Terrarium Moss: Our Expert Guide to Selection, Display, and Care

Terrarium Moss: Expert Guide

Moss is one of the most criminally underrated subsets of plants to have ever graced our green Earth.

They are, in fact, the first terrestrial plants to ever grace our green Earth.

And they are iconic within the terrarium scene – adding a magical, ancient lustre wherever they are.

This guide will be my homage to these wonderful bryophytes.

I will be detailing absolutely everything there is to know about terrarium mosses, including:

  • A comprehensive guide on the best mosses to use in terrariums.
  • A deep-dive into moss care.
  • A terrarium moss troubleshooting companion guide.
  • A simple, step-by-step guide on how to create a moss terrarium.

So, whether or not you’re as excited as I am about moss (not bloody likely), fasten your seatbelts – we’re going in.

Quick Guide

  1. What is Moss?
    1. All About Moss
    2. What is Terrarium Moss?
    3. Why Use Moss in a Terrarium?
  2. What Moss Can Be Used in a Terrarium?
    1. Key Types of Terrarium Moss
    2. Where to Get Terrarium Moss
  3. How to Make a Moss Terrarium
    1. How to Use Moss in Your
    2. How to Care for Terrarium Moss
  4. More on Terrarium Moss
    1. Terrarium Moss FAQs
    2. Where to Buy Moss
Cushion moss for terrariums

Leucobryum glaucum being cushiony in one of our terrariums. 

1 | What is Moss?

Mosses are small, flowerless plants belonging to the Bryophyta division.

They are ancient organisms, having appeared on Earth approximately 450 million years ago, long before flowering plants appeared.

These non-vascular plants lack the conventional root, stem, and leaf system, instead absorbing water and nutrients mainly through their leaves.

1.1 | All about moss

How does moss work?

Mosses are characterised by their simple, leafy stems and spore capsules which they use for reproduction.

They are ectohydric, meaning they rely on external water sources to make direct contact for absorption.

Their life cycle includes both a sexual and asexual phase, the latter producing the spores that disperse to form new moss colonies.

Where is moss from?

Geographically, mosses are global denizens, inhabiting diverse regions from the Antarctic tundra to the lush forests of the equatorial belt.

They prefer moist, shady environments but can also endure harsh conditions on rocks, tree bark, and in bogs.

Moss growing on wall

Some moss I found on my way to work. I was pretty chuffed with this picture, ngl. 

Moss plays a vital role in their ecosystems, contributing to soil formation and providing a habitat for microfauna (more on this later!)

Humans and Moss

Historically, humans have used mosses for a variety of purposes.

Sphagnum moss, for instance, was used as a wound dressing due to its antiseptic properties during World War I.

Moss has been a traditional gardening element in Japan for centuries, revered for its serene and aesthetic qualities. You may be familiar with Kokedama or classic moss gardens, for example.

Growth Patterns

Moss growth patterns are diverse.

While some form plush carpets, others grow in tufts or wefts, depending on the genus and species.

Their growth rate varies based on environmental conditions, with some species capable of withstanding desiccation.

Moss growing on a wall

Some mosses are epiphytic – meaning they grow on/use other organisms and surfaces to thrive. Others are terrestrial, meaning they grow atop the earth.

There are even aquatic and semi-aquatic species of moss, how exciting!

Due to the lack of air circulation inside the terrarium, moss usually grows vertically upwards. It is a particularly slow-growing plant species.

In this next section, I will expand on moss in the terrarium context.

1.2 | What is Terrarium Moss?

Terrarium moss is simply moss that is particularly suited to the terrarium environment.

To clarify, a terrarium is officially a closed ecosystem. The mosses we shall be discussing all prefer closed terrarium environments, meaning they typically enjoy:

  • Humidity
  • Indirect light
  • Well balanced substrate

As you may have gathered, I am a huge moss fan, but I’m not alone. Moss is one of the most popular elements and selling points for terrariums worldwide.

We get more questions on moss than any other plant on our Instagram and in our inbox.

Furthermore, many of our best-selling terrariums are made using preserved moss.

So, the next question is why? Why do I, you and we love moss so gosh-darn much?

One of our most popular preserved creations - the Moss Box

1.3 | Why Use Moss in a Terrarium?

  • Visual appeal: First and foremost, moss is beautiful. Its lush, rich green hues, coupled with its tight, intricate leaves, produce a deep, ancient aesthetic.
  • Variability: Mosses come in all shapes and sizes and thus fit a huge variety of needs. For example, cushion moss can be used to create the effect of verdant hills, whereas tamarisk or hearts-tongue moss can elegantly fill in gaps between your plants and hardscape.
  • Malleability: No root system makes moss extremely forgiving and malleable. You can split, pull, pinch, and tear off moss clumps of any size to fit the design and style of your terrarium.
  • Abundant: Moss is everywhere. This means no matter where you are on Earth, you are bound to find a source somewhere that is perfect for making native terrariums.
  • Foraging opportunities: Additionally, amateurs can easily harvest moss. Just be sure to pick the right kinds for use in terrariums and clean your moss thoroughly if foraging yourself (more on this below!)
  • Stabilising: Moss is great at absorbing and releasing water and thus is a perfect aid in regulating the conditions of your terrarium.
  • Low maintenance: Ok, so this isn’t true for all mosses – but many species, such as Leucobryum glaucum, are incredibly hardy inside of the terrarium environment, and can weather extreme conditions better than most terrestrial plants.
  • Microfauna metropolis: Moss provides the perfect shelter for micro and mesofauna such as Springtails and Isopods.

But I hear you cry, what moss can I use in my terrarium? Read on.

2 | What Moss Can be Used in a Terrarium?

As I’ve mentioned, mosses best suited to terrariums prefer humid, shadier environments.

For example, moss species endemic to forest climates naturally fare better inside terrariums as they are used to the damp bed of trees and the dappled light conditions of the canopy.

Tamarisk moss inside a terrarium

Forest dwelling mosses such as Tamarisk perform very well in the humid terrarium environment. 

Avoid mosses that you find growing out in the open, on stone walls, for example, as this is moss better suited for open and drier environments.

Here are my top four favourite species of moss that I’m often found using in my Instagram videos

2.1 | Key types of terrarium moss

Bunn moss for terrariums

1. Leucobryum glaucum (cushion moss/bun moss/bolmos/pincushion moss)

This is by far the most common and sought-after terrarium moss.

Characterised by its cushiony, plump (and dare I say it – voluptuous) mounds, Leucobryum glaucum is an incredibly versatile moss species that is known by many, many names.

In my terrarium setups, I’ll use Leucobryum glaucum to create the effect of green hills in the background or as gap fillers between the hardscape. 

Cushion moss key features:
  • Has a soft, cushion-like texture.
  • Is a medium/darker green.
  • Is happier in temperate conditions, but can survive in wetter climates.
  • Is malleable – can be moulded into ‘moss balls’ or tufts for design versatility.
Dicranum scoparium mood moss for sale

2. Dicranum spp. (pillow moss, mood moss)

Dicranum scoparium and Dicranum majus are the two most typical types of moss commonly referred to as ‘mood moss’.

Mood moss is similar to cushion moss in that it is often found in mounds or clumps.

However, it is less malleable and doesn’t ‘round’ quite as well.

But Dicranum mosses come in a wider range of colours. I’ve seen some tinted in autumnal yellow and others with a more brilliant, bright green.

I use Dicranum species when I need ample ground cover and a little brightness added to my terrariums.

Mood moss key features
  • Wispy leaves that looked brushed by wind.
  • Exists in a wide range of colours.
  • Is capable of withstanding dry periods before hydration.
  • Is highly moisture-retentive.
Tamarisk moss

3. Thuidium tamariscinum (fern moss, forest moss, tamarisk moss)

Commonly known as ‘fern’ or ‘tamarisk moss’ – mosses of the Thuidium genus are characterised by their fern-like fronds that spill over each other in all directions.

The minute, intricate details of this moss make it a must when you can’t quite put your finger on what your micro-world is missing.  

It’s particularly adept at creating a moist, forest-like atmosphere in your terrarium and pairs perfectly with real ferns such as Nephrolepis exaltata.

Fern moss key features
  • Has fern-like fronds perfect for creating shadows and detail in terrariums.
  • Prefers damper environments.
  • Prefers more acidic substrates.
  • Easily broken apart – making it simple to dot around your terrarium.
Hypnum moss

4. Hypnales spp. (hypnum moss, flat moss, sheet moss, feather moss)

Hypnum mosses are pleurocarpous – meaning that they spread in flat, sheet-like formations.

They are brilliant for general ground cover in terrariums.

I use them to create neat, flat beds of green beneath taller elements such as ferns.

Essentially, they’re great for contrast.

Sheet moss key features:
  • Enjoys moist, shaded environments.
  • Epiphytic – can grow on trees and rock surfaces.
  • Prefers higher-humidity environments.
  • Features delicate foliage that’s perfect for adding variety to any terrarium.

Other types of live moss for terrariums

These might be my top four, but a world of mosses is out there, each bringing its own zest and spice to the terrarium mix.

Here are just a few more you can try:

  • Taxiphyllum barbieri (Java moss)
  • Mnium hornum (Thyme moss)
  • Plagiomnium undulatum (Hart’s-tongue thyme-moss)
  • Rhizomnium punctatum (Dotted thyme moss)
  • Cladophora aegagropila (Moss balls, marimo moss)
  • Tortula ruralis (Star moss)

Using Preserved Moss in terrariums.

Before we move on – let’s just quickly address two other types of moss.

First, there’s artificial moss:

Don’t use it. Ever. For anything. No, just, forget about it.

Preserved moss frame

Our Moss Frames are made using preserved moss - real but stabilised. 

Now, let’s talk about preserved moss:

Preserved moss is real moss that has been chemically stabilised.

This means its water content has been replaced with a preservative and the leaves have been dyed for a pop of colour.

This makes the moss zero-maintenance whilst retaining the plump lustre of real moss.

When can it be used in a terrarium?

Avoid mixing live terrariums and preserved moss. All too often I see preserved reindeer mosses being added to living ecosystems.

Preserved mosses are better for works-of-art that are designed for ornamental purposes only.

Geometric glass terrarium: Luscious greenery, perfect desktop companion.

For example, our Prism features our unique, gorgeous handmade designs that lose none of the beauty of the terrarium – but are zero-maintenance.

The takeaway is simply this: Don’t mix preserved and live elements (or, don’t cross the streams).

2.2 | Where To Get Terrarium Moss?

Buying moss

Well, we’ve actually written a guide at the bottom of this article on exactly where you can buy these mosses. 

Moss and mushrooms growing in the wild

Foraging moss

So, we do actually have a more comprehensive guide on making a ‘free’ or foraged terrarium

But, to keep it brief, you can, of course, forage your own moss for use in terrariums.

We recommend looking for shadier, humid environments like the forest floor.

Please be ecologically conservative and pay attention to local and national foraging laws.

However, any foraged moss should be thoroughly rinsed before use to avoid introducing unwanted critters into your ecosystem.

3 | How to Make a Moss Terrarium (or Mossarium)

You know everything you need to select the right mosses for your terrarium and how mosses operate and grow.

I thought it would be rather corking (aha!) to show you exactly how I make my moss terrariums.

Dragon stone with moss in holes terrarium

Below, I’ll give you a simple, step-by-step guide that will demonstrate how to use moss effectively in the following:

  • Classic terrariums
  • Hardscape designs
  • Vertical terrariums

I’ll also run through some of my personal tips for most effectively drawing beauty from your moss.

But before all that, here’s a quick guide on how to prepare moss for a terrarium.

3.1 | How to Prepare and Clean Moss

Soaking moss in a bowl

Your moss may need a soak for hydration and to remove unwanted pests. 

It’s important to ensure your moss is thoroughly clean before use in a terrarium.

If your moss is sterilised, dried or from a reputable supplier, you should be alright without this extra step.

But it doesn’t hurt to be safe. And, if you’ve foraged, this is essential.

Why?

Well, back in the early days of ome, I would forage my moss. I didn’t clean or wash my moss, and a few days later, my terrarium exploded with crane flies…

I really should have seen it coming, considering that the crane flies also exploded into my face when I foraged the moss.

Here’s our step-by-step guide:

  1. Gather Moss: Collect moss from a clean, pesticide-free area, ensuring it's legally permissible and environmentally friendly to do so.
  2. Inspect Moss: Check the moss for any debris, pests, or signs of disease before proceeding.
  3. Remove Debris: Gently shake or brush off any dirt, leaves, twigs, or other debris from the moss. A tool kit can make this job a little easier.
  4. Rinse Moss: Rinse the moss thoroughly with clean, lukewarm water to remove any remaining dirt or contaminants.
  5. Soak Moss: Soak the moss in a bowl of clean water for a few minutes to help loosen any stubborn dirt or debris.
  6. Pat Dry: Gently pat the moss dry with a clean towel or paper towel to remove excess moisture. Avoid wringing or squeezing the moss, which can damage its delicate structure.
  7. Air Dry: Allow the moss to air-dry partially in a well-ventilated area, preferably out of direct sunlight, before using it in the terrarium. About 20 minutes should do it.
  8. Trim if Necessary: Trim any long or unruly strands of moss to achieve the desired size and shape for your terrarium design.
  9. Inspect Again: Once dry, inspect the moss again for any signs of pests or disease, and discard any pieces that appear unhealthy.
  10. Store Properly: If not using immediately, store the cleaned moss in a breathable container in a cool, dark place until ready for use.

As I say, this is a somewhat optional step unless you’re foraging your own moss.

3.2 | How to Use Moss in Your Terrarium.

There are many different types of terrariums, and thus, there are many ways moss can be used to elevate your design.

Terrarium kit: Ideal for adding a touch of green to your home or office.

Below, I’ll walk you through some of the most exciting ways to utilise moss in your planted terrariums.

Moss in a classic closed terrarium

First, we have a beginner’s guide on building closed terrariums. This digital handbook details every step associated with building a terrarium and all the other materials you need. 

Using moss in a classic terrarium is pretty straightforward:

Once you have inserted all your layers, set up your hardscape, and given the terrarium a gentle spray, you are ready to plant your plants and moss.

I always like to use my largest elements first. Depending on the design, that may be plants or moss.

Once your moss is ready, clean, and trimmed, you can pinch or tear off a piece to place on top of your soil.

Moss on soil

The moss doesn’t need to be ‘planted’ as it does not have roots. It can simply sit snugly atop the soil.

I like giving the moss a little wiggle onto the soil to ensure stability. Moss is lightweight and can shift inside the glass if not tucked just a little into the substrate.

Moss with hardscape.

Now it gets a bit more interesting!

Hardscape elements such as Dragon Stone often have little holes, crevices and craters - perfect nesting grounds for moss!

Take just a little tuft of moss, this could be Leucobryum glaucum (Cushion moss), Dicranum scoparium (Mood moss) or Taxiphyllum barbieri (Java moss).

Next, place a pinch of soil into your desired crack or crevice (oh my!).

Moss growing on rock aquarium

Moisten the contents of your crack with a little distilled water.

Now, gently wedge the moss into your crack.

This effect adds something unique to your hardscape, helping to make it look more natural and real.

Scenic terrariums, in particular, benefit from this method, as a Dragon Stone pile can be transformed into a living, green mountain – teeming with life and possibilities.

Moss in a vertical terrarium.

Here’s something quite special.

Vertical moss terrarium

A vertical terrarium is a terrarium where a solid substrate wall is constructed vertically on the rear of your glassware.

Moss, hardscape and plants can then be planted on the wall so that you get a luscious, living tower.

It’s quite the look.

Rather than explain it to you, why don’t I show it to you! Check the video below:

 

 

Moss Placement Pro tips

Before we move onto moss care, here are three quick pro tips you can use:

  • When using cushion moss, try clumping a piece into a mound – pinch the outside edges underneath the centre of the tuft, then grip the moss in place with tweezers before inserting it into your terrarium
  • Have you placed moss around the edges of your terrarium? Use a pair of tweezers to go around the edge, pushing the green leaves downwards to hide any yellow/brown rhizoids.
  • Struggling with plants drooping/falling over during placement? Use a piece of moss to push the stem into place and keep it there!

3.3 | How to Care for Terrarium Moss

The sell with terrariums is that they are self-sufficient. Once you’re done setting it up, there shouldn’t be much you need to do afterwards.

But that doesn’t mean you can get away without learning what makes Moss tick, you naughty Nelson; you get back here and pay attention.

I’ll make it quick:

Water

Keep the moss consistently moist but not waterlogged.

Water sparingly to prevent stagnation and mould growth.

Distilled or rainwater should be used to avoid mineral build-up from tap water.

We also recommend using a mister to hydrate your moss rather than pouring water on it. Remember to be sparing inside a sealed container.

Light

Provide indirect or filtered light, avoiding direct sunlight.

Moss thrives in low to moderate light conditions, such as shaded areas or north-facing windows. This should match the needs of the rest of your terrarium.

Temperature

Maintain moderate temperatures between 60-75°F (15-24°C).

Avoid extreme temperature fluctuations, as moss prefers stable conditions.

Many mosses can withstand colder periods during winter, but stability is preferable wherever possible.

Soil

Use a well-draining substrate with good moisture retention, such as sphagnum moss or a mixture of coir and orchid bark.

Keep the soil loose and airy to promote root growth and water absorption.

Many mosses prefer clay-based, acidic soils. Adding some clay into your soil mixture may be beneficial, especially if you are making a moss-only terrarium (mossarium!)

Moss grown in a terrarium

Pruning

I don’t find myself having to trim moss all that often.

However, after a year or so there may be some out-of-control fronds that need a little reality-check.

Use long, curved scissors for precise pruning.

Nutrients

Mosses are low-maintenance and typically do not require fertilization.

I recommend prioritising the nutritional needs of other terrestrial plants and allowing the moss to benefit from this as and when.

Otherwise, in a mossarium, I recommend using a diluted solution of organic plankton-based fertiliser.

Springtails on moss

Microfauna

Beneficial microfauna like springtails and isopods can help maintain a healthy moss ecosystem.

These tiny organisms aid in decomposition, nutrient recycling, and pest control within the terrarium.

Need to check on a specific species of moss?

4 | More on Terrarium Moss

4.1 | Troubleshooting/FAQs

I’ll now be answering your most frequently asked questions on terrarium moss.

Can’t see your question here? Leave it in the comments, and I’ll get back to you.

Why is my terrarium moss turning brown in the centre?

Brown patches often signal a drying-out.

Use the tip of your finger to test whether the moss is dry. If so, gently mist the affected moss.

Equally - ensure your terrarium has adequate humidity and you're not overexposing the moss to light. Too much direct sunlight will burn the moss.

Spice jar terrarium

Use a cork lid to seal your container

Can terrarium moss survive if the terrarium is sealed?

Yes, moss can thrive in a sealed terrarium due to the closed system's ability to maintain consistent humidity.

However, be mindful to choose the right type of moss for a closed terrarium. More info above!

Why is my terrarium moss not spreading?

Moss spreads best in conditions that mimic its natural environment—consistent moisture, good light, and a nutrient-poor substrate. If conditions aren't right, its growth can be stunted.

Inside a terrarium, nutrients are scarcer, and so time moves slowly. Your moss is more likely to spread upwards than out.

It will grow, though; give it time.

Mould in my terrarium

Blackening, white fuzz and a bad smell are mould indicators

Is it normal for terrarium moss to have a musty smell?

A musty smell could indicate mould or decay, which could be due to unclean elements in the terrarium or overwatering.

But if your terrarium is suffering from mould, we've got you covered

Check for adequate drainage and consider adding springtails, which can help break down waste and control mould.

Additionally, if you do believe your terrarium has been overwatered, leave the lid off for a day or so.

Can I use snow to water my terrarium moss in the winter?

While novel, using snow can introduce contaminants or pests. It's best to stick to distilled or rainwater to maintain the controlled environment of your terrarium.

How do I revive moss in a terrarium that's dried out?

Gently rehydrate dried moss by misting it with water and cover the terrarium to trap moisture.

Avoid soaking as sudden water uptake can shock and further damage the moss.

Can moss from a temperate climate survive in a tropical terrarium setup?

Moss is adaptable, but a drastic change can stress it.

Acclimate temperate moss slowly by gradually increasing humidity and temperature to mimic a tropical environment.

Why is my moss growing upwards instead of spreading flat?

Moss will grow upwards when searching for light and due to lack of airflow.

Ensure your moss receives sufficient, but not direct, light.

Adjusting the light source can encourage it to grow horizontally.

What's the best way to clean algae off my terrarium moss?

Carefully remove the moss and rinse it with water. Then, before replanting, treat the terrarium with a diluted mixture of water and hydrogen peroxide to discourage algae regrowth.

If your terrarium has algae growth, it’s most likely due to a combination off too much water and too much light.

Can I use moss from my backyard for my terrarium, or should I buy specific varieties?

Yes, you can use moss from your backyard for your terrarium, but only if it is a species well suited to enclosed, humid environments.

Be cautious of potential contaminants or pests.

Purchasing specific moss varieties ensures cleanliness and suitability for terrarium conditions.

Do different moss species have varying humidity requirements within the terrarium?

Yes, different moss species have varying humidity preferences.

Some prefer high humidity, while others can tolerate drier conditions.

I would always recommend researching the specific requirements of your chosen moss species is crucial for successful cultivation.

How do I prevent moss from overtaking other plants in my terrarium?

It is unlikely that your moss will overtake the growth of other plants inside the terrarium.

However, if this issue does occur, I would recommend trimming the moss regularly with long scissors, and ensuring the prioritising caring for your other plants.

Can moss be trained to grow in specific patterns or shapes within a terrarium?

Yes, moss can be trained to grow in specific patterns or shapes by gently manipulating its growth with your fingers or small tools. This technique, known as moss shaping or moss art, allows for creatively customising terrarium landscapes.

This is a slow, long process that requires careful attention and consistent upkeep.

What role do mosses play in natural terrarium ecosystems?

Mosses play essential roles in natural terrarium ecosystems by providing habitat and food for various microorganisms, insects, and small animals. They also contribute to soil stabilization and nutrient cycling.

Are there any moss species that can withstand occasional dry spells in a terrarium?

Yes, some moss species, such as drought-tolerant varieties like Tortula ruralis, can withstand occasional dry spells in terrariums.

However, it's essential to monitor moisture levels and provide adequate hydration when needed.

How do I identify and treat moss diseases in my terrarium?

Moss diseases are relatively rare but can include fungal infections or bacterial rot.

If you notice discolouration, wilting, or unusual growth patterns in your moss, isolate affected areas and adjust environmental conditions to discourage further spread.

Are there any moss species that naturally repel certain pests or insects in terrariums?

While mosses are not known for repelling pests, they can provide habitat for beneficial microorganisms and insects that indirectly help control pest populations.

Can moss be successfully propagated in a closed terrarium environment?

Yes, moss can be successfully propagated in a closed terrarium. The high humidity levels and stable conditions create an ideal environment for moss growth and propagation. Regular misting and proper substrate conditions support successful propagation.

5 | Where to Buy Moss for Terrariums

If you're based in the UK, you're in luck! We have our own live moss bundles ready to ship next-day. 

These bundles come with a variety of different terrarium-friendly and sustainably-sourced moss species. 

If you're further afield, not to worry! We have a great USA-based moss seller to recommend on Etsy - Moss Unlimited - they have a great selection of different species available and fantastic reviews!

4 | CONCLUSION

And that, people of Earth, is everything there is to know about terrarium moss.

You now know the best types of moss for terrariums, how to use them and care for them.

I’ve also given you a few projects to have a go with.

Have you made a mossarium before, or is this your first? How did it go? Let me know down below.

See you next time!

- Joe


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