I have found moss to be a challenge to cultivate, and thought the forum would be a great place to determine what works and what does not. To begin with, there are many different types of moss, and they all have their own desired environment. Most of this discussion on moss will relate to silver tip moss, although most of the mosses that exist in our high arid desert conditions will follow the same protocols.
The first major hurdle to overcome is maintaining enough moisture at the soil surface to maintain moss growth. Using a top dress of shredded sphagnum moss helps to achieve the desired moisture retention.
Most plants tend to photosynthesize best at a temperature of 76 degrees fahrenheit, while moss seems to produce its best growth around 50 degrees fahrenheit. For this reason I believe the early spring is the best time to get a jump on moss growth.
The third issue generally seen is that moss prefers a pH of 5-6 where as most of our bonsai prefer a pH of 6-7. To make things more difficult water from an aquifer typically has a pH of 8-9, and Denver water has just changed their water parameters to a pH of ~8.
The fouth parameter to be aware of is the total amount of dissolved solids (TDS) that are in the water being used. My tap water tests at about 700 TDS and has proven to not grow moss well if at all. I have been using a reverse osmosis filter to reduce the TDS to 4, and then using a fertilizer made for RO water, which brings the TDS back up to 200. For the past 3 months the water with a TDS of 200 has proven to work great for keeping the moss vibrant and alive.
Theses are a few of the parameters I have been able to determine thus far, and I hope will will share some of the tips and research you have used to successfully grow moss for your bonsai.
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😮 crazy!!!! I had no idea there were so many species of moss just in RMNP!
Knock yourself out on moss: https://www.nps.gov/romo/learn/nature/mosses_list.htm
I can certainly vouch for Andy's technique! I will be employing that this year. I also use a treatment called reptisafe which is a Ph neutralizer as well as instantly removes chlorine and some salts from water. I have also had success using water that's been out for over 24 hours to let a lot of that stuff evaporate out on it's own
Now I am thinking I need to give it another go using the experience of others. My water is very hard as well.
What is funny is I can look on the ground where I used moss last year and smaller pieces either fell to the ground or I just tossed them. They are still green! Everything wants to grow.
Good stuff Paul! I've noticed over the last several years that I get great moss growth when I water primarily with collected rain water and absolutely terrible growth when I water primarily with city water. I tested a few years back but I don't remember the exact numbers. Essentially, I remember that our city water up here is insanely hard.
The trees themselves show a significant difference in overall health and vibrancy with rain water as well. I'm expanding my rain collection abilities quite a bit this year in hopes that it will last through most of the summer. If I can't hold enough then I may need to look into an RO system myself.
I use the technique taught by Ryan Neil and Michael Hagedorn of mixing chopped sphagnum and green moss (about 50/50) as a top dressing. And I totally agree, the earlier I get it going in the cool spring months the better it establishes that same year.
Does anyone have a good source or tips on identifying the various moss species?
Thanks for the input everyone! I have had pretty good success over the last 3 months using RO water with MSU fertilizer bringing it to 200 TDS. You are all correct to collect moss from areas that fit the environment you are able to provide, and I think the water quality is also a critical point that can often be missed.
The moss I have been woking with is at least 4 different species that I have collected from sunny locations growing between stepping stones on a road base type substrate. The photo below is from the beginning of January and the moss had been transplanted into place for roughly 45 days.
Then the next photo is from a slightly different angle, but of the same area 3 months latter.
These moss species were found outdoors in the metro area, and I know one of them is silver tip moss, Bryum argenteum. The environment I have been providing is indoors under my grow lights, with constant air movement. Keeping the black growth (algae?) under control has been a challenge, but allowing the rock and substrate to dry down at least twice per week has been killing it back slowly.
I have also been propagating silver tip moss under humidity domes, and the change in growth habit is very interesting.
One more shot of some moss slowly trying to take over a piece of tufa stone.
Collect moss growing in full sun light in the mountains, moss with good tight balls and no sign of rough texture. Sprinkle soil on top of tree, cover the tree soil with nice moss soaking in water, use tooth picks to hold moss in place, cut wire brackets to push into soil, cut screen to fit with a hole in the middle to go around trunk, lay screen on top of brackets, wire screen together where they meet. Set tree in full sun, water the tree as usually, mist th