Fairy Garden Moss : What They Won’t Tell You But I Will

TruthAboutMoss 1

Fairy Garden Moss : What They Won’t Tell You But I Will

~ Ugh. It’s a pet peeve of mine. I should be a consumer advocate. I just hate seeing people set up for failure – especially in our beloved miniature garden niche.

An tiny miniature garden made from living moss. It will grow together for at least a year if I can keep the moss happy during the summer months.

A customer emailed the other day and complained that her moss smelled musty. After a bit of digging, pun intended, I found out she used the new moss “sheets” to cover the ground in and around her plants. The moss was getting moldy because of the dampness of the soil in the living garden. Unfortunately, she was sold artificial moss for that specific purpose: to “grow” it in her fairy garden.

Ugh x 2. Really?

The fairy garden moss that is out on the market today will not work with live plants nor will it grow. It’s fake and should be used only for artificial scenes. It will suffocate and kill the soil, and any roots if it is used with real plants too. (Soil is alive, dirt is dead – but that is another blog post, right here.)

THIS includes any kind of preserved moss, moss sheets, moss clumps, Spanish moss, reindeer moss, whatever you want to call it. It will NOT grow in a living miniature nor any fairy garden.

And the funniest thing about this is: it’s expensive!

Ugh x 3!!

The Truth About Fairy Moss
Fake moss can’t replace the real thing. It will get musty and moldy in a real garden environment. Fake moss is at the top, the real moss is below on the left in sheet form, and in clumps on the right. Both live-moss samples we find on our property here in Seattle.


AND THEN, I see videos of “professional designers” laying the moss sheets right on the soil! The “designer” then tucks the odd (living) plant in here and there, right into the fake moss! I wonder if she can hear me yelling at her from my desk in Seattle. Lol! Poor plants. That’s just not going to work out well at all. That silly moss will become a nice moldy mess because of the dampness of the living garden, and it will fade to brown quickly in the sun too.

The Dwarf Primo Arbovitae is a perfect “big” tree in miniature. Find the moss and little trees at Two Green Thumbs Miniature Garden Center.

Quick Moss Primer:

What is it then? These are my definitions of the different kinds of craft mosses. I’m 98% sure I have it correct but, they do such crazy stuff in the craft-supply world and in the gift industry, I’m leaving a small margin of error.

Reindeer Moss – Is really a lichen. It was alive at one point, but needs to be killed and preserved to sit on the big-box-store shelves. It comes in dark green, chartreuse green and shades of brown.

Moss Sheets – A certain kind of moss was killed and treated and glued to a plastic mesh, or burlap. It is perfectly dead too. There are “moss sheets” packs that aren’t glued down as well, that can be ripped into tinier pieces for your artificial garden projects.

Spanish Moss – It’s not a moss either, it’s a bromeliad, Tillandsia usneoides. If you are plucking this off the trees down in the southern states, put it in the microwave for about 30 seconds to de-bug it. The Spanish Moss you find in stores is preserved and very dead too.


Living Moss Rules: 

  • If you want moss in your living miniature garden, stick with real moss. 
  • If you want moss, you need the correct environment for it to grow it in which is difficult to replicate if it doesn’t happen naturally.
  • If you want moss to grow on rocks, you need to find moss that grows on rocks or pavement.
  • If you want moss to grow on the soil, you need to find moss that grows on the soil.
  • Moss needs light and water too.
  • DIGGING & HARVESTING MOSS FROM PUBLIC LANDS AND FORESTS IS VERY, VERY WRONG. Natural-growing moss is part of the eco-system and if you take away one part of the system, the other parts will suffer and/or fail. Please harvest responsibly or… 
PL-MossSet - 3
This is what living moss looks like. It’s lush and inconsistent – just like Ma Nature. It will be damp and not sold in a sealed bag. If you look on the backside you will see clumps of soil. 

Your Questions:

I can see your search questions so I thought I would answer them here:

Why does my fairy moss go brown? – If it’s a living moss, it will go brown due to lack of moisture or go dormant in the summer (dry) months. Moss absorbs water through it’s leaves which is why it does so well in Seattle where it rains in the winter but it will still go dormant in the summer months.

What is reindeer moss used for? – Crafting! It’s a preserved moss that you can find at Michael’s Crafts or JoAnns Fabrics. It comes in lime green, regular green and brown. If you use the green reindeer moss outside, the sun will fade it to brown. And, it will stiffen-up or get hard as it dries out.

Why does my preserved moss smell bad? – I’m thinking it’s because you’ve tried to use it as a living moss and kept it wet. Unfortunately there are “experts” on the Internet who use preserved sheet-like moss in living miniature gardens and fairy gardens. (It’s what this blog is about, got to the top and read the second paragraph. :o)

The Truth About Fairy Moss
You can tell it is fake by looking at the backside. If it is not soil – it is fake.

Will dried moss change color? – Yes, usually it does. If it’s a living moss that goes dormant, it will turn brown or a darker shade of green. If you mean dried, preserved moss, it will fade in the sun.

Does moss sold in bags grow? – No. Any moss found in bags on the store shelves will not grow unless you are specifically buying living moss – the difference will be obvious.

Can I grow moss in Austin, TX? – If you are wondering if you can grow moss in your area, look to your full-sized landscape. Does moss voluntarily grow in the cracks in the sidewalk or at the base of your trees? Then yes, you can grow moss in your area. If you’re not seeing any moss anywhere, then nope.

The Truth About Fairy Moss
Not convinced yet? Steve thought it was dried moss until I showed him the inside. Rip it open and you’ll see the fibers.
Irish Moss or Scottish Moss is NOT MOSS. They are outdoor perennial ground covers that stay green all year ’round and are much easier to grow than regular moss. (Sagina subulata) Available in our online Miniature Garden Center Store! Click the pic!

Here are Some Real Moss Resources:

Here is our moss guru, the indelible David Spain with his great (and funny!) website on everything mossy: https://www.mossandstonegardens.com/

Moss absorbs its water through it’s leaves and it does go dormant in the dry, summer months so if you’re wondering about your moss and why it looks dead, it’s probably dormant.

And leave that fake moss for your other crafty projects! Make a purse or hat for Mom’s Day, or a tie for Father’s Day.

Like this? Want to know more about miniature and fairy gardening from people who will tell you straight? Join us here for your weekly Mini Garden Gazette Newsletter!

Miniature Garden Plants is Our Specialty!

48 thoughts on “Fairy Garden Moss : What They Won’t Tell You But I Will

  1. Kathryn Osmann 09/04/2015 — 3:05 pm

    Thank you so much for this information. I’ve stayed away from the packaged moss in stores because I had so much trouble with what I had purchased for my first fairy garden — in a class, no less! I suspected what you’ve confirmed, but also thought I just didn’t know enough about taking care of what I had purchased. I really appreciate this posting.


    1. Thank you for this feedback, Kathryn! (I’m always nervous about coming on too strong.)

      You make a really great point about the disappointment “they” create by doing / promoting / teaching / selling this. It’s really in our best interest to empower you with the right materials and knowledge because they you will enjoy it and spread the love – as opposed to just being in it for the sale. – J.


      1. Dana Stanbery 13/04/2021 — 8:40 am

        Hi Janit.
        I live in N.E. Kansas. Im wanting to do a Fairy village outside and need a grass like idea thats alive but doesnt grow very tall as I will not be able to ” mow” it once i get all of my buildings and accessories up. What would you do for this?


      2. Hi Dana, Take a look at our Irish Moss – Sagina subulata. It’s not a moss, it’s a perennial. It doesn’t grow up – just out. It’ll mound sometimes wether it’s inground or in a container. It’s hardy to NE Kansas too. Oh, and it won’t need any mowing either. See more details about it and pics here: https://twogreenthumbs.com/products/irish-moss-sagina-subulata – J.


  2. SHERYL MEKEMSON 09/04/2015 — 9:09 pm

    Know what Janit? I appreciate your truth and education you offer! Your book was the first I purchased and gleaned so much from. This is a very fun but expensive (at least for me) hobby. When I can avoid errors and undoing a project I put together, I feel like I can depend on that person. Appreciate your newsletters and your educational sharing!


  3. Green Obsessions 17/04/2015 — 3:03 pm

    Well said!


  4. Just a reminder that digging moss from protected forests is a No-No. I scrape it off my driveway in sheets to use. Remarkably, since it is originally growing on a non-soil surface, it thrives anywhere.


    1. Great points, Dr. K! Thank you!


  5. You are so right!!! I’ve tried moss on numerous occasions, purchased from many sources for fairy gardens and terrariums, with very bad results. I bought this (yes, very expensive) bag of dried live moss from a local garden center sold for this purpose. It was beautiful and green in its dormant state. When i watered it and exposed it to air and light, it started to brown almost instantly. My most successful moss adventure was live moss purchased from Appalachian Emporium for terrariums. Gorgeous stuff. The terrariums came out beautifully. It lived the longest, it took some long months but eventually died. Dead moss under glass. Gross. I’ve since given up on moss. Now when I want a replicate a patch of lawn or some kind of green carpet – that fake, preserved, colored moss looks great! Or I’ll use a miniature grass, or some kind of tiny sedum… but most of the time, i’ll opt for a patio (like you make) instead of a patch of lawn. Its so much cleaner. Thanks for all of your wonderful work in fairy gardens. You’ve inspired me much through the years 😀


    1. Hi Trisha! Thank you for your kind words. I think I alienated myself a bit from the industry with this post but I’m a consumer advocate at heart and always have been. I can’t stand to see this kind of thing. I’m sure it discourages a lot of people that are new to gardening – I would be if I didn’t know any better! 🙂


  6. I just read this today: “Sphagnum or peat moss (pictured above) as available in most craft stores- as a dried but live moss. You may have seen this dried moss stuffed on top of silk plant arrangements or worse- spray painted green and advertised as “dried moss” in a terrarium. However if given proper lighting and water this craft moss will come “back to life” and will grow green and begin sprouting. You can propagate this moss yourself at home by misting it and keeping it in an incubation terrarium. If it is given a chance to really thrive- this plant becomes the almost grassy-looking moss you see in many terrariums for sale. It just takes a little patience, some creativity and some insight into what moss requires for optimum growing conditions.

    Often this means high acidity, constant moisture, some degree of air circulation and a somewhat enclosed system to protect the moss from insects, mold or rotting. ”
    Site: The Fern and Mossery: Q and A: Are moss terrariums ridiculously easy to care for?


    1. Hi Joni, Thanks for your input and for being part of the conversation. I’m not buying it though, literally and figuratively. Lol!

      I would love to see that craft moss be brought back to life after being treated and preserved for crafting. But even though she states that it can, the conditions she says it needs to thrive contradict: “Often this means high acidity, constant moisture, some degree of air circulation and a somewhat enclosed system to protect the moss from insects, mold or rotting.” I’m not sure how you can have a degree of air circulation in an enclosed system. If you enclose most plants they will mold and rot so putting them in a “somewhat enclosed system” – whatever that is – will not protect them or any plant from mold nor rotting.

      I’m not saying I’m the moss expert, which is why I defer to MossandStoneGardens.com, but to try to grow that kind of moss in a fairy garden or miniature garden would be a waste of time and money. You’re better off starting with a living moss that is suitable for the place you want to grow it in.

      Be wary of “experts” on the internet. I have questioned some of the info from that website before, unfortunately.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I was surprised when I read it. I have a lot of live moss in my yard so I don’t need to buy any dry stuff. I am currently making more little moss container gardens.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m the same way – we live in Seattle so I never paid much attention to cultivating it until I started getting the emails from people trying to grow/work with the craft moss. I’m just starting to get into it now and have only scraped the moss off the surface <~ sorry about that really bad pun. Lol!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. The Think Tank 18/03/2016 — 11:29 am

    I am so taken by these gardens and have a new passion that I am trying to learn about every day!! I love this information.


    1. Hey TTT, Thank you! Make sure you get our bestselling book, Gardening in Miniature: Create Your Own Tiny Living World. It’s full of wonderful photos, experience, information and has a few projects in it too. :0)


  8. I am just getting into making a fairy garden (actually a small village). However, mine is not miniature – not as small as the ones people put in planters. My houses are mostly 10″-12″ high. Are there books on fairy gardening for larger “miniature” gardens?i


    1. Hi Beverly, It would depend on the design of the house and wether it is a one-floor house or two-floor house. When houses get that big, there is usually a second story window – ?

      Here is a blog post on using and matching scale with your houses: https://minigardener.wordpress.com/2010/08/11/brain-tricks-fun-in-the-miniature-garden/

      And here is a video on understanding scale: https://minigardener.wordpress.com/2015/10/02/miniature-garden-tutorial-video-understanding-scale/

      As far as a book to recommend: I have a lot of information in my bestselling book, Gardening in Miniature: Create Your Own Tiny Living World about scale and choosing the right trees and plants for your miniature and/or fairy garden. You can find it on Amazon or get an autographed copy from our store here: http://shop.twogreenthumbs.com/Gardening-In-Miniature-Create-Your-Own-Tiny-Living-World-Book-BOOK1.htm


      1. Thank you very much! I’ll send a photo of my fairy village when it is complete! Although I keep finding other cute things to add! I never thought I would enjoy this so much!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you for this article, Janit. I have never used moss in my gardens, but a friend just asked me why her moss was turning brown. I shared this article with her. Now we know!!


    1. It’s amazing that they don’t warn you. I must have been a consumer advocate in a previous life. Lol! :o)


  10. I tried to join your mailing list but I keep getting an invalid address pop up. Please add me!!! I only have the one email account.
    Thanks for the honest advice!! 👍👍😎


    1. Hi Miya, It looks like you are already subscribed. Let me know if you don’t get your Mini Garden Gazette today and I’ll look into it further. TYTY – Janit


  11. I got mood moss at joanns. It says preserved on the sku sticker but not the packaging. It is definitly dirt. Would they still “preserve” it with chemicals or something?


    1. Hi Claire, Mood moss? That’s a new one to me. (Know that anyone can give any plant a common name for marketing reasons.) I would go with the packaging says – the sku sticker may be generated my JoAnn’s, not the packager. If it is preserved consider it dead, unfortunately.

      If there is dirt or soil with it, then at least you know it WAS natural – but it won’t grow due to whatever preservation chemicals or treatments it had to go through to get on that store shelf.

      The shelf-life has to be a decent time frame in order for a corporation of that size to order that kind of quantity in for all their stores throughout the country. So the preservation process probably encompasses some sort of chemical to kill the micro-organisms in the soil, so there wouldn’t any unforeseen problems for the retail stores. That criteria is probably on the top JoAnn’s list for carrying the “mood moss” – if you can imagine, an infestation of any kind would be a nightmare for the store. Hope that helps. – J.


  12. I think if someone uses special Preserved moss and they think it will grow need to go back to school. I am a moss artist and someone came up to me and asked if it will carry on growing and I replied “It’s preserved” and they went on asking me three times more “will it grow” and three times I said it’s PRESERVED” Until finally I said does your Preserved beetroot regrow and then they got the message. Come on peeps get the basics of English.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Stefan – the fairy garden hobby brings in a lot of new gardeners so when they see an “expert” build a garden by laying down the preserved moss in among the plants, they think it’s real. I’ve received a number of emails asking why their moss doesn’t grow – thus this blog post. It’s the “experts” that want to sell it that lead them into thinking this way, unfortunately. Macklemore called it “being tricked by a business” and I could not stand and watch silently. 😎


  13. I just looked at mossandstonegardens.com and the three types they advertise for gardens are fern moss, sheet moss, and mood moss. I think you may need a new guru. 😉


    1. Hi Steve, Those are the real mosses that David recommends. Follow his botanical names for more info on them: Fern moss (Thuidium), Sheet moss (Hypnum) and Mood moss (Dicranum.) For example, Hypnum is not the sheet moss that the big craft stores sell that’s glued to mesh, it’s real moss that is harvested in sheets from the ground – they actually roll it up as they harvest it.


  14. Well I bought the fake moss for a birdhouse I am giving as a gift. Yes it is very messy. I wanted my friend to be able to put it outside but I’m not sure what to put on it so that it stays on in the weather. Do you know what I can use?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Donna, You can use silicon glue, like ES6000. Two-part epoxy works well but it’s a bit messier. Given that moss will fade in color and may need replacing yearly, you can use hot glue as well. The old hot glue will come off a lot easier than the other two glues when that time comes. It’s a good excuse to go and visit the friend too! 😁


  15. Wow, so glad I came across this article BEFORE making terrariums with my entire class! I’d have a bunch of disappointed preschoolers and 1st graders. So to clarify, then – I should ignore all the things that say to put a layer of moss in closed terrariums… and return the Spanish moss I bought from the store?! :/ Any recommendations on what to use instead? We were planning to use pebbles, then activated charcoal, then moss, then soil and plants. Thanks for this great info!


    1. Hi Christie, The moss should be living moss, not moss bought in the stores in bags. You’ll just end up with a big ol’ moldy mess otherwise.

      We have living moss available in our online store here: https://twogreenthumbs.com/collections/plants-shade-part/products/living-moss – I haven’t tested it out in a terrarium but, in theory, it should work.

      My friend David on the east coast has this website that should have all the answers and more: https://www.mossandstonegardens.com/

      Note that gardening is a journey, not an event. If this moss experiment doesn’t work, please try again so you can teach the kids that gardening is all about finding the right conditions for the plants to thrive, instead of trying to force the plant to thrive in the conditions that we put on them that simply will not work. Let me know if you have any more questions – glad to help. – J.


  16. Tabatha Yoder 24/05/2018 — 2:05 pm

    Can preserved moss be used with lithops or living stones? Maybe small patches not against the plants themselves? The plants I got don’t like much water so would it be ok? Such pretty colors, but I spent a small fortune on 2 ten gallon aquariums and everything to fill it with succulents. I don’t want them to die from moldy fake moss, that won’t be pretty at all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No, I wouldn’t. Moss will need a different environment with more moisture.


  17. Maria Tere'z Williams 23/11/2018 — 8:21 pm

    Thank you so much for all this information. Now I can try to keep the moss I found between my sidewalk healthy. I live in Grapevine,TX and have wanted to find some for a fairy garden my grandson started years ago. Thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Shalini Raghavan 07/05/2019 — 1:35 pm

    Hi Janit, – Thanks for such a wonderful write up on this. I already feel like I know more and I just started thinking I want to grow Moss! I live in Ontario, Canada and it is mostly cold here all year long barring two weeks-months of Summer. I want to primarily grow moss in a hollow wooden alphabet – is this at all doable or should I steer clear of this idea? Also, there are so many DIY grow your own moss videos that talk about using buttermilk and diaper water glue to make a paste and ‘paint’ the moss on the wall – is this also the ‘dead’ kind then? Thanks for your help!


  19. How do I make my preserved moss that is dry and crunchy now, softer? How do I make a spray to soften it? The supplier said that has never happened to his stuff. Also, i had moths in my preserved moss. Who is a good supplier for wholesale? Moths are still around 1 yr later, just less because we moved and I hot rid of boxes and stored moss somewhere else.


    1. Hi Anita, Apologies for the delay in responding.

      If the moss has been preserved it will not revive nor will it soften. I imagine the supplier never put his preserved moss outside or in a living garden maybe?? I’m thinking that the preserved moss will go dry and crunchy if it got wet and/or it’s left in the sun. (See? That’s why the title to the blog is, “What they won’t tell you but I will!”)

      I’m not sure how to get rid of the moths – they are sneaky little things – but they like the environment obviously. For natural bug control, the idea it to make the bugs work hard to stay, or make the environment inhospitable to them so they move-on and find somewhere else to live. I suspect there are a ton of places for the moths to hide in the dried moss unfortunately. You might want to toss it and start again at this point.

      As far as suppliers – I don’t buy preserved moss wholesale so I don’t have a reference for you, but try your local wholesale florist if you have business license. If they don’t have it they might be able to refer you. – J.


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