In this article, we’ll dive into how to grow bonsai moss for cannabonsai projects. If you’re totally new to working with moss, feel free to skip to the end where we review caring for cannabonsai moss where we discuss foraging for moss rather than growing it from spore.
As I’m still learning new things about moss every day, this document is very much a work in progress. Learning about moss is a wonderful rabbit hole to go down for anyone who loves nature and I hope you’ll drop any comments you have below so we can all learn together.
What is Bonsai or Cannabonsai Moss?
Technically speaking, moss is any of 12,000+ species of small non-vascular spore-bearing land plants. Bonsai or cannabonsai moss isn’t really a thing, as many kinds of moss can be used in plant art, especially cannabonsai.
That being said, traditionally Kyoto Moss has been used in Japanese Bonsai for over 1000 years. This is likely due to its short uniform appearance and natural occurrence in Japan. Deeper reading can be done here, but I’m going to focus on applications, maintenance, and care of cannabonsai moss in this article.
Quick Moss facts
- Mosses can be found all around the world, except in salt water (fun fact —sea moss is not moss)
- Mosses have existed for at last 250 million years
- Moss reproduces in three ways:
- Branching & fragmentation
- Regeneration from tiny pieces of tissue
- Spores from mature moss
What's The Best Moss To Use For Cannabonsai?
In my experience the best types of moss to use on cannabonsai art is the traditional Kyoto Moss. The second best is whatever is in your backyard or can be ethically sourced from your community.
The reason I love Kyoto Moss is you can acquire spores for relatively inexpensively (<$20) and it can be grown in a tent. There is almost no natural moss where I live (San Diego) and for many this is the best and only option besides buying live moss online.
If you live somewhere with an abundance of moss, ethically forageing for free is propbably your best bet. The photo above shows a composition I made with two kinds of New England moss, one containing wild strawberries as well.
In addition to cost savings, forageing also allows you to grow a moss that’s happy in your regional environment. This is also how many traditional bonsai artists utalize moss, including Kyoto. Sometimes it’s challedging to provide exactly what a cannabonsai or regular bonsai tree needs, while also optimally caring for moss species.
One thing to note —Looking at bonsai or cannabonsai art on display can misrepresent the process. For bonsai showings, moss is often grown in sheets or collected from nature, then added to a bonsai or cannabonsai piece just prior to showing.
How to grow Kyoto moss for bonsai or Cannabonsai?
The basic steps for growing Kyoto Moss on your bonsai or cannabonsai plant are the same. These steps can be done on a sheet preparation where you grow in a humidity controlled environment like a seed starter greenhouse (pictured here). The key either way is to keep the substraite moist and at a temperature the moss is happy with (40-75°F).
Spread wet, sterilized soil to a depth of half an inch in one or more flat pans or trays. If you are using the dome, small tupperware or takeout containers with drainage holes in them are fine. If you’re using a plant, add this substrate on top of your topsoil. The substrate should be sand heavy and should not include organic matter like sticks.
Spray the substrate with water and make sure it is wet, but there is no stagnant water at the bottom of the container. I’m a big fan of this spray bottle as it produces a delicate mist that won’t damage spores as much in step 4.
Sprinkle Moss spores evenly, using the entire packet (if using the spores I linked from Joshua Roth).
Spray substrate again, but be very gentle and DO NOT over spray. The goal here is to get the spores to stick and have enough water for the next few days while they develop. During this time direct sunlight or grow light should be avoided.
Wait a few days. This is the hardest part. To allow the spores to grow in their first phase, they must not be disturbed. This is one of the reasons growing on a plant’s soil rather than a dome is so challenging. You can use plastic wrap or other methods to keep the humidity good, but it’s a challenge nonetheless. If you note the substrate is starting to dry during this period, hit it with the mister again, but be VERY GENTLE or you’ll kill spores in development.
After giving the spores a few days to begin their growth process, mist them daily (or twice a day if needed) to maintain humidity and moisture content in the substrate. After a week you can back off to only misting when visibly needed (substrate drying out). The substrate can be introduced to sunlight and grow light, but not directly.
Keep the substrate (and hopefully by this point a few little green hairs at their ideal 40-75°F and continue applying moisture as needed.
Wait some more! Kyoto Moss can take up to 6 weeks to show visible growth, and good coverage can take 8 weeks or more. If you’re not seeing growth after 10 weeks, it may be time to start over. It took me several tries to get this growing myself, so please don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it the first time.
General tips for caring for bonsai or cannabonsai moss
- PATIENCE IS KEY.
- If using tray method, sterilize your substrate in an oven set to 200°F for 30 minutes.
- A sandy loam is best as a substrate. To make sandy soil you can add pumice, perlite, or fine sand to the mix.
- Drainage is key, and standing water is your enemy. If growing in a tray, make sure there is a hole at one end and the tray is angled that direction.
- While hard to find, clay trays are better than plastic, as they slow release moisture.
- When using a classic spray bottle, keep it at least a foot away from the substrate and try spraying up to create a mist that falls gently.
- Do not fertilize moss. If you need to fertilize your plant, soak it in a tea or use bonsai feeding spikes.
- Sometimes it’s easier to grow the moss first, then your cannabonsai inside of it.
- Consider watering with bottled water, as iron and zinc oxides in most tap water will kill moss.
- Some have found success mixing rice water (the starch you throw away when making rice) into a bottle with their Kyoto spores. I have not found this to be helpful, but you may.
Questions? Comments? Suggestions?
I’m no moss expert, just a gut who’s spent a lot of time researching and growing it. If you’ve found other methods that work, tools that help, or have any questions, comments, or suggestions in general drop them below.
When we all learn together we all grow together. Cheers!
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