Moss, a Bonsai Essential by Pam Woythal

December 23, 2009

Bonsai Essentials


by Pam Woythal

Moss is a good insulator from heat, cold, heavy rain and sudden frost.  The lush green cover makes a stunning effect in scale with bonsai.

What are the disadvantages of using moss?  It can be a trap for the novice because most people think that when the moss is green the tree should be in a healthy condition.  Actually moss covers the soil and it becomes difficult to tell be sight whether the soil is moist or dry.  By watering to suit the moss, the roots of the tree suffocate from lack of air due to constant moisture.

A heavy coating of moss sometimes restricts the penetration of water to the soil unless the water is applied with force.

When and How can it be transplanted? Moss goes into dormant condition in the summer and becomes a rather dull brown.  The active growing time for moss is autumn to spring.  It can be lifted and planted at anytime.

Prepare the bonsai container by adding a layer of fine soil and mist with water. Some people add water- absorbing polymer crystals.  I found these crystals unsightly and too large for the small area used for bonsai.

Gather the moss by carefully slipping a wide kitchen spatula under it.  Lay the moss just like a carpet stretching the rolls to fit around the trunk and container. Tamp the moss down and spray lightly with water.  For the next three weeks, spray the moss before watering the bonsai or if it looks dry. It should develop root-like rhizoids to anchor itself

How can moss be propagated?  Mosses reproduce from stem pieces and spores. Moss can be collected, allowed to dry and sieved or broken up and stored until autumn.  Propagating is easy using moss starter.  My recipe calls for a handful of moss chopped up into fine pieces, a can of beer, and a 1/2 teaspoon of sugar mixed together.  I have read similar recipes for starting moss that call for buttermilk instead of beer, and I have heard that water works.  Spread the mixture about a 1/4 inch thick on top of the prepared soil with a light covering of soil over it.  Water by soaking for a week or two to prevent the spores from washing away. In five weeks, moss should begin to grow.

A method for growing moss in sodlike sheets calls for putting bricks into a container of shallow water and spreading the moss mixture over the surface of the bricks.  Place the container in a cool, shady place. The bricks absorb enough water to keep the moss moist as it grows.  It is easy to remove the moss after it has formed a lush green carpet.  Just peal and transplant.

Website of the American Bonsai Society:

Founded in 1967, the American Bonsai Society, Inc. is the pioneering national bonsai society for North America including Mexico, the United States and Canada.  As a non-profit corporation, our purpose is to promote knowledge of and interest in bonsai and to serve as a focal point for bonsai learning in North America.  We provide a variety of educational and support services, as well as publishing a quarterly Bonsai Journal for the Bonsai community.


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