Moss is one of the simplest plants to use for art projects. Preserved moss is also what is used to make what looks like a living moss wall indoors.
The reason preserved moss needs to be used indoors is because of the water weight it holds.
It is expensive to have a living moss wall inside a home because of the drainage requirements. The safer alternative is to use preserved moss.
Given that there are thousands of moss species, you could spend a small fortune buying packets of moss from arts and crafts stores. The affordable approach is to harvest your own moss and master how to preserve moss yourself.
It is an extremely affordable project requiring just two solutions. Glycerin and denatured alcohol.
Read on to discover a simple 4-step process to preserve any type of moss
Moss is preserved with a solution of 1 part methyl hydrate, plus 2 parts glycerin mixed with 3 parts of warm water. Preserved moss can lose its color. Food coloring, acrylic paint, or fiber active dyes can be used to restore color or make moss any color you want.
Harvesting moss for preserving
If you buy moss and want to preserve it, it should already be clean. Harvested moss taken from the wild will need to be cleaned first to remove any clingers.
Worms, bacteria, mold, and fungi can be present in wild moss. To sanitize it, and clean it up ready for preservation, remove the roots, any loose debris, rinse the leaves, and let it dry.
For rare moss finds that you want to grow more of, learn about how to grow moss indoors so that you can keep it around, on-demand for any project you fancy using it with.
Preserved moss is final. Once moss is soaked in glycerin, it cannot be revived like dried moss can.
Mix a preservation solution
Colors are preserved on moss using glycerin. The texture is preserved with methyl hydrate (denatured alcohol).
For preserving the color only, glycerin (sometimes called glycerol) does that. Methyl hydrate gets added to the mix to retain the moss’s texture.
The ratio to use is 2 parts glycerin and 1 part methyl hydrate with 3 parts of warm water.
Soak the moss
For the preservative to take, it needs to have time to work. Give it at least ten minutes with all the moss submerged. If you have a shallow bowl and tall moss species to preserve, it may need to be flipped over and soaked again to ensure the preservative takes.
Give all the moss leaves ten minutes soaking in the solution, then remove them to dry.
It is common for the moss to float to the top of the water so have something handy to weigh it down. A sheet of plastic with a stone placed on top will hold the moss underwater.
The parts that float above the water will not be coated in the preservative. Weight it down to make sure it takes.
The longest part of the preservation process is drying time. When you remove it from the solution, squeeze as much moisture out of the plant as possible, then rest it on a paper towel to let it air dry.
If you’re preserving batches of moss, you may need to repeat the process as many times as needed until you have all the moss you want to preserve treated.
How to preserve and dye moss
When moss dries, it dies. The color fades. Dye can be added to the glycerin solution to restore the color or change it entirely. That is why you can buy preserved moss in so many colors.
Preserved moss is water with dye. The coloring can be from a fiber active dye, food coloring, or acrylic paint mixed in warm water. Fiber active dyes need to be mixed with cool water.
The lighter color of the moss is, the better the dye will take. Reindeer moss and Spanish moss (although neither are technically true mosses) absorb dye better because they are lighter.
It is much easier to dye a white moss than it is to turn a pale green moss or brown moss to purple or red with dye.
If you are working with a true moss that the color has drained during the preservation process, these same steps can add color back into preserved moss.
Use an appropriate container
Use a container deep enough to soak the quantity of moss you put in it.
For a small amount, a small disposable plastic container would be better suited than a cooking pot.
Especially if you use acrylic paint and not a food-coloring that would be safe for foods.
Avoid contaminating kitchen bowls and cooking pots with dyes by using disposable plastic containers.
For ease of working with the moss, plastic trays do the trick. Something in the style of a cat litter tray. A flat base and tall raised edges with enough space to stir the moss around in the paint and flip it over if need be.
Soaking time for dyes
Leave moss to soak in the dye for longer so that the color pigments are absorbed. Moss can be left for days in a sealed container soaking in dye.
Protect your hands when handling wet dyed moss
Once you have the color density you like, wear rubber gloves when removing the moss or your hands will get dyed.
Line a tray with sheets of kitchen towel ready to lay the dyed moss on to dry.
When you remove it, squeeze out as much water as possible, then lay the moss on the paper towel to dry. It could take 24 hours or longer before it is ready to work with.
Once dry, it will look like real moss. It will be dead though so water can be used on preserved moss to blast off dust.
Preserved moss is treated with the steps outlined above. Dried moss is just dehydrated. Watering dried moss can bring it back to life.
Spritzing preserved moss will not bring it out of dormancy because the glycerin kills it. The dye gives it color.
Once the moss is preserved and dyed, it can be used for any indoor décor. Even as a substitute to some of the best moss species for bonsai trees without the fuss required to keep the moss alive and trimmed.
Frequently Asked Questions related to how to preserve moss
Can lichens be preserved?
Lichens and moss are most suited to glycerin preservation. The same technique of soaking in a solution of glycerin preserves moss and lichens. Adding the denatured alcohol preserves the texture.
Are all plants suited to glycerin preservation?
The vast majority of plants can be preserved with glycerin. Not always with denatured alcohol. Petals on flowers can shrivel when they dry out too fast. For preserving florals to include in a moss display, use just the glycerin on the flowers, and with or without methyl hydrate for moss and lichens, depending on whether you want to preserve the texture.
Marcel runs the place around here. He has a deep passion for houseplants & gardening and is constantly on the lookout for yet another special plant to add to his arsenal of houseplants, succulents & cacti.
Marcel is also the founder of Iseli International Commerce, a sole proprietorship company that publishes a variety of websites and online magazines.