Terrarium Moss: The Secret to a Vibrant Terrarium

When I’m building a terrarium, I like to consider the lush world of Avatar’s Pandora. 

A vibrant, living landscape. 

To get this effect in a terrarium, we’re going to need more than a handful of plants. We need the variety of textures and densities in the flora too – and that’s where terrarium moss comes in.

It may not seem like the most glamorous terrarium plant, but it’s the one that makes a terrarium shine. 

Plus, moss has lots of great benefits beyond how it looks. Absorbing toxins and retaining humidity to name just a few!

This guide is all about the best mosses for terrariums, how to care for moss, and how to best use moss for maximum visual effect.

Let’s get stuck in.

Terrarium Moss

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What is a Moss (and Why Use it in a Terrarium)?

They might not look it, but moss is still a type of plant. 

They’re a non-vascular type known as a bryophyte. This means they don’t have vessels for transporting water like other plants, and basically why they appear as a simple grassy mound.

The fact that they have no roots or water vessels means they tend to like high humidity and a consistent water supply – which makes them great for closed terrariums.

Java moss pot
Java moss can be grown in pots

They not only like high humidity, but they really help to stabilise humidity too. So your other tropical plants will love them.

No roots, no problem. 

This helps in two ways:

  1. They won’t compete with your other plants
  2. You can place them anywhere in your terrarium!

Just like in nature, moss grows anywhere and everywhere. Moss loves to grow on hard surfaces like rocks, logs and trees. 

Which means they’re perfect for filling out your terrarium. You can easily attach a variety of mosses to rock and wood hardscape items for a truly natural effect.

If you’re wanting to go all out with moss, you can do an entire build with them! That’s called a mossarium.

What Is the Best Moss for Terrariums?

There are literally thousands of different kinds of moss. Exciting I know.. 

They’re all suited to slightly different environments. Most like it hotter and wetter, but some are also hardier than others. 

Moss is often characterised into two types depending on their growth pattern: Acrocarpous or Pleurocarpous. 

Acrocarpous grows in clumps whereas Pleurocarpous grows in sheets. Good to know which is which when you’re filling out your terrarium.

Clumpy moss has lots of shape and texture, and so it’s particularly good at creating a dynamic landscape.

Cushion moss
Cushion moss is such a delight to work with.

Sheet moss on the other hand, is best for simply covering an area with a natural moss carpet. Though it does come in a variety of textures and growth patterns.

Fern moss
My HUGE fern moss haul. Though bear in mind it’s piled up high here.

It’s important to note that there is no single “best moss for terrariums” (though I do have my favourites). 

The best moss is going to depend entirely on the particulars of your terrarium, but that doesn’t mean you have to whittle down the 12,000 strong list to find some good candidates.

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

Carpeting Mosses (Pleurocarpous)

  • Sheet Moss (Hypnum curvifolium) as the name implies, likes to grow wide and cover areas like a sheet. It’s probably the most popular and readily available carpeting moss used in terrariums – See on Etsy
  • Fern Moss (Thuidium delicatulum) brings lots of texture to a terrarium with it’s long fern-like leaves – 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 plants and mosses on top of, it’s a versatile moss to say the least – See on Etsy
  • Java Moss (Taxiphyllum barbieri) is a tropical moss that’s equally happy on land and water. However it really shines when planted epihytically on rocks and wood! – See on Etsy

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 the 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.

How to Grow Moss in Terrariums

Moss is fantastic for adding texture and colour to a terrarium.

Carpeting mosses are best for covering the soil layer and giving that important natural woodland look. 

Start by positioning a few sheets around the base of the terrarium, gently placing them on top of the soil. It can be helpful to press them into the substrate just a little to ensure the rhizoids (root-like connecting strands) can reach.

The rounder ‘clumpy’ mosses are great for softening up areas where I can’t fit a plant in, like around rocks or logs that I’ve added. 

After adding moss to a terrarium, the first 3 weeks are a critical acclimatisation period. During this time its important to make sure any moss is kept hydrated throughout to give it the best chance to successfully adapt.

Though, there’s no need to stick to ground level. Moss is not afraid of heights, and can often be found growing on cliffs and trees.

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 with fishing line to attach moss to your terrarium elements. I usually use Java Moss in terrariums where i’ll be 3D planting.

Java moss coconut
I’ve even bought Java Moss happliy growing on a coconut

Personally, I love the look of exotic rocks and large terrarium wood statement pieces adorned with different levels of moss.

Moss Terrariums

A moss terrarium is super fun to make and easy to care for.

Thanks to the fact they don’t have roots, their simple structure allows for a lot of flexibility. They’ll only need a small amount of substrate so you can explore shallow containers, or you can make use of tree fern fiber panels to create living walls!

Here’s our Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Moss Terrarium.

Where to Find Moss for Terrariums

So you’ve decided which types of moss you want for your terrarium, now you need to get some. Where do you start?

Buy Live Terrarium Moss Online

  1. Etsy has a wide variety of mosses available. There’s lots of cushion moss and mood moss to be found, and the terrarium moss assortment packs in particular can be a great place to start (like this one).
  2. Vivarium and aquarium shops.
  3. Plant nurseries.

Collecting Moss for Terrariums

Harvesting wild moss seems like a fun way to get chemical-free, healthy moss.

But, just remember, if you live in a temperate area, you’re going to find temperate moss i.e. moss that prefers lower temperatures.

So, if you’re making a tropical terrarium, your cold ass hand-picked Siberian moss might not like it.

For the best chance of success, try to match the climate from your source with that of the terrarium you’re looking to build. Though, honestly, feel free to experiment. Moss is surprisingly hardy stuff, and many mosses can acclimate to different terrarium conditions.

Growing Moss for Terrariums

I end up using quite a lot of moss, so it’s much more economical for me to propagate it myself.

Whenever I buy a new type of moss, I’ll get a little bit more than I need and pop the excess in a container to grow.

I like to make rudimentary terrariums out of plastic tubs. They don’t need to be deep (no roots remember) so shallow and flat are best. The more surface area for moss, the better.

Fern moss
Propagation tubs full of fern moss

My first tub always has a thick carpet of moss, and that’s where I’ll be taking most of my moss. The other I section out evenly to encourage it to grow into a proper carpet.

Moss Care Tips

How easy is moss to take care of?

Most terrarium moss is easy to take care of. It’s generally pretty hardy stuff that generally requires very little input.  If you’ve got a closed terrarium with high humidity and plenty of moisture, it’s probably going to only need a light watering once a month or so.

How do you water moss?

Watering moss should be done as evenly as possible. Remember, most moss loves moisture, but doesn’t like to be sat in pools of water (except for aquatic mosses like Java Moss). It’s also sensitive to chemicals like chlorine – so be sure to use distilled water or rainwater.

What type of sunlight does moss like?

If you consider where you’d typically find moss in the wild, growing on rocks and trees (on the North side if childhood wilderness tips are to be believed) it’s usually in the shade. Meaning moss typically prefers indirect, diffused natural light – which is perfect, because tropical terrariums plants are exactly the same, so moss is going to thrive in just about every terrarium setup.

How quickly does moss grow?

Moss isn’t known for its speedy proliferation. Some definitely grow faster than others, but you don’t have to worry about them taking over your terrarium if you leave it unchecked for a couple of weeks. From the day you make your terrarium/add your moss, you can expect it to take a few weeks to settle and start to grow.

Does moss need pruning?

Moss can often look sleek and uniform, but just like any other plant, it can grow unevenly.  Martha Stewart recommends pruning when moss starts looking “a little shabby,” trimming them down to promote a fuller regrowth.  Though if you’ve got entire sections of moss getting overgrown, feel free to remove them and replace with fresh material.

What does moss need to survive?

Light and water, that’s about it. Moss doesn’t absorb nutrients from roots, but rather through its leaves. So as long as moss is exposed to moisture and/or the air, it’ll have everything it needs.

Over to You

Do you use moss in your terrariums too? If you use any types not listed in this article, I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

40 thoughts on “Terrarium Moss: The Secret to a Vibrant Terrarium”

    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).

  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.

  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!

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