Moss is a much loved, staple ingredient used in closed terrariums. Its bouncy, verdant nature effortlessly gives texture and depth to any design.
Whether it’s to create an effect of rolling hills, dense jungle, or a wild grassland – there’s a different kind of moss to suit each occasion.
The mossarium puts moss at the heart of a design, and with a little ingenuity and proper care something truly captivating is created.
Today, I’ll teach you how to make your own magnificent mossarium.
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Why a Moss Terrarium? (Hint: Moss is Awesome)
Moss doesn’t get nearly the same amount of attention as your standard terrarium plants. Sure, moss is generally easy to care for, and low maintenance, but shouldn’t that be rewarded with a little extra love?
It’s one of the earth’s earliest terrestrial lifeforms and it’s super versatile. Certain species even survive happily in Antarctica!
Which should bode well for the health of our mossariums.
Moss plays many positive roles in our environment, and those qualities often translate to terrariums too.
Like most plants we know, they absorb and convert carbon dioxide into food via photosynthesis, but they can also absorb huge amounts of rainfall and facilitate a humid environment in which so much flora thrives. Moreover, moss is a popular residence for many insects.
Although many mosses enjoy similar environments, there are over 12,000 species and as such more variation than we generally care to acknowledge within the terrarium business.
Let’s dive into some of the most used mosses within a mossarium set-up.
What Moss to Use (5 Types of Terrarium Moss)
So, I’ve decided that the most comprehensive thing to do would be to list all 12,000 species of moss and write about them in extensive detail.
But Dan and Rae have fairly reasoned a 10,000-page article on moss might be a step too far. I just love moss, what can I say? But they’re quite right.
Instead, let’s look at the top 5 mosses you could use inside your mossarium. These are the more common types that should be easy to source.
Cushion Moss (Leucobryum glaucum)
The term ‘cushion moss’ is by far one of the most widely searched for on the internet. Well, at least insofar as searches for moss are concerned.
Though many types of moss are often conflated within this term it generally refers to the species Leucobryum glaucum – which is most commonly found across North American and Europe.
Its green, silver tinted leaves are distinctly formed to create a puffy, pillow shape.
This shape makes it an infinitely popular choice for use in terrariums to create the effect of hillsides and shrubberies.
Haircap Moss (Polytrichum commune)
Haircap moss is a wonderful addition to a mossarium setup. The bright green tufts can grow to heights over 40cm!
Found readily across the western hemisphere, Polytrichum commune prefers acidic soil and high humidity.
I’ve not had the chance to use haircap moss in many of my mossarium setups, but its star-shaped leaves can create an effect of a thick pine forest if you scale your design appropriately.
Tamarisk Moss (Thuidium tamariscinum)
This moss I see in the wild more than any other.
Found in Europe, Japan, and North America – Tamarisk moss enjoys a more neutral PH environment. It typically grows up tree trunks, on rock surfaces and along the forest floor.
It’s a great choice of moss to create a miniature fern-forest aesthetic.
There are a few very similar mosses in the Thuidium classification, and they’re easily mistaken for one another.
That being said, they all enjoy similar environments, and this isn’t a botany master’s – so let’s move on.
Mood Moss (Dicranum scoparium)
One of my personal favourites, mood moss is another acrocarpous moss (clumpy) and one of the more sought-after variants out there in the aether.
Dicranum scoparium, also known as rock cap moss, produces thick, wavy green tufts of up to 10cm in height.
I enjoy this moss not only for its vibrancy but for the fact its curved bushiness can carpet a wide area without having to use too much.
It’s native to North America, though can be found across Europe.
Hypnum Moss (Hypnum cupressiforme)
Hypnum moss is incredibly common. Found in every continent except Antarctica, it grows within a wide variety of conditions.
Be it on trees, deadwood, rock faces or the soil – it’s hard to miss. Though it does tend to prefer acidic soils – as most mosses do.
This moss is widely available on the internet and is often referred to as ‘sheet moss’ or ‘forest moss’.
I don’t think it shines in a mossarium compared to some of the other options above, but if you can get your hands on something high quality it can create an organic feel to your design.
Key Moss Terrarium Supplies – What You’ll Need
So, we’ve looked at the kinds of terrarium mosses you can expect to find and use for your mossarium. It’s of course not an extensive list, and by all means, there are plenty more out there that would suit.
When looking at our mossarium equipment list, it will be quite like a terrarium build. They love humidity, and they don’t want too much light.
Though, more specifically, most mosses prefer acidic and dense, clay-based soil.
Unlike most terrarium plants they are unfazed by ‘proper drainage’ and unperturbed by a lack of aeration.
Moss however does tend to be quite versatile and so can comfortably survive and even thrive upon most types of soil.
Your choice of container is going to set the tone for your whole design.
The first, and only rule, is that the glass container either needs to have a lid or have a very narrow entry – so that humidity is easily retained.
Remember, moss quickly dries out in an open environment.
You may want to consider making sure your glassware is clear rather than mottled or embossed – but purely so that you can fully enjoy your creation from the outside.
Any size glassware is fine, but from a design perspective, I would recommend giving yourself as much room to work in as possible.
As mentioned, mosses generally prefer compacted, clay-based soils.
As they enjoy remaining quite moist, aeration and drainage aren’t quite as imperative.
I’ve always used moss inside my terrariums. Honestly, my terrariums have had a variety of substrates and the moss rarely suffers as a result.
Research the type of moss you’re using, but don’t be afraid to experiment.
You may need to tinker a little bit before you find the right or acceptable substrate combination for your moss.
What I would recommend is to include some activated charcoal within your substrate to bind any harmful chemicals that may pass through the water.
Now, hardscape is optional.
Dragon stone, maple leaf stone or knife stone are often my go-to, but lava rock provides a unique advantage.
The incredibly porous nature of lava rock (or lava stone) can over time allow mosses to grow properly all over the stone itself.
Java moss, Lava moss and Fire moss are used especially well in tandem with lava rock.
The star of the show!
If you haven’t already, scroll up to see some of my top picks for the sorts of moss you could easily find and use.
You could decide to use a variety or create a single flat of one type. Either way, you can build a beautiful mossarium.
If you’re purchasing moss online, be aware that some may arrive dried – in which case you’ll need to rehydrate your specimen in water for around 30 minutes.
Also, it’s advisable to avoid preserved moss for your mossarium project.
Unless you’re abstaining from using any organic material, preserved moss will likely lose its colour and lustre over time in a humid environment.
Custodial critters such as springtails can be a wonderful way to turn your mossarium bioactive.
These beneficial terrarium insects are detritivores that consume decaying organic matter or mycelial growth and convert it back into nutrients within your substrate.
You can see them as a clean-up crew that do a lot of your maintenance work for you.
Springtails in particular love to make moss their home!
You can purchase a starter colony online here on Etsy.
Having the right kind of water is essential for healthy moss growth.
Now, this isn’t all tap waters, but many will contain high levels of chemicals such as chlorine.
Such chemicals can be detrimental to the development of your fluffy friends and turn them brown.
To avoid disaster, it’s recommended to use filtered or purified water.
I’ve found tap water to suit a variety of mosses I’ve used but some certainly are a tad more on the sensitive side.
I’m not saying you need anything fancy, but for any mossarium or terrarium set-up, it’s wise to have some terrarium tools on hand.
It does depend on the size and shape of your container.
If, for example, you have a particularly large or narrow-necked vessel you may need a long pair of tweezers to properly place your pieces.
A paintbrush may also help you clean down the interior sides of your glassware if things start to get a little messy.
Finally, a good paintbrush also allows you to scape your substrate layer to create contours within your landscape.
Moss Terrarium Layers & Build (Step-by-Step)
1. Clean Glassware and Prepare Area
I’d recommend before any mossarium or terrarium project to clean your glassware.
This is especially true if your container would have stored anything organic or chemical prior to use.
Remember, many mosses are quite sensitive. You want to start with a blank slate.
Simply wash the container in hot soapy water, rinse, and leave to dry.
If you have a particularly sturdy container you could consider sterilising it in the oven, at around 200°C for 30 minutes.
Now, funnel in your substrate layer.
You don’t need a ton of substrate to provide for your moss – simply enough to attach to.
This could be an inch or so, or even more, if that’s the aesthetic you’re shooting for.
Once you’ve poured your substrate in, shape it into the areas you desire for your design. This may mean pushing more to the back so you can create a background/foreground effect.
After you’re happy with your design, gently mist the substrate to adequately dampen it.
It’s important to do this before you pour the substrate in – otherwise, it’ll get stuck to the glass and make more clean-up work afterwards.
If you’ve opted for a hardscape design now is the time to place your biggest elements.
From a design perspective, I like to place the largest elements at the back of the terrarium environment with smaller pieces cascading into the foreground. This will allow maximum visibility within your design.
Alternatively, you could have one large monolithic piece in the centre of your vessel so that your mossarium has a more 3D appeal.
You could, instead, opt for either no hardscape or only add in smaller elements afterwards (e.g. a few pebbles or shells).
It’s up to you.
What I would suggest is to play around with ideas beforehand. Try and visualise what you’d like to achieve and don’t rush!
Google images can be particularly handy if you need a little inspiration.
4. Arrange your Moss
Now for the fun part!
Before you do use your moss, make sure it’s been hydrated and/or cleaned.
To hydrate your moss, if dried, simply place it in a bowl of water and soak for 20-30 minutes until thoroughly moist. Gently squeeze out excess water before use.
To clean your moss, if foraged or bought fresh, again soak the moss in water and swish around gently for 10 minutes to draw out any unwanted bugs that may be residing within.
Once ready, take your tweezers (if needed) and carefully place your moss throughout the vessel.
Again, I would strive to place the larger elements in the background or closer to the central structure and have smaller pieces cascading forwards.
This is by no means an absolute rule and you can certainly achieve an exciting, organic aesthetic by creating denser areas in the foreground.
But the point remains to promote visibility if you would like to enjoy your terrarium to the fullest!
When placing your moss, gently push it into the soil. Moss doesn’t have roots, so you needn’t worry so much about the depth of placement.
A final point to make is regarding some of the rhizoids that may be present on your live moss. With cushion moss, for example, there’s often a layer of yellow/grey rhizoid underneath the vivid green tufts.
You can trim some of these away before placement.
But, if placing these pieces near the outside of your mossarium, I’d recommend trying to ‘tuck’ the rhizoids inwards so that you’re not left with a yellowish-grey layer permeating around the circumference of your wonderful design.
5. Finishing Touches
Now the fundamental design of your mossarium is complete you can choose whether there are any other elements you’d like to include.
I have the habit of over-adding finer details, but a few good highlights rarely go amiss.
This may be a few branches of spiderwood twisting throughout the rockface, or some bright pebbles or seashells at the shoreline of a sandy beach.
Just take your time and remember finishing touches can always come later.
Once all other elements are added (or if you’ve decided to postpone your finishing touches) you can now add in your springtails or another microfauna to turn your mossarium bioactive.
It’s likely if you’ve purchased springtails, that the little guys will have arrived in a container with some substrate included.
A good extraction method is to pour a little water inside their container, gently swish it around to gather springtails into a pool, and then pour them into your mossarium design.
Few springtails are needed to start a colony, though you will need to supply them with a little bit of organic matter to get started.
Considering adding in some yeast extract granules or (microwaved) leaf litter to give them a little boost.
If their numbers ever seem to dwindle, you can consider feeding them from time to time.
Now, although moss is certainly partial to a fair quantity of H20 you must still be conscious of overwatering.
You will at this point have already misted your substrate. Moss enjoys a moist substrate to rest upon and prefers a humid environment.
Once your mossarium is complete, spray a little more water onto the surface to kick-start the humid atmosphere.
Live Moss Terrarium Care
A sealed container should be able to maintain a humid environment and water cycle.
However, if your moss at any point begins to dry out you can mist your vessel with a spray bottle from time to time to retain humidity and increase the moisture level.
Some mosses are more drought resilient than others, but remember that none are particularly fond of totally arid environments.
Remember to use filtered or purified water whenever possible. Excessive chemicals such as chlorine (commonly found in tap water) can turn moss brown.
Much like other tropical plants, moss generally grows in shaded areas with indirect light.
They still require light for photosynthesis so that they may produce food, but too much light will invariably dry out and kill your moss.
One of the core reasons for browning or yellowing moss is too much light.
Keep your mossarium in a relatively shaded area that doesn’t get blasted with direct sunlight regularly.
Bright indirect sunlight is ideal here.
Much like with light, you must be careful to not over-heat your mossarium.
Keep your vessel away from artificial sources of heat like radiators and electrical appliances, and do not let it ‘cook’ in the sun.
Remember, the glass will act like a greenhouse. Though this is good for humidifying purposes, this can be dangerous when it comes to light and heat.
If your moss completely takes off and grows exponentially, hooray!
You may wish to simply let it do its thing and follow its own growth pattern, as I do, or you might want to keep it in check to maintain that special design of yours.
A long, thin pair of scissors will allow you to trim off any unwanted excess.
And the best part is that you can repurpose these cuttings in another design.
Infinite moss, anyone?
Now it’s Your Turn
Whew, so there we go. That was a big ‘un. But I think I’ve covered everything.
What do you think? Have I missed anything? Or is there a particular type of moss you love to use that isn’t mentioned?
Let me know down below – I always love to hear your thoughts.