Are you interested in an inexpensive terrarium that’s truly low maintenance? Well, a DIY moss terrarium is perfect for you. Don’t worry, if you want more from your mossy paradise, there’ll be plenty of information here for you too.
Because moss is so cheap and easy to keep alive it’s the perfect beginner terrarium plant. In addition, modern advancements have introduced a myriad of colors to the selections of mosses from which you can choose. Whether you’re an overwhelmed hobbyist or a seasoned gardener, there’s a DIY moss terrarium for you.
What Is Moss?
Before we start delving into the details, I wanted to quickly state some facts about moss.
Moss belongs to an age-old plant family called bryophytes. Scientists believe that this family appeared about 50 million years before our modern-day plants started to show.
The thing that makes bryophytes unique is that they lack the vascular structure seen in most plants. In other words, they don’t feed off water picked by roots. Instead, they pick nutrients through tiny hair-like filaments (called rhizoids) that extend from the underside. That unique structure is what makes moss feel squishy and kind of yucky to touch.
Alright, it’s becoming clearer that there’s more to moss than meets the eye. But the question remains, why would you want to invite that rather parasitic plant into your home?
Let’s clarify a crucial point – moss is not parasitic: It grows over stone, for God’s sake! Believe it or not, moss is actually the opposite of a parasite.
The unique filaments that cover the moss surface allow it to retain moisture and nutrients for a long time. That’s why growing moss beside other plants can be mutually beneficial.
How to Create a DIY Moss Terrarium
So, we’ve covered the basics of what moss is and why we would want to make a terrarium with moss in it. Now we can start discussing the actual steps of making a DIY moss terrarium.
Step 1: Pick a Container
Thanks to the unique rhizoids, moss can grow virtually anywhere with enough water. It doesn’t care about the material, size, shape, or anything else! If you ask me, I always like to use glass containers since they give a nice view of the layered materials.
If you want to decorate several spots around your home, use some of your old mason jars. If you’re planning to host other plants or even animals inside the terrarium, go for a full-sized fish tank.
There’s only one requirement that your chosen container must meet — it must have a lid. Because moss likes high humidity, you’ll use that lid to keep the moisture trapped.
Step 2: Lay the Foundation
Now let’s get to the actual work. From here on out, we’ll start building the layers of your terrarium until it becomes a full ecosystem.
Since we’re using an enclosed glass container, drainage is literally absent. Lucky for us, we can simulate proper drainage by picking the right materials.
If you want a much more in depth discussion of substrates, then give this a read.
If moss will be the only inhabitant of your terrarium, use sand as your foundation layer. The tiny spaces between the sand particles will drain excess water from the soil, keeping your moss in a healthy state.
There’s an important catch here, though. You shouldn’t purchase your sand from home centers; this type will probably have toxic impurities that will harm your moss or any other plant, for what it’s worth. Check the package for words like “terrarium-friendly” or “untreated” to make sure you’re in the clear.
If you’re planning to decorate your terrarium with other rooted plants, gravel should be your best bet. The large spaces between the gravel pieces will provide enough air pockets for the roots to breathe — this is important to prevent root rot.
Step 3: Add Activated Charcoal
To further improve the drainage, I like to add a layer of activated charcoal above the main foundation. This layer will also absorb any moisture that develops as a result of humidity and moisture.
Step 4: Layer the Soil
You can use any type of potting soil you want.
Some people like to use soil that has pine bark, which will be particularly useful if you intend to grow flowering plants.
On the other hand, some people advise against bark-containing soil since it might house gnats and other insects. If you prefer that opinion, opt for compost-free soil with coconut coir.
After determining the soil nature, you’ll have to think about the needed amount. Moss doesn’t need that much soil; its tiny filaments can hold onto the thinnest of soils.
Rooted plants will clearly need a larger amount. Unfortunately, I can’t really give you a generalized estimate. You’ll have to do your research to know how much soil your chosen plant will require.
Step 5: Choose Your Favorite Type of Moss
At first glance, one might think that moss comes only in one shape — that green, squishy sheet of aggregated hair-like plants. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Much to my surprise, ecologists say that moss has more than 12,000 species! It doesn’t take a scientist to know that this is an enormous number.
To keep things simple, I’ll give you a quick rundown of my favorite types of moss.
Sphagnum moss is common among both aquarium and terrarium users. People love it for its incredible ability to lower the water pH, making the soil healthier for most plants. Some people use it even in the dead form as an organic soil conditioner (peat moss).
When grown with other plants, sphagnum moss will need a moderate amount of indirect sunlight.
Feather moss gets its name from its unique behavior in enclosed terrariums. When given enough time, this moss will creep over your enclosure with small feather-like projections, turning your small terrarium into a more balanced ecosystem. But be aware, you’ll need to pay extra attention while watering to make sure you cover all of those projections.
Since this moss grows mostly in the woods, it should receive partially shaded sunlight.
With unique star-shaped leaves, star moss should be one of the best options for mossariums. Better yet, this moss can go into a dormant state if the terrarium conditions suddenly went south. This makes it a great choice for novices.
Step 6: Get the Secondary Plants (Optional)
Here comes the fun part! You can pair whatever plant you like with your moss bed. My personal collection includes some of the following species:
Nerve Plant (Fittonia)
The nerve plant is, hands down, the most unique plant I’ve ever seen. The prominent veins on its leaves can come in white, red, and even pink!
Because this plant belongs to tropical rainforests, it’ll need high humidity and indirect light, which makes it a perfect companion for moss.
Starfish Plant (Earth Star)
With its unparalleled shape and coloration, the starfish plant will transform mid-sized terrariums into astounding centerpieces.
It’s important to mention that this plant’s leaves might have pointy spikes; handle them carefully to avoid undue discomfort.
How about spicing things up with a carnivorous plant? If this entices you, a Venus flytrap should be your best bet.
This plant has hinged leaves that resemble a giant monster’s mouth! When insects land on those leaves, small sensory filaments trigger the plant to close instantly. Afterward, the plant slowly releases deadly enzymes that melts the nutrients out of the insects’ bodies.
If you decide to pick this plant, you’ll have to ditch the potting soil from the terrarium. The Venus flytrap will thrive best over a thick layer of moss placed atop a layer of sand.
Also, the Venus flytrap is a bit fussy about the water it likes. You’ll have to use either distilled or rainwater. Using tap, bottled, or filtered water can kill your plants.
The butterwort is another carnivorous plant; however, it’s much subtler than the Venus flytrap. Just like flypaper, this plant releases a sticky material over its leaves. When insects wander over them, they’ll stick onto this material, waiting to face their certain demise upon the release of the digestive enzymes.
Step 7: Put Everything Together
After picking your favorite moss and secondary plant, all you have to do is figure out an interesting arrangement. There are no rules here; just go with whatever looks sightly to you.
And that’s it! Now you have a DIY moss terrarium!
Basic Care Tips for Healthier Moss
Although growing moss isn’t demanding, you can push it to the max by staying mindful of some basic care rules.
First, make sure your moss stays moist — sprinkle some rainwater about 4–5 times a week. As for the light, most moss species enjoy indirect sunlight.
The next time you hear someone speaking ill of moss, let them see how beautiful your DIY moss terrarium looks!
In addition to its hardy nature, moss provides a unique aroma. It makes you feel like you’re standing in the lush woods, surrounded by nature from all sides.