Why You Should Add Moss To Your Hanging Basket Before Planting

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Why You Should Add Moss To Your Hanging Basket Before Planting

You have completed the first step in creating your overhead flower garden by researching and selecting the best hanging plants for your outdoor space. The next step is to assemble all the hanging baskets, including what you will use to line them so that the soil does not crumble away with every watering. One popular option is sphagnum moss, which is a type of moss that can be found in temperate regions worldwide and is often wild-harvested from bogs. Peat moss, which is a decaying layer underneath the top growing layer of sphagnum moss, is frequently used in horticulture. Gardeners use sphagnum moss as a hanging basket liner because it helps to keep the soil moist while still allowing for drainage, among other benefits.

Hanging baskets tend to dry out quickly, especially since they are more exposed to drying elements like wind than their ground-based counterparts. Most plants that are placed in hanging baskets are heat-tolerant and prefer fast-draining soil. Sphagnum moss holds onto water long enough for the plant’s roots to get a good drink, but not too long that the soil becomes waterlogged. It is an organic material that decomposes slowly, meaning that it only needs to be replaced every two years or so. However, despite sphagnum moss being the recommended medium for hanging baskets, there are a few downsides worth noting.

The mossy truth

Aotearoa farmer harvesting sphagnum moss

Lakeview Images/Shutterstock

Moss — sphagnum and peat — is considered a non-renewable resource, and it’s not always sourced sustainably. If you can’t be sure where and how a particular brand of moss was harvested, avoid buying it. Moss harvesting operations in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S.A. and Canada, the U.K. (specifically Wales and Scotland), Australia, and New Zealand are widely considered ecologically responsible. Sphagnum moss also has a low pH, which is great for acid-loving plants like violas or begonias but less so for those that prefer alkaline soils. If you don’t want to use sphagnum moss for any of these reasons, coconut coir (also called coco-fiber), burlap, compressed fiber (peat pots), or even an old wool sweater are suitable substitutes.

You could gather moss from your garden or neighborhood; it often grows in lawns.  While some experts consider this a cost-saving idea, it’s also possible that the moss you harvest could harbor weed seeds, pests, or diseases. Adding it to your potted plants may introduce these unwanted (and often challenging to get rid of once established) nasties. Also, it isn’t easy to harvest moss sustainably. A patch of moss re-grows excruciatingly slowly — as little as one-quarter of an inch a year or up to twenty years if the moss is completely removed from an area. Collecting enough moss to fill a hanging planter risks harming the site’s biodiversity. It might even be illegal in some areas, like national parks, at least without first acquiring a permit.

Line your basket

planting a sphagnum moss basket

Sashafoxwalters/Getty Images

Instead, buying quality sphagnum moss meant for hanging baskets from a trusted nursery or big box retailer is better. Sphagnum moss destined for use in home gardens and greenhouses must be treated for pests and diseases before it hits the market. Remember to look for sustainably harvested options, too — it might take a bit more digging, but it’s worth the hassle in greenie points. Pistils Nursery sells a one-quart bag of unprocessed Oregan sphagnum sourced ethically from Pacific Northwest forests for $10.00. Mosser Lee gets its dried long-fiber sphagnum moss from renewable locations in the U.S.A. Buy 432 cubic inches for $7.97 at Menards. If you need the basket with your moss, get this 12.5-inch-round, lined SuperMoss planter with chain from Amazon for $21.19.

Lining your hanging basket with sphagnum moss couldn’t be simpler. Press a one-inch layer of moss into the planter — it should stick out about an inch to four inches above the rim. Hold the basket above your head and scan for gaps (you’ll see a patch of light shining through), filling them with more moss as you go. If you want, add a plastic layer over the moss before filling the basket with compost or well-draining potting soil designed for hanging baskets. You’re done! Now, all that’s left is to fill it with your choice of drought-resistant flowers perfect for hanging baskets and find its ideal spot.

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Dr Heidi Parkes

By Dr Heidi Parkes

Senior Information Extension Officer QLD Dept of Agriculture & Fisheries.