How To Grow Terrarium Moss
If you’re preparing a terrarium to house humidity loving pets then you’re going to need plants. Live plants will increase the humidity in the tank by a process known as transpiration. They absorb moisture from the soil through their roots, the water travels through the stems and into the leaves where it evaporates. In a large terrarium, plants should be your main focus but aesthetically there’s often a clear divide between plant and decoration, which isn’t great if you're going for a natural look. Luckily for you, there’s moss.
Having moss growing up along the rocky decorations or background of your terrarium can help bring everything together, but aside from their visual aesthetic, they’ve also got some beneficial effects for your reptile or amphibians home. Moss over the substrate will help water retention - water can’t evaporate as effectively from the soil with a thick moss over the top of it. This means that all of your live plants will get much more of the water you add to the terrarium and they’ll increase the humidity levels by transpiring. Moss also gives the benefit of your little pet’s bodies not getting covered in soil, helping them stay clean.
Now that you know that a real Jungle vibe is possible, you can start investigating types of moss that might be suitable for your tank. You shouldn’t just put any moss in and expect it to thrive, because they still have different conditions that must be met. There’s four main points you need to consider when you’re choosing a moss for your terrarium. Hopefully you’ve got the main components chosen - your animal will determine the temperatures you run at as well as the humidity and if you need special lighting.
Let’s start with water.
When you’re growing moss, water with heavy minerals or chemical contents will usually be deadly - you won’t manage to grow anything. Typically you’ll want to be using safe water for your pet anyway, but spring water, distilled water and reverse osmosis water is safe.
Some mosses are grown in aquariums, such as Java or Riccia, and will require excessive water (almost saturated conditions) in order to thrive properly, but many other mosses need misting, then airflow to properly thrive. If you’re not sure which condition your moss prefers, split it into parts and treat each part with different levels of water.
Now let’s move on to substrates.
Some mosses are absolutely happy to grow over almost any surface, whereas many mosses are more particular with their growing substrate. As a general rule of thumb, check out the underside of your moss. If the bottom of the moss does not appear to have any ‘roots’ (moss does not have true roots), the moss will happily cling to and grow on almost anything. However if the moss appears to have little ‘roots’, and grows in a mat-like fashion, such as mood moss, it generally prefers a soil-like substrate.
Now onto Lighting.
Most of the time when you research moss the information will specify that it needs low to moderate lighting. Keep in mind though that this refers to the moss being outside where it's under the sun and not when it's grown indoors. Outside it’s a lot brighter in the shaded area than it is in a typical vivarium under a light. Generally, moss in the vivarium will appreciate all of the light that it can get. We’d recommend lights such as a HOT5 bulb as well as LEDs.
There’s two main ways you can go about getting your moss all of the light it needs, or more of the light that you can give it. The first is by increasing the intensity of the lights - stronger lights mean more light to absorb. This is your option if you have a set aesthetic to the vivarium and you want your lights up out of reach of any animals. The second option, if you can manage it with your set up, is to simply lower the light in the vivarium so it becomes more intense around the moss. This isn’t ideal if you’re keeping pets though, so we’d recommend upgrading your bulbs.
Additionally, placing the moss further up in the vivarium will help it get closer to the bulbs while you maintain the upper placement within the viv to keep your animals away from the bulbs. If you’ve got a particularly tall vivarium this could be an issue for your moss and live plants.
Before purchasing moss, consider what animals will be living in the vivarium. Many animals, such as dart frogs, do not truly benefit from moss. Although it looks great, moss should not be the main ground cover in a vivarium. Most species of dart frogs, for example, kept in captivity appreciate a good layer of leaf litter and all the benefits it entails such as hiding places, visual barriers, as well as increased microfauna levels, and moss does nothing for them. Moss should be used as an accent – something that looks nice, but should not ‘take away’ from the needs of the frogs.
With all of this information, you should now be able to make an informed decision as to which mosses you should opt for, as well as if your set up will even allow for moss growth. Thanks for reading!