Moss help?
July 11, 2012 10:28 AM   Subscribe

Best practices for growing moss in terrariums?

My setup:
- two glass bowls with movable lids
- charcoal on the bottom
- layers of soil and sand
- moss gathered from around my house
- I water with collected rainwater, once a week
- not in direct light

The moss is not flourishing... the best I can do is to keep it from not turning brown. This is wave 2... the first version (a collection of moss and lichens ordered from Etsy) all slowly turned brown and died, despite daily misting. Since then I switched to rainwater (thinking my tap water was too hard) and added the covers to the glass containers.

All that said, I'm still in trial and error mode:
- how often should I water?
- do I want the interior of the containers to be moist, like a wet forest?
- should I keep the covers partially off (as seen in the photo), or rotate between full off and full on?
- should I give them more light?
- is the dirt just no good for moss?
- what should I expect, with moss?

Thanks for all advice!
posted by cgs to Home & Garden (5 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: one edit: the sand is just a layer under the soil, to help with drainage.
posted by cgs at 10:29 AM on July 11, 2012

If you can bring moss in on whatever it's living on outside, that would probably be easiest. At least then you know you have the right root conditions to start with. Plus a small piece of deadwood will add interest to your terrarium. Then recreate the rest of it's environment with regard to sunlight (generally not too much), amount of water (generally lots), and so forth. A small thermometer inside can also tell you if you're cooking your plants or if they could handle more sunlight--but better to err on the side of too little light with moss.

Even an open terrarium is usually not that open--so lid on or partially on except when you're directly accessing it. If you keep the lid fully on at all times you have a closed terrarium which shouldn't need regular watering after the start up period. When you're setting it up, probably more water than you think, remember that water isn't just in the soil in a terrarium but is in all stages of the water cycle--in the air, "rain" on the side of the jar, and so on. If you're afraid of soaking your soil right away, you can put in a small open container of water, the air will pick up the water over time and will help regulate how wet things get.

Even when moss is dead, it often isn't really. Try soaking it and keeping it somewhere shady to revive it.
posted by anaelith at 11:50 AM on July 11, 2012

the sand is just a layer under the soil, to help with drainage.

This is a common myth- sand doesn't help with drainage, it just makes the amount of soil smaller. Water will only move into areas of greater porosity once soil is saturated, and if that's the case, the water would have moved gravitationally regardless of sand or gravel. At any rate, the moss sounds like it is drying out. It needs to be constantly moist, and you should see condensation in the container.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:00 PM on July 11, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, Anaelith and Oneirodynia... so far I'm hearing: more water, keep the lid on.
posted by cgs at 12:09 PM on July 11, 2012

Moss is notoriously tricky; there are thousands of different species and they all need just the right microclimate; some will flourish only in an area where they get north-by-northwest exposure, etc. Sometimes it's more trial and error than anything. My success with moss was getting some kind of old-man-beard moss to grow on a grapevine wreath by picking up twigs with the moss on it and putting them in the wreath; about half survived and flourished and are starting to spread.

You could just keep trying different mosses until you stumble on one that does well in your setup, or you could find a patch outside that you like, and take careful notes of the conditions; use a hydrometer to measure humitiy, a thing to check light levels over 24 hours, etc, and then try to duplicate that as best you can in a captive environment.

Good luck! I love mosses and lichens too, and have killed plenty in my attempts at cultivation. The books I've seen on it usually say "moss grows where it wants to, and when it's happy, you can hardly get rid of it."
posted by The otter lady at 1:29 PM on July 11, 2012

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