How To Care For Moss | Basics & Advanced Moss Care Techniques

woman doing moss care

This article will teach you how to take care of moss. We will begin with a section that will explain different types and the basics of moss, next we will explain watering techniques, how to manage light conditions and we will cover substrates and fertilzation. We will also explain how to propagate moss at home, how to take care of moss during the four seasons, and this will be followed by advanced moss care techniques and a section about common issues and solutions before we end the article with a chapter about tools you can use for moss care.

1. Understanding Moss

Mosses are small non-vascular plants that belong to the Bryophyta division. They have been around for over 400 million years and thrive in damp and shady habitats all over the globe. There are many different moss varieties and all are specialized in their niche. Some are more heat tolerant while others have adapted to live in the water.

Before we go into moss care, we will cover some of the basics and explain what mosses are.

1.1. Types of Moss

Moss plants are known to be very adaptable and over millions of years, they have developed into a huge variety with about 12,000 species (some sources claim even 14,000 moss species).

There are two main groups of mosses; namely Acrocarpous and Pleurocarpous. An acrocarpous moss grows more upright (for example Haircap moss) and a Pleurocarpous grows into carpets (for example Sheet moss).

A garden with sheet moss
A garden with sheet moss

Ten of the most used mosses for indoor and outdoor usage are;

1.2. The Basics of Moss

Mosses are relatively simple plants because of their non-vascular structures. Caring for moss is relatively easy but they have very specific requirements in order to thrive. They can be very specific about the moisture levels, light, and the compositions of the soil.

  • Moisture: As non-vascular plants, they lack a system to transport water so they absorb water and nutrients through their leaves. Therefore they usually grow in humid areas with high moisture levels (even though there are species adapted to growing in the desert).
  • Light: The best light conditions are usually indirect sunlight. A couple of hours of moderate sunlight can be fine but ideally, they grow in areas with moderate to full shade.
  • Soil: Mosses prefer nutrient-poor soils or other substrates such as tree bark or rocks and they prefer slightly acidic soil (PH between 5.0 and 5.5)

Mosses can propagate either through fragmentation or with spores. This allows them to spread over large areas. The fragmentation technique gives them the advantage of rapid expansion and propagation through spores ensures the genetic diversity.

2. Essential Moss Care Practices

In order to care for moss, you’ll need to learn about their basics need for water, light and the right substrate. Below we’ll explain how you should water your moss, how you can make sure it receive the right amount of light and we will cover substrates and fertilization.

2.1. Watering Moss

Mosses love moist environments but many beginners make the mistake of over-watering. The soil or substrate needs to be moist but there shouldn’t be any standing water. Also, make sure to use filtered water or rainwater because moss is sensitive to chlorine which might kill it. Below we explain when and how to water moss.

2.1.1. Watering Schedule

Mosses do not have any roots to draw water from the soil or whatever substrate they live on. So they depend on surface moisture because they draw the water through their leaves. Indoor mosses may need daily misting and assuming they are not in de window, this can be done any hour of the day. Mosses that grow outside might need some extra moisture during hot summer days and preferably in the early morning.

2.1.2. Hydration Technique

Whenever you grow mosses indoors, you can use a spray bottle and mist the surface gently. Do not use tap water but filter it before you use it. If you grow moss in a terrarium, make sure there is enough ventilation to prevent the growth of mold while the humidity stays high. Outdoor mosses can benefit from a dripping system but a sprinkler might be sufficient too. As long as you water it in the morning. Prevent standing water at all times.

2.1.3. Preventing Drying Out

During hot and dry summers, or whenever the air conditioning or heating is on inside, you should keep a close eye on the moss for signs of drying. Whenever the moss turns yellow, you’ll need to increase the frequency of misting. You can also try to use a pebble tray filled with water and place it near the moss to prevent it from drying out.

2.2. Light Requirements

Mosses are very specific about the light conditions they prefer. Some mosses are more sun tolerant than others but you can assume that your moss needs moderate to full shade. It needs light for photosynthesis and growth but the light requirements vary among species.

2.2.1. Sunlight and Shade Preferences

While some mosses can tolerate direct sunlight such as Bryum moss, most mosses prefer indirect light or partial to full shade. But even sun-tolerant species can dry out during hot summer days and when they grow in the full sun. They will go dormant to protect themselves and slow down their internal processes. They will lose their vibrant green color and turn brow. But they will bounce back whenever the conditions are more favorable.

2.2.2. Managing Light Conditions

Whenever you grow moss indoors, place the moss near but not directly in the window. That way it receives indirect light without drying out if you provide it with enough moisture. Whenever you have moss growing outside, you should place it in areas where it mimics their natural conditions.

2.3. Soil and Fertilization

Moss can grow on most soils because it has adapted to thrive on nutrient-poor soils. But the right conditions will result in healthier moss and quicker growth and spread.

Soil preperation Japanese moss garden
Soil preperation of a Japanese moss garden

2.3.1. Soil Composition and Acidity

Mosses perfect slightly acidic substrates with a PH between 5.0 and 5.5. Some mosses are picky with the substrate of their preference but most mosses can grow on various substrates such as wood, rock, or soil. They do require a clean and stable surface with a bit of texture so they can grab onto the surface area for establishment.

The nutrient levels are not too important because they get their nutrients from air and rainwater. They thrive in nutrient-poor soils so soils with high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus are detrimental because they can encourage the growth of competition such as grasses or other plants.

2.3.2. Fertilizing Moss

You can generally assume that mosses do not need fertilization because they get their nutrients through air and rainwater as we explained before. If you decide to fertilize your moss anyway, make sure to use diluted and organic fertilized are use it sparingly because it can damage the moss.

Remember that moss is a colonizing species that has evolved to go where other plants can not go (yet). They prefer soil- and nutrient-poor conditions and pave the way for other plants to follow once they have created a layer of soil of the organic matter they accumulate over time.

3. Propagating Moss at Home

Propagation of moss at home is a rewarding process and relatively straightforward. You can either do this by division (also called fragmentation) or you may do it through spores. Below we explain both of these methods and the materials you need.

3.1. Step-by-Step Guide to Moss Propagation

The most effective and straightforward method of propagation is through fragmentation. Moss plants do this in nature as well to colonize large areas rapidly. Once they are well established, they will continue to propagate through spores but this method is much slower.

moss fragment
A fragment of moss

3.1.1 Fragmentation Method

Below you can find the steps you’ll need to follow to propagate the moss through fragmentation and dividing.

  1. Collecting Moss: First, you’ll need to collect the moss from an existing colony. If you get the source from nature, make sure you do it legally. You can also buy live mosses from our webshop.
  2. Preparation: After you have the moss, you will have to prepare the area where you intend to propagate the moss. Clean the area of debris, plants, or weeds. If you do this in an aquarium or terrarium, make sure the substrate is suitable for moss.
  3. Fragmentation: Next you’ll begin the fragmentation process. Break the moss into smaller pieces but make sure that each piece has enough green so photosynthesizing is still possible.
  4. Placement: After fragmentation, you can place the moss on the substrate by gently pressing it down so it has good contact with the surface. You may want to use a mesh net or a moss adhesive to prevent it from being disturbed.
  5. Watering: Make sure that you water the moss after planting with a spray bottle if you have the moss indoors. Outside you can use a dripping or misting system but if you don’t have that, use a regular sprinkler. Do not over-water the moss. Stop watering whenever the moss is moist but the soil is not drained.
  6. Maintenance: Keep the area moist and spray the moss lightly every day whenever it grows inside of your house. If you have planted a moss lawn, you should water it every morning until it is well established. Double-check that the soil is well-drained because standing water will kill the moss.

3.1.2 Spore Propagation (Advanced)

Spore is a more advanced method of moss propagation. It takes much more time and it is also a bit unpredictable but it can be a rewarding process if you are interested in the life cycle of moss. You can do this by:

  • collecting spore capsules from mature moss;
  • spreading them over a suitable moist substrate; and
  • wait until they are germinated (no action needed).

This method takes time but eventually, they will grow into moss plants and you will be rewarded with new moss.

3.2. Tools and Supplies Needed

  • Buy living moss or collect spores: Depending on the method.
  • Spray bottle or watering can: For gentle watering or misting.
  • Substrate: Soil for the garden and suitable substrates for terrariums and aquariums.
  • Tools for preparation: This can be a rake for outdoors or tweezers for terrariums and aquariums.
  • Securing materials (optional): Fishing line, mesh net, aquatic plant glue, or moss adhesive.

4. Seasonal Moss Care Routine

Mosses need different care during the seasons both indoors and outdoors. This chapter will explain how you can take care of your moss throughout the four seasons.

4.1. Spring Moss Care

Spring is a period when moss grows very rapidly because of the milder temperatures and the increased moisture levels as an aftermath of the winter. This is the perfect time to plant moss or propagate new patches.

Make sure to keep an eye on the moisture levels, remove the debris, and control the weeds in your moss garden.

  • Moisture Management: Make sure that the areas are constantly moist especially when the temperatures rise during spring. You want to conditions for your moss lawn to be optimal because it needs to recover from winter.
  • Cleaning and Debris Removal: A lot of debris can have accumulated over winter so you can use a rake to gently remove any leaves or other debris from the moss so there is enough light for photosynthesis.
  • Weed Control: Keep an eye on the weeds because you want to catch them early on before they overshadow the moss. Hand-pulling the weeds is the most ‘moss-friendly’ method.

4.2. Summer Moss Care

Moss care is most important during the summer. Especially when the days are long and hot, it might be exposed to too much sun and the moisture can evaporate. Mosses can go into a dormant state if there is too much sun and too little water available. To prevent from going brown (dormant) during summer, you can take care of the moss by taking the following actions.

  • Watering: Increase the watering frequency to combat the drying effects of heat. Water early in the morning and late in the evening; especially for moss in direct sunlight (in a garden) or containers that are in the window.
  • Shade Provision: If you notice that the moss is turning brown, and it receives enough moisture, then is probably caused by the sun. Use shade nets or other forms of temporary shading to give it the shade it needs. You may want to move a terrarium to another location if the sun is too hot and the moss has gone dormant.
  • Pest Monitoring: Summer a a time that pests flourish due to the moist conditions. You can manage them with non-toxic methods to keep the moss healthy.

4.3. Fall Moss Care

The temperatures drop and the moisture levels increase. You can plant mosses all year around (except when the substrate is frozen) but the chances of success are higher during spring and autumn. So you might want to (re)plant moss now the weather has cooled down and the moisture levels have risen.

During fall, you should consider the following moss care:

  • Pre-Winter Maintenance: This is a good period to trim overgrown areas and you may want to remove non-moss vegetation as well because it can compete for the same resources.
  • Moisture Adjustment: If there is a lot of rainfall, ensure that the soil is well-drained. Heavy rainfall can cause standing water which will drown the mos.
  • Fertilization (if necessary): We usually don’t recommend this but if you want to use fertilizer, now is the time. Only use natural fertilizer and very diluted because mosses prefer nutrient-poor conditions.

4.4. Winter Moss Care

Moss can go dormant in the winter but only in cold climates. The growth will be very slow and you should prevent walking on it as much as possible. Even though some are more resilient to foot traffic (e.g. Sheet moss or Carpet moss) it should be minimized anyway to ensure that you have a beautiful moss carpet when spring arrives again.

You can minimize damage to outdoor moss during winter as follows:

  • Protection from Cold: During an extremely cold winter, or in cold regions, cover the outdoor moss with a frost cloth or burlap to protect it from the freezing temperatures. Even though moss has a natural anti-freezing adaption, it can still die if the temperatures drop too low.
  • In extremely cold regions, cover outdoor moss with burlap or frost cloth to protect it from freezing temperatures and desiccation from cold winds.
  • Watering: Watering should be reduced during this period because the moss doesn’t need much due to slow growth especially when it is in a dormant state. The risks of overwatering are greater than drying out.
  • Inspection for Damage: Check the moss on a regular base to check for browsing or thinning patches so you can plan repairs or replanting when spring arrives.

4.5. Seasonal Moss Care for Aquariums and Terrariums

Seasonal care is less relevant for mosses indoors in aquariums or terrariums. Anyone who grows moss indoors needs to make sure that the temperature, moisture, and light conditions stay the same throughout all the seasons.

A moss terrarium outdoors

Keep in mind that moss can dry out if you place it above a heater that will be used intensively during winter or if it grows next to an airconditioning during summer. Double check the moisture levels whenever you start using the heater in the Fall or when you start using the air conditioning in the summer.

5. Advanced Moss Maintenance

The sections before covered basic moss care but if you are looking for more advanced moss maintanance then you should keep reading. Below we will explain how you can enhance the vitality, color, and overall aesthetics of your moss plants.

5.1. Enhancing Color and Vitality

Moss has the tendency to turn yellowish-green whenever the conditions are not optimal. In order to keep your moss lush and green, you can practice the follwoing to enhance this vibrant hue:

  • Optimal Lighting: Most mosses prefer indirect light but you should check the light preference of the moss species you are working with. If you grow moss inside, you can experience light exposure. You can do the same outside if you can use shade netting. Slight adjustments of light exposure can enhance the color vibrancy significantly.
  • Nutrition & PH: Test the PH levels of the substrate and while you add it, also check the nutrients. The PH of the substrate should be between 5.0 and 5.5 but that depends slightly per species. Try to mimic the natural circumstances as much as possible to ensure that the moss is happy and healthy. If necessary, raise or lower the PH or play around with the nutrients until you have created the perfect environment for your mosses to thrive.
  • Hydration: Check the water that you are using because tap water can harm a moss because of the chlorine and other chemicals that are in the water. Use rainwater and use a drip or mist system if possible, to mimic its natural habitat.

5.2. Thinning and Pruning Practices

Whenever the mosses grow too densely together, and get overgrown by other moss species or plants, you may want to thin or prune them to release trapped moisture en improve air circulation.

  • Thinning: Be careful when you remove sections of the moss to these dense patches. You can reuse this moss and replant it in areas where the moss is this. Thinning can encourage air circulation and ensure that all of the moss receives enough light.
  • Pruning: Make sure to use clean and sharp scissors for precise cuts when you want to prune the moss. You can trim the moss into the desired shape or you can prevent it from growing into unwanted areas.

5.3. Companion Plants

Several plants grow well together with moss but you need different plants for a moss garden than ones you can use for terrariums or aquariums.

Japanese painted fern with moss

To select plants that grow well with moss you have to consider the conditions and how they can benefit from each other.

  • Selection: You need to select plants that prefer moisture and shade. Some very suitable moss companion plants for gardens are ferns, hostas, or shade-tolerant groundcovers. In a terrarium, you might want to plant some small ferns or shade-loving succulents that grow well with moss.
  • Benefits: Think logically about how the companion plants can benefit the moss and the microenvironment as a whole. We usually recommend to plant the moss first and wait until it is established. Once that is the case, you can carefully plant the companion plants.

5.4. Moss Care in Terrariums and Aquariums

You may want to take some extra care of moss when you grow it in an aquarium or terrarium because they are closed environments.

  • Terrariums: Mosses get mold in a terrarium if there isn’t enough ventilation. The ventilation won’t only prevent mold but it will also maintain the high humidity levels that can improve the overall health of the terrarium. Keep the mosses away from direct and intense sunlight and mist them regularly so there is enough moisture available.
  • Aquariums: Some aquatic mosses like Java moss can maintain the water conditions stable but also stabilize the temperature, PH, and even the light. To keep the moss healthy, you’ll need to attach it to driftwood, rocks, or mesh to anchor it in place which will mimic its natural habitat.

6. Troubleshooting Moss Growth Issues

Even the most experienced moss specialist can experience growth or health issues with their moss plants Below we cover the most common issues and we’ll explain how you can take care of them.

6.1. Browning or Yellowing Moss

Browning or yellowing of the moss can be caused by excessive sunlight or heat exposure but it can also be due to Underwatering or drought conditions, and it can happen because of poor air quality or exposure to pollutants.

moss turning black

You can take care of browning or yellowing moss with the following solutions:

  • If possible, relocate the moss to a more shaded spot and if that isn’t possible, use a shade net or other ways of artificial shading.
  • If the moss is dry, increase the frequency of watering. It might dry out between watering sessions. Try to prevent it from being waterlogged.
  • If the problem is the air quality or pollutants, then you can consider moving it to a location with cleaner air.

6.2. Moss Drying Out Quickly

Your moss might dry out quickly. This can be caused by low ambient humidity which can be caused by indoor heating or air conditioning. Another reason can be insufficient misting or watering.

You can solve this problem by using a humidifier in your house to increase the ambient humidity. You may also want to mist the moss more frequently, especially during the dry seasons. The last option would be to place water trays near the moss to enhance the local humidity.

6.3. Mold or Algae Growth on Moss

Excessive moisture without adequate drainage may be the cause of mold or algae growing on your moss. Another reason could be poor air circulation.

You can solve this problem by adjusting the watering practices and by making sure that the substrate drains well. If the air circulation is the problem, then you can prune overgrown plants nearby or use a fan if the moss grows indoors.

To remove the mold, you can use a soft brush and diluted hydrogen peroxide solution but be careful because too much can damage the moss.

6.4. Slow Growth or Lack of Spreading

A nutrient-poor substrate, inadequate moisture or light conditions, or competition from weeds or invasive plants can be the cause for slow moss growth or a lack of spreading.

You may want to test the nutrients before you apply a thin layer of organic compost or diluted low-nitrogen fertilizer to make sure the nutrients are the problem.

Check the moisture and light requirements for the moss species you are growing to see if that is the problem. Removing competing vegetation can also fix this problem.

  • Apply a thin layer of organic compost or a diluted, low-nitrogen fertilizer to provide nutrients.
  • Ensure the moss is receiving appropriate light and moisture for its specific type.
  • Remove competing vegetation carefully, making sure not to disturb the moss.

6.5. Pests

Most mosses are good are good at resisting pests but sometimes they can attract insects or become a breeding ground for pests in gardens or terrariums.

You can solve this by identifying the pest infestations early and treating them straight away with an on-toxic method to project the moss plants and the environment. Ensure that terrariums are clean and well maintained to prevent this issue in the future.

7. Moss Care Tools and Supplies

Moss care tools are essential to keep your moss plants healthy. As a moss nursery, we know as no other how important it is to keep the right tools at hand.

Here is a list of all the tools you need to take care of your moss.

7.1. Watering Tools

  • Mist Bottle (indoor): Ideal for misting moss in terrariums, aquarium edges, and small garden patches.
  • Dripping or misting device/system (outdoor): For moss gardens, you want to have a system that mimics nature as much as possible. A dripping system is perfect to keep the moisture levels constant and a misting system is good for the even distribution of the water.

7.2. Substrate and Soil Amendments

  • Moss Adhesive: This can help translated moss succeed because it fastens the process of establishment.
  • Sulfur: Wettable sulfur can lower the pH of the soil.
  • Lime: You can use ground limestone (calcium carbonate) or dolomitic limestone (contains both calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate) to raise the PH of the substrate.
  • Sphagnum or Peat Moss: This can be handy for terrariums and as a growing medium for propagating moss.
  • Perlite or Vermiculite: This is a mix with peat or sphagnum moss which can improve drainage and aeration terrariums.

7.3. Pruning and Maintenance Tools

  • Scissors or Shears: You should use sharp and clean scissors or shears for trimming and shaping moss to prevent it from being damaged.
  • Tweezers or Forceps (indoor): For delicate adjustments and placement in terrariums and aquariums, you may want to use tweezers or forceps.

7.4. Pest and Disease Management Supplies

  • Neem Oil: This is a natural and non-toxic option for managing pests that might affect moss, mainly for terrariums or when it grows alongside other plants.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide (3% Solution): This can be useful for treating fungal issues or algae growth without disturbing the habitat with harsh chemicals.

7.6. Propagation Supplies

  • Clear Plastic Bags or Containers: If you want to propagate moss through fragmentation, you’ll need clear plastic bags or containers that can create a mini-greenhouse effect so it can retain moisture and warmth.
  • Mesh or Fishing Line: If you want to secure moss to rocks, or driftwood or you want to spread out a large area with moss fragments, you may want to use mesh nets or a fishing line.
  • PH meter: Before you plant any moss, you want to check if the PH is between 5.0 and 5.5.

7.7. Environmental Control

  • Shade cloth (outdoor): If your moss lawn experiences a lot of sunlight, and the moss dries out and/or gets brown, you can (temporarily) use shade cloths.
  • Humidifier: This may be necessary whenever you use the air-conditioning or heating during cold winters and hot summers.
  • Thermometer/Hygrometer: Monitoring the humidity levels and temperature in a terrarium is crucial to keep the moss in good condition.

8. Conclusion

Taking care of your moss might sound complicated now you have finished this article but they are actually one of the easiest plants to take care of. Moss will thrive as long as you keep the humidity up and you provide enough shade.

This article covered the basics of moss care, how to propagate moss at home and more advance moss care techniques. We also common moss issues and how to solve them and the tools you need to take care of your moss indoors and outdoors.

If you experience problems with your moss, feel free to contact us because we can always provide you with tips (free of charge). If you consider buying living mosses, make sure to check out our webshop!

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