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.
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.
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:
- They won’t compete with your other plants
- 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.
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.
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…
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.
- Java Moss (Taxiphyllum barbieri) is a tropical moss that’s very popular in aquariums because it’s happy on land or water.
- Feather Moss (Ptilium crista-castrensis) is a beautiful feather-like moss hailing from the arctic Boreal forest areas – making it a hardy moss choice.
- Fern Moss (Thuidium delicatulum) brings lots of texture to a terrarium with it’s long fern-like leaves.
Clumpy Mosses (Acrocarpous)
- Cushion Moss (Leucobryum glaucum) are super compact mounds of moss. Their leaves are small, but plentiful.
- Mood Moss (Dicranum scoparium) is a popular option for terrariums. It grows in dense clumps, but it has lush, wavy leaves that look like windswept grasslands.
- Star Moss (Tortula ruralis) is a very unique, exotic looking moss that grows in spiky star-like patterns.
Moss can be surprisingly hardy stuff, so feel free to experiment with different types. Sphagnum Moss (or Peat Moss) doesn’t quite fit into the list above, but it’s a mainstay in modern terrariums.
I’m certain one of the 11,993 other mosses would be great for a terrarium.
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. But never push hard enough to compress moss.
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.
Personally, I love the look of large wooden statement pieces adorned with different levels of moss.
Though, please don’t try the buttermilk/moss combo in a terrarium, it’s recommended for growing an even sheet of moss outside. Trying that inside a terrarium is a surefire way to start a fungal outbreak thanks to all the extra sugar you’ve just added.
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
- Terrarium/tropical plant shops e.g. Glass Box Tropicals or Black Jungle Exotics (or Araflora if you’re in the EU ).
- Vivarium-based shops (those that cater to terrariums with animals) e.g. New England Herpetoculture, The Bio Dude or Josh’s Frogs.
- Aquarium shops will typically sell at least Java moss. I buy from Aquarium Gardens in the UK.
- Etsy can be a great place to buy moss, provided you can find a reputable seller.
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.
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
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.
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 Sphagnum Moss). It’s also sensitive to chemicals like chlorine – so be sure to use distilled water or rainwater.
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.
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.
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.
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!