (you have a very high water table and are close to a shoreline, both of which can contaminate water, not to mention not stay at the roots of the grass to feed it b/c it easily drains away). Compost/humus can better hold those nutrients close to the roots of grass - go that route if you want to add nutrients to the soil. You could also convert over from grass altogether to some low-growing plants, ground cover, or just a gravel/sand patio area. It is your choice-but the major trade-off is whether you want the annual maintenance to grow grass, or to work with the current (and maybe regular) weather and environmental setting that you have. The extended forecasts for our area shows a very slow recession of lake levels (we are so saturated) and years of heavy rains in the next decade.

Hope that helps-although MSU Extension offices are currently not open, I am the local horticulture educator in Tawas City and can be reached at if you have additional questions! Have a great day.

Hi Dr. Sarah,

Go Green, it was so good to hear yesterday that President Stanley is having the students back to campus this fall!

And thank you so much for your thoughtful response. I thought a simple herbicide would be the answer but had not considered that being so close to the water it may be unwise. At the end of the day, the reason someone has a place "up north" is to get away from the work-a-day world...not to add work to one's life.

So I really like your idea of learning to enjoy Red Moss!

Thanks again,

Bill Jenkins

Glad to hear Bill! Stay healthy and go green! :)