TruthAboutMoss 1
A 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 hotter summer months here in Seattle.

As an amateur consumer advocate, this kind of deception is very frustrating. I know what is up with your “fairy garden moss” and I’ll tell you the truth. Because facts matter. Truth matters in every way. Whoops, I’m getting too serious here…

It All Started When…

It all started with a customer email I received the other day and she 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 from a garden center, no less, for that specific purpose: to “grow” it in her fairy garden.


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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: fake moss is expensive!

I mean, really??

The Truth About Fairy Moss
Fake moss can’t replace the real thing in a living miniature garden or fairy garden – even if it is indoors. In the above photo, fake moss is at the top, the real moss is below on the bottom, left in sheet form, and in clumps on the right. Both live-moss samples were found on our property here in Seattle – please harvest moss responsibly.

But that wasn’t the end of the story…

AND THEN, I see videos of “professional designers” laying the moss sheets right on the soil! GAH!! MY EYES!! Ya can’t unsee this stuff!!!

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 for them. 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.

Not only will it prevent light and air to the soil underneath, remember soil is alive, I do believe it will prevent water getting through too. The plants will die a slow death because they aren’t getting their soil-needs met and, well, it might be suitable for spooky Halloween decor…

The Dwarf Primo Arborvitae 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.

It’s safe to say if you buy your moss in a plastic bag at craft store, it’s either preserved-to-death or fake.

Yours Truly.

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, we’re doing enough damage to the planet as it is.
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This is what living moss looks like. It looks alive! 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 might 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 its 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 and get crunchy (<~ a technical term) as it dries out.

The Truth About Fairy Moss
You can tell it is fake by looking at the backside. If it is not real soil – it is fake. But it is kinda funny to see them fake the soil on the fake moss. :o)
Sharing and caring is FREE and it helps spread the JOY of the Hobby!!

Meanwhile, Here are More Mossy Answers

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. However, 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 – which wouldn’t be bagged in theory.

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. However, if you’re not seeing any moss anywhere, then nope, or it’ll be hard to do.

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 from time-to-time in our online Miniature Garden Center Store at

Here are Some Real Moss Resources:

Here is our moss guru, the indelible David Spain with his great (and funny!) website on everything mossy:

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 almost weekly Mini Garden Gazette Newsletter!

Bringing Gardening in Miniature to a Whole ‘Nother Level.

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