Terrarium Moss 101: The Key to a Lush, Vibrant Display.

Moss is one of the foundational pillars of a vibrant terrarium.

Seriously, if you want to build a beautiful living landscape (like the lush world of Avatar’s Pandora), then you need to be using moss in your project.

This versatile plant is the organic mortar that holds a scene together and the verdant flair that makes it pop! 

But not all mosses are suitable for terrariums, and knowing how/where to use them is crucial.

So, in this guide, I’ll take you through the best types of terrarium moss (based on extensive testing) and show you how to use them for maximum visual effect. 

Ready to find out how to grow moss like a boss?

Let’s go!

Terrarium moss

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Key Types of Terrarium Moss

There are literally thousands of moss species in the world.

From the beautifully soft Feather Mosses to the weird spiky Star Mosses, there’s something for every taste and project. Each brings a different visual flavor and can be used to perform a different role in a naturalistic terrarium setup.

So what kind of moss do you use in a terrarium?

Well, any kind that can thrive in the warm and humid conditions of a terrarium is a candidate…. and that’s potentially a lot.

That’s why I have a few handy ways to narrow down the list.

  1. Growth patterns (e.g., clumps or sheets).
  2. Environmental suitability (e.g., tropical or temperate).
  3. Planting type (e.g., terrestrial or epiphytic).

Next, I’ll take you through these types of terrarium moss so you know what to look out for and how to use them. 

Growth Patterns

Moss is often characterized by two types of growth patterns: Acrocarpous and Pleurocarpous.

(Don’t worry, the names aren’t so important once you know how to tell them apart).

Acrocarpous grows in clumps. These little grassy mounds add lots of shape and texture, so they’re particularly good at creating a dynamic landscape (think rolling hills or grassy hummocks).

adding moss to tropical terrarium
We’re using it here to create a lovely mossy slope.

This can make a huge difference, as a flat-looking terrarium can easily look unnatural.

Clumpy mosses also hold together well – and tend to remain quite compact – so you can quite literally sculpt a landscape by tearing off appropriately sized chunks and putting them together like a jigsaw. 

cushion moss in tropical terrarium
You can simply add moss to a terrarium by the clump like this.

Alternatively, Pleurocarpous moss grows in sheets. Otherwise known simply as Sheet Moss, these are best for covering an area with a natural moss carpet.

They’re great for covering the soil layer and giving that important natural woodland look.

Some mosses can even look like larger plants or tiny trees (e.g., Fern Moss) and can be used to add a sense of scale.

Environmental Suitability

Like any other plant, different types of moss will be suited to different environments.

For tropical closed terrariums, we’re typically looking for those that like it warmer and wetter – but moss is ever the adaptable plant! You’d be surprised what species might work.

Tropical mosses seem like the natural fit – and that’s often correct – but several of my favorite terrarium mosses are actually temperate species (more on where to find those later).

cushion moss and mood moss
Mood Moss and Cushion Moss are both adaptable temperate species.

All that to say that environmental suitability is definitely the most flexible category, so feel free to try moss from different climates to see if they can adapt.

But if you want a reliable option, there are a variety of tried-and-tested moss species to choose from.

Planting Type

Finally, we have how the moss likes to be planted.

Just like in nature, moss grows anywhere and everywhere.

Naturally, lots of moss likes to grow on top of soil/substrate. These are your terrestrial mosses, and they can loosely attach using some little root-like structures called rhizoids.

But moss loves to grow on hard surfaces like rocks, logs, and trees too. These are called epiphytic mosses, and they open up a world of terrarium planting opportunities.

Attach it to your hardscape branches to bring the upper areas to life! 

java moss in tropical terrarium
Here we’ve attached some lovely Java Moss to a hardscape branch – looks great!

What is the Best Moss for Terrariums?

There are a lot of good contenders here.

Your ideal moss is going to depend on the particulars of your terrarium, but that doesn’t mean you have to whittle down the 12,000-strong list to make your shortlist.

I’ve done that for you…

Clumpy Mosses (Acrocarpous)

  • Cushion Moss/Bun Moss (Leucobryum glaucum) are wonderful compact mounds of moss that I absolutely love to work with! It’s so much fun to sculpt and display, and it truly thrives in closed terrarium conditions – See on Etsy
  • Mood Moss (Dicranum scoparium) is another popular option for terrariums. It grows in dense clumps, but it has lush, wavy leaves that look like windswept grasslands – See on Etsy
Mood moss
Mood Moss is so full of character.

Carpeting Mosses (Pleurocarpous)

  • Sheet Moss (Hypnum curvifolium), as the name implies, likes to grow wide and cover areas like a sheet. It’s a relatively low-growing tropical moss and it’s probably the most popular/readily available carpeting moss used in terrariums – See on Etsy

Other Mosses

  • Sphagnum Moss doesn’t quite fit into the list above, but it’s a mainstay in modern terrariums (see why in our sphagnum moss guide). Commonly used to grow other terrarium plants and mosses on top of, it’s a versatile moss, to say the least – See on Etsy
pink live sphagnum moss fibers on a table
The pink Sphagnum Moss is a beautiful color.
  • Java Moss (Taxiphyllum barbieri) is equally happy on land and water (making it a great paludarium moss/vivarium moss). However, it really shines when planted epiphytically on rocks and wood! – See on Etsy
java moss on coconut
Here’s some Java Moss I bought that’s growing on a coconut shell!

Moss can be surprisingly hardy stuff, so feel free to experiment with different types. 

I’m certain many of the 11,994 other mosses would be great for a terrarium.

Check out our Terrarium Plants Index to browse more great mosses, or see our Essential Guide to Tropical Terrariums for the full breakdown of how to choose and use moss in a project.

Where to Find Terrarium Moss for Sale

So you’ve decided which types of moss you want for your terrarium. Now you need to get some.

I’ve tried a variety of sources over the years with very different results. There’s nothing worse than a bag of brown sludge arriving in the post…

Here’s where to buy moss for terrariums.

  1. Etsy has a wide variety of live moss for sale (this is my go-to option).
  2. Amazon stocks some varieties from well-known brands. Though the frog moss, sphagnum moss, and reptile moss tend to come preserved or dried, so it’s best to check.
  3. Aquarium stores (e.g., Buceplant) stock a variety of semi-aquatic species that can be used in terrariums too.

👉 See our Live Moss Buying Guide for more help.

How to Make a Moss Terrarium

Moss is the most versatile terrarium plant, and there are endless ways to use it. 

These rootless wonders can be used as a natural landscape/gap filler in a wider tropical terrarium scene, or you can go all-in on moss and create a pure moss terrarium (otherwise known as a mossarium).

Moss terrarium with spiderwood
This little beauty made by Joe is a great example of the simple elegance of a moss terrarium.

You only need a small amount of substrate, so it’s easy to explore shallow containers (or you can make use of panels to create a moss wall!).

Either way, there are a few key principles to apply to any new project ideas.

  • Cleaning moss before use is important. I just give it a soak in some clean water; it’ll remove any debris and hydrate the moss nicely. Win-win.
  • Clumpy mosses tend to stay compact, so you’ll need to sculpt your own landscape. Whereas sheet mosses can be torn up and placed evenly around a terrarium (they’ll grow out in every direction and eventually join up!).
  • If you want to get extra creative with moss positioning, you can use superglue (don’t worry, it’s genuinely safe for plants) or tie it with fishing line to attach moss to your terrarium elements. 
  • After adding moss to a terrarium, the first 3 to 4 weeks are a critical acclimatization period. During this time, it’s important to make sure any moss is kept hydrated throughout to give it the best chance to adapt successfully.

👉 Here’s our step-by-step guide to How to Make a Moss Terrarium.

Over to You

What’s your terrarium moss of choice?

If you use any types not listed in this article, I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

About The Author

49 thoughts on “Terrarium Moss 101: The Key to a Lush, Vibrant Display.”

    1. All sorts! Generally, moss likes a high moisture and humidity, so any terrarium plants that match those requirements will work well together.

  1. I have bought some moss, and I have popped it into an air tight Tupperware container till I’m ready to use it. Should I put a gravel layer under it? Or some soil? Or is it ok just in the Tupperware alone?

    1. Some mosses can do fine on their own (usually the aquatic mosses like Java Moss) but for most terrestrial mosses, they’ll do better with some soil underneath them. That way they’ve got something to attach to and draw moisture from.

  2. Hello! congratulations for the site. very useful .. i have a question about moss. to grow it must remain in a closed container? thank you!

    1. Hi Valeria, I’m so happy you’re finding the site useful. As to your question, generally yes because moss really needs constant moisture to thrive – and that’s so much easier to achieve in a closed container.

      1. My husband has started a mossarium (thank you for the word – I didn’t know there was one!) for me a week ago. We now see a few small, white fluffy spots that appear to be mold? Can we fight that, or must we start over?

        Thank you so much for your site!
        Cynthia

        1. Don’t worry, a little mold bloom is totally normal as new terrariums settle in. I like to spray my terrariums down with a chamomile tea infusion (it contains natural antifungal agents) or you can vent your terrarium a little too (but not too much or you’ll risk drying out the moss).

        2. Springtails will eat mold, they can be super helpful with upkeep. Gave a friend some springtails for her terrarium recently and the mold disappeared within the week.

  3. Hi Dan,
    Great info here. Thank you for that!

    I recently purchased a fishbowl style terrarium with some moss and small plants in it.
    I was told to water the roots with a direct spray about once a week and mist daily.

    Would you recommend misting the moss multiple times a day (2-3) since it’s and open top?

    I just started it and would love to keep it alive!

    Thanks again and all the best,
    Greg

    1. Thanks Greg! It’s hard to say exactly how often you’ll have to mist it; as the temperature, humidity and amount of light in the room all have an impact on how quickly it’ll dry out. That being said, fishbowls can still retain a certain level of humidity depending on the size of the opening, so I doubt you’ll have to mist multiple times per day.

  4. Hi, how many times would you suggest to water a cushion moss in a closed terrarium? I’ve been trying to find an answer, all I find is 7-12 days, but then with its water cycle, should I water once a month or twice a month?

  5. Heyy!! Nice Blog!!

    I want to know on what kinds of base materials can I stick moss? Example a wooden panel, a plastic carpet or mat, a foam sheet etc.? I plan to do some DIY projects and am a bit confused on whether the moss that i stick on any of these shall survive? What special care do i have to keep in mind?

    1. Thank you so much 😊 I find coarser surfaces to be best, as the moss rhizoids might struggle to attach to super smooth surfaces like plastic.

      Id recommend wood, cork, porous rock and webbing. It’s can be helpful to add some sphagnum between the surface and the moss to supply consistent moisture, and you can initially bind it all with thread till the moss attaches.

      Hope that helps!

  6. Great tips on here! I have a large tank that is being used as an orchid vivarium. My goal is to have some moss on the ground level but I do not want to use a “soil” type substrate and prefer to use gravel. Will this work for growing moss or should I use a little soil substrate where the moss will be placed? I have been successful growing moss on the wood that is contained in the vivarium.

    Thank you.

    1. Thanks Brian! It often depends on the moss. Some species can grow fine on hard surfaces like rock, but many will benefit from a medium that can hold a little bit of moisture.

  7. Could anyone suggest what I can do with multiple types of clean moss I preserved lots of it and it’s all very green. A moss buyer will buy it but I don’t think the price is worth my work I put into it. I’m addicted to picking moss. And as a hobby. I don’t tear down the scenery for people or Rob the forest but I pick enough moss I could stand to add a dedication to moss or even helping reforest. I have lots of time to use for a purpose I would stay interested in. Anyone think of any ideas. I studied mushrooms and plants here in the pnw for my own thing to do. I like the environment and learning about what’s around me.

    1. Hey Audrey, there’s all sorts you can do with moss alone (especially if you have a large supply of it). Have you considered making a preserved moss wall? Or maybe you can add to glass tables, or just make lots of mossariums 😊

  8. I picked fluffy cushion moss from my own yard with nice layer of soil stuck underneath. Should I wash off all that soil before adding into my new Terrarium?
    Your blog is very informative. I hope to receive your fast reply. Thank you so much.

    sx

  9. Hi Dan,
    It’s a really good read~ Learn a lot! I live in a tropical climate country, recently thinking of building up one of my own terrarium. However I want it in my room, I’ll probably have to get a grow light. As most of the time my room is with with air condition (23-24 degree celcius) I’m not sure if mosses are ok…

    1. Glad to help Gary. Moss should do absolutely fine at that temperature (I’m very jealous that you consider that cold). If you make a closed terrarium that’ll help a lot too from a moisture and humidity point of view.

      1. Ahhh I see. I think maybe it should called cool instead of cold. Hee 😬. I intend to make a cover for the jar that I just got, with an opening but covered with mesh cuz I’m not sure if there will be bugs… :/ I got drift wood as well, so if I have moss on the bed, will the moss start growing up to the drift wood?

        1. It should do as long as it has plenty of moisture and humidity! You can help it by adding some saturated sphagnum moss into the wood’s nooks and crevices to supply extra moisture.

  10. Wow such useful information. I do have some questions tho. I am planning in getting a chameleon and am currently in the process of decorating the enclosure. Since my chameleon needs good airflow the two sidewalls and front door will be mesh and the back will be glass where im designing a background from wood and dirt. Where i live has super high humidity levels up to 90% and temperatures can drop to the low 60 F. I would like to cover the logs and whole back wall in moss but im not sure which will do best in my circumstances. Thanks for all the help!

    1. The high natural humidity should help a lot! and I wouldn’t worry too much about temperature drops to 60 F, most moss should handle that range. High airflow (and fans if you have them) might contribute a little to the moss drying out, so I’d just take some extra care to mist it a bit more often.

  11. Hi. I’m looking to ‘rescue’ moss covered windfall branches that litter the paths of my local woodland. I love how they look. Is this a viable goal? And can lichen also be contained within the same terrarium? These branches are usually coated in lichen too. West Scotland do a wet temperate zone. Thanks, Eddie

    1. I think lichen should be able to adapt, though I’ve not tried it personally yet 😀 I think the main issue you might run into is mould if you’re using damp natural wood. It’s hard to know what kind of microorganisms you’re bringing in and the branches themselves might be decomposing.

      1. I have tried putting lichen in my closed terrarium and it always molds. Lichen is half fungus and half bacteria, so it’s not a plant and doesn’t work quite the same way as moss does.

  12. Samantha Callachan

    Hi Dan,
    I think I’ve killed my terrarium. I think initially by not watering enough. The moss has turned brown and the creeper has lost most of it’s leaves. Is there a way to revive it?

    1. Hi Samantha, i’d just give them as much moisture and humidity as possible (without waterlogging them) and hope for the best. Browned moss can be hard to recover as a whole, but it might have live bits that could pull through and you can later remove the dead bits.

  13. Hi Dan,

    So I just preordered this mossarium and silly me, the mossarium is like a wide, a bit high glass with no cover.

    Can you recommend with what should I cover it?

    1. I bought plexiglass sheets at a local store and cut them to size with one of those razor blade knives…you have to use a straight edge and score the plexi deeply 8-10 times, then snap the plexi against the edge of a table or something. I have read you can also use a dremel type cutter to cut in curves. Good luck!

  14. Awesome site! Thank you so much for all the information.
    I’m feeling a bit intimidated by all the knowledge that seems to be required for making a terrarium; however, I will soldier on.
    I bought what looks like dried spagnum moss in a package yesterday and then just read that that is not appropriate for terrariums. I will instead harvest some from outside. I live in the Pacific northwest where we are lucky to have wonderful forests full of moss growing on trees, on the ground and on rocks. (Even so, I know we need to be very careful how much we harvest.) If I were to find a couple rocks with moss, could I use those, and would I need to clean them first ?
    Thanks so much, Dan!
    Jacqueline

    1. Hi Jacqueline, sphagnum moss is actually great for terrariums (just not so much for the environment). Personally, I don’t harvest my own moss as there’s always a risk of bringing in unwanted pests. I’d give it a thorough clean and quarantine first if you do.

  15. I’ve seen some terrarium builders soak their moss before planting it in the terrarium. Is this the correct thing to do for all mosses? I can understand the practice for Java moss, but maybe not others?

  16. Well…….. never thought I’d get so interested or excited over moss – thanks Dan this site is fascinating. Just completed my first closed terrarium today – harder than it looks !

    Keep up the fascinating blog.

    Regards
    Mike
    UK.

  17. Hi Dan. I’ve been reviewing all your information on moss. It’s been helpful as I’ve tried many times to grow moss unsuccessfully. This time I’ve collected some moss growing on wooden beams in my yard. It’s currently in a large jar with a medium sized opening. Why does the moss grow stringy. Sometimes these springy parts climb the glass sides. Can I prevent this somehow?

    1. Hi Tina, it’s probably a lack of lighting. Plants (including moss) tend to get stringy as they reach toward a light source.

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