For an interesting houseplant, gather ye moss

November 18, 2009 

I like mosses. They are some of my favorite plants. They don't grow very tall. They don't need any care. When they dry out, you just need to add water to green them up again. They really don't need all that much light. And they are beautiful.

Don't worry. This is not a column on something you have to do for the moss in your lawn. Lord knows, I am not thinking about my lawn at 8 degrees. Well, not too much anyhow.

No, I like moss so much that I grow it indoors as houseplants (I guess I should say "mosses"). In fact, of all our houseplants, I would have to rank mosses right up at the top of the list for ease of care, interest and beauty.

Moss? Yes, moss. The familiar, green, soft, dense mats consist of lots and lots of individual, nonvascular plants that are botanically known as "bryophytes." They are universally recognized, so that is enough botany.

It seems that unless you grow bonsai, the appearance of moss on the surface of the soil of an indoor plant is cause for alarm. This is probably because garden columnists note that mosses like acid soils and are an indication there is something wrong with the soil and the plant needs to be repotted in fresh stuff.

Yet, clearly, when grown in a proper container, they make wonderful plants, small, bonsai fields and meadows. If you have enough moss, placing it around the base of some of your houseplants will really produce a more natural looking plant. Moss can also be grown indoors on rocks for quite an effect.

Now, clearly this is an article I should have written when you could simply go outside and dig up moss. (You may even have a neighbor with a lawn full of it that she would gladly let you dig.)

Still, even at 8 degrees, if you know where some is on your property, you can go out now and get it. Chip around a clump and bring it inside. A great place to take it from this time of year is from a rotting, downed tree.

There will be thaws when you can collect a bit easier. Don't forget that vacation opportunity to gather moss. When you go someplace, bring back its best mosses. What a memory creator.

You can also keep an eye out for mosses indoors. Check at your favorite nursery, a likely source -- though I don't mean on the shelves for sale, but rather on the floor, under a bench or by a watering device. Visit and ask, a good excuse to keep our wonderful nurseries a bit busier this time of year. Florists sometimes have mosses because they are used in terrariums. And, if all else fails, you can order moss over the Internet.

There is a formula for growing mosses on outdoor surfaces which can be used to increase your supply indoors, if need be. Use moss with those little brown, nodding bits that mosses produce (no botany today, as noted). These contain the billions of spores for starting new plants. Just mix equal amounts of moss with buttermilk and water in a blender. Don't worry that you are pureeing the plants; it's the spores that survive.

The growing container possibilities are endless as mosses don't really develop roots. Again no botany, as promised, but the point is you don't need much depth. You might even skip the soil (which should be very rich in organics) and grow on bark. In any case, spray, sprinkle or brush on the buttermilk-moss inoculate. If you have live mosses, gently push clumps into the soil.

Mosses need light and moisture, so a great place to start growing them is in a terrarium. Any clear glass or plastic container that can be covered will create a greenhouse effect, a little self-contained world that only has to be watered occasionally. Add small rocks and even other small plants. Create a little landscape you will enjoy looking at.

As noted, just growing moss on your houseplant soil is interesting. We have some around our jade plants and even grow moss, all by itself, in small plates and platters. My favorite, believe it or not, has a single dandelion that comes to flower every spring.

Wow. I must really love moss.


Jeff Lowenfels is a member of the Garden Writers Hall of Fame. You can reach him at teamingwithmicrobes.com or by calling 274-5297 during "The Garden Party" radio show from 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays on KBYR AM-700.

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