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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Q & A: How to wash moss (and why)?


Moss collected from outside with hairs etc.

You might be thinking "why wash moss at all"? The gist of it is - rinse your moss out with some water and remove any trash or oversized pebbles, etc.  By rinsing the moss you are "waking it up" a bit and getting the root parts more exposed.  Also, one of the most frustrating aspects of terrarium-keeping can be the arrival of mold or the appearance of pests in your terrarium.

You can take preventative action to minimize the development of mold and insects on your moss by rinsing it off with water, removing debris and quarantining it before planting it in a terrarium arrangement.  Washing is especially important if you collect moss from the wild (i.e. the forest or the city sidewalk).

Let's go over this idea in two steps. Today I will cover washing moss and my next post will cover how you can quarantine moss and other plants.


1. Gather your materials for washing moss:
  • harvested moss
  • a bowl or tub of water
  • a tray or plate with paper towels on which you can lay the rinsed moss out to drain and dry

2. Break the moss into manageable pieces and gently press on the moss with your fingers to identify and remove any foreign objects (i.e. gravel, insects, hairs, bits of trash or plastic).

Rinsing off moss
3. Gently submerge the piece of moss in the bowl of water while continuing to press on it to remove any smaller foreign objects previously unidentified.  Some of the dirt will also disolve away from the moss roots and that is fine.

Washed moss drying off
4. Place your moss chunk on a tray or paper towel to allow it to drip-drain a bit.

5. Repeat process for all your moss pieces.  If your bowl of water gets very muddy replace it with fresh water.

6.  Once the moss pieces have sufficiently dried off (30 minutes or so) quarantine the moss for a few days or longer before you plant it in your terrarium. (See instructions on how to quarantine moss and plants here.) If you are feeling loose and fast you can plant the moss in your terrarium once it is dry enough to manage. 

29 comments:

  1. I absolutely love this blog and used it to create some terrariums of my own, the only problem is now I have small patches of white mold growing in my soil layers and a little on top. My father had gathered some wild moss for me which I quarantined for a week. No mold or bugs showed. That is the only living organism in there besides some preserved moss I got from a craft store. It is not sphagnum moss (I looked everywhere for that with no luck) but rather a round spongy earthy smelling moss. I layered like your directions said and covered the top of both terrariums. My question is; should they be covered? Could that be what is causing the mold? And how do I get rid of it?

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    1. Hi Anonymous- I noticed that you mentioned that a white mold is appearing on your moss and on your soil. Did you use fresh potting soil in your terrarium? Using old soil or "wild" soil from the outdoors can introduce mold into a terrarium environment.

      I do recommend covering your terrariums but is important to let them "breathe" with the top off for about 25% of the time. The best amount of time to keep the terrarium covered and open to the air is dependent on your terrarium vessel and other factors. Unfortunately- it is something you just have to do with trial and error and sometimes involves starting over again.

      Unfortunately once the mold starts it is near impossible to "remove" - you may need to start from scratch. Be sure to wash out your terrarium well with warm water and perhaps a drop of bleach before you begin again.

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    2. Thanks! After cleaning it out to start over I realized that is was probably the store bought moss that had caused the mold, therefore I am sticking with my mild moss on my second go. Hopefully it turns out better, I would love to create one I can keep!

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    3. Little bit of a delayed reply, but I JUST saw this. DON'T USE PRESERVED MOSS in your LIVE TERRARIUMS! It's tricky to put live next to preserved. And all the chemicals might damage your living moss. Taking Fern and Mossery's advice about bathing/washing moss, I developed a two step process: first dip/bathe the moss in water (preferably distilled), submerging and gently squeezing it to get foreign objects/eggs/critters/dirt/stuff out, letting it drip dry for about 30 minutes, and then giving it a SECOND dip/bath. Only.....on the second go, I use a product called Garden Safe Fungicide 3 which can be found at Lowe's. I spray about 7 or 8 pumps of it into a medium size bowl with some cool water, creating a 'dip' which pretty much obliterates any critters or eggs that hung on during the first bathing. I dip them as before, gently squeezing the pieces of moss, then drip dry them again for about 30 minutes before putting them in 'quarantine'. After a day or two, they should be ready to go! This whole process is for moss collected from the wild, obviously :)

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  2. Dilute peroxide will kill mold and will not harm most plants. But check it out for your plants first. I have watered house plants with it to remove mold and never had any problems.

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    1. That sounds like it would be effective! Thanks for the tip.

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    2. What proportions for the dilution?

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    3. What proportions for the dilution?

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  3. Activated charcoal is often recommend for adding to potting mix that's to be used in an aquarium. It helps "sweeten" the mix to discouage mold & mildew. I'm using bagged charcoal found in the houseplant section of a local store and I crush it fairly fine with a hammer before adding it to the mix.

    Excess moisture should be avoided in a closed terrarium...have the planting mix just damp when you put it in. If there's much condensation on the inside of the glass, remove the lid for a few hours at time until the condensation is minimal. Be careful not to let strong sunlight hit your terrarium. You want good, but indirect light.

    Now, if I can just find a good source of ferns that stay small...such as dwarf maidenhair!

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    1. Sound advice! Have you tried pinching off your ferns? I don't know if it would work with maidenhair but it seems to work with selanginella...

      http://www.thefernandmossery.com/2012/12/how-to-pinch-off-plants.html

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  4. Hi, I made a beautiful Grotto scene terrarium in an old recycled Playboy Beaker type decanter. I am so sad to see a small amount of white, snowy looking mold is developing. I used potting soil, charcoal, moss purchased from a nursery & moss I found growing on a tree. I did rinse both of the moss pieces off. I am goin to try spritzing with a little peroxide/water mix. I am really enjoying making these terrariums and hope to start selling them as well. You can see my "Grotto" on Etsy in my store, Piccolo Pianta. Any tips and advice would be greatly appreciated :) Thanks so much~ Toni

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    1. Hi Toni! You may have the best luck if you remove the moldy pieces from your terrarium! It can be very hard to get rid of it any other way. Best of luck!

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  5. Hi, folks!
    Avoid using store bought, 'preserved' moss with your live moss as it might contain preservation chemicals and substances that are harmful to the living stuff in your terrariums. If you are making live moss terrariums, then USE all live specimens in them. There are some books out there that are misleading - giving people the idea that they can combine live moss with preserved moss. Don't do it! Some terrarium 'experts' use preserved, super-green reindeer moss alongside living moss. This is a mucho mistake-o. Also - if you want to add the element or feel of wood to your terrarium, use ONLY petrified wood. Petrified wood is the same as stone and won't affect the environment of your terrarium. And contrary to what is on some books, DON'T use actual wood or twigs as they are both dead matter and the humidity necessary to maintain a moss terrarium might cause fungus or decay on dead wood and twigs. Fern and Mossery? You are a GODSEND. Your advice on bathing moss and quarantining it before putting it in a terrarium has saved me a lot of heartache. Thank you!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your helpful advice, Ian! Especially the petrified wood- great suggestion.

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  6. Is it necessary to wash your moss if it was purchased from a store and not preserved? Thanks!

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    1. Hello Nickel - I would hope that store-purchased moss would be cleaner than that collected from the "wild." But washing it never hurts! And helps prep the pieces of moss for being divided into smaller pieces.

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  7. I can't thank you enough for this! I'm about to set out making my first moss terrarium, but (being in the UK, where the only commercial moss you seem to be able to get is preserved stuff for lining hanging baskets) it's been a pain to try and find how to clean off any of the lovely mosses lurking on walls before I take them inside!
    Have you had any luck with the peroxide wash for moss?

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    1. Hi Krysia, thanks for sharing your comment! I found the peroxide wash on the moss prior to planting a bit harsh - most of my moss didn't make it past the quarantine. I recommend using just a few drops of hydrogen peroxide in tap water if you are interested in trying it.

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    2. Hi, what is the ratio of the h2o2 wash that u tried? if i diulte it further and used it to wash moss? will it be better?

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  8. hi, can I collect some mosses in winter time from forest?

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  9. Hi! I am actually not using moss for a terrarium, but as miniature landscaping in a diorama project. I collected a small amount from my back yard this afternoon and I was wondering, other than the cleaning and quarantining suggested here, are there any other special preparations or precautions I should be aware of when using this moss, and will it be possible to maintain the natural color of the moss in my diorama? Thanks for your time and knowledge!

    Steve

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    1. The color will stay for a while if you use the moss in a way that doesn’t allow it to grow ...you will want to dry it though to use it in this manner...I use a small fan directed at the moss and place the moss on some sort of absorbent surface so that moisture will be pulled out of the bottom of the plant rather than evaporating through the foliage (you can’t stop all evaporation but it will greatly reduce if done this way)as the moss dries you will want to list it lightly with purified water a a few times during the process to keep it from dehydrating fully ... should take no more than 24 hours in those cases much less getting on the density of the universe when dry you could take and lightly spray with a light Bracebridge… Because it is used for styling hair but not the kind that. And this will help to lock in the color and pliability

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  10. Thanks for your question Stephen! Living moss will not retain its green color for long if it is not transplanted into soil and kept watered. If you are looking for a green look without using water in your diorama, you may want to opt for craft moss. Or you can paint your moss green after it turns brown! For more information about when to use living moss or craft moss see http://www.thefernandmossery.com/2015/04/which-to-use-craft-moss-or-living-moss.html

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  11. i need help. do you know how to collect moss? i have moss but it has dirt underneath it.

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    1. Sounds like a sheet moss...take a credit card or similar implement and gently...GENTLY...scrape the moss off of the surface it’s growing on ....this type of harvest is difficult to pull off without damaging the moss...so don’t think you’ve ruined or killed the moss if it happens to not come up in a nice, pretty,intact sheet...moss can be started on terrariums with nothing more than fragments and if given the right( or even sort of the right, in some cases)conditions will fill in and grow beautifully in no time you might take note of what type of surface the moss was attached to in the wild (rock,wood,sidewalks etc)and try and replicate that surface as closely as and as safely as you can ...this sometimes seems to help transplanted moss “take off”....with that being said sheet moss can be tricky to grow but once established it is quite prolific...good luck

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  12. just scrape it off then wash it.

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  15. This isn’t entirely accurate...I have a waters edge terrarium with bullfrogs ,crawfish,and two blue gill...I have dealt with mold and it’s certainly a pain but not that big of a deal to rid yourself of its aggravation...peroxide ...I have no magic ratio...just slightly diluted,remember store bought peroxide is already mostly NOT peroxide...and as far as wood goes...there are woods that are basically inert and have no real affect on the terrarium...true drift wood is devoid of almost all of its active organics and can be used with no issues I have used it in terrariums for literally decades...but you MUST make sure it’s actually drift wood ,sun bleached and water hardened and dried before use ....also sun cured cypress has worked great for me in the past it’s just pricey,set up a small terrarium when I was ten with my mom with a sprig of green cypress and the tank flourished until I dismantled it to use some of the moss for a larger terrarium when I was twenty one ....I have even used pine but it’s a real chore to prepare it so that it’s safe and free of sap and no longer capable of releasing the scents that have been suspected of causing respiratory issues in captive reptiles and amphibians(but for the perfect piece what wouldn’t we do)...acknowledging of course ,that we are dealing with a confined and closed environment in our terrariums,wood is a part of ALL natural environments and life flourishes in spite and often because of it ...I have even created tanic environments using sun dried oak cuttings when keeping animals who benefit greatly from water with this quality...snapping turtles,aquatic frogs...it’s a natural anti-fungal...and also...don’t confuse “preserved” moss which is usually sold as a bedding ,with live moss that is meant to grow in terrariums... I currently have store bought pillow moss growing with wild fern moss and wild sheet moss ...don’t mean to discount anyone’s experience or knowledge just giving some examples of what’s worked and is still working for me ...Terrariums are the tiniest of micro habitats and they are sensitive due to their confined and closed nature but remember it is the vast adaptability of natural conditions and life’s ability to “find a way “that we are emulating in our tiny little worlds...

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