Philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum) growing up a moss pole. Photo: www.crocus.co_.uk
Moss poles are great products for houseplants that climb via clinging aerial roots, mostly aroids (plants in the philodendron family) like Swiss cheese plants (Monstera spp.), philodendrons (Philodendron spp.), pothos (Epipremnum spp.), arrowhead vines (Syngonium spp.) and some anthuriums (Anthurium spp.), plus some orchids (Vanilla spp. and Vanda spp.). Just insert the premoistened pole into a pot with a young specimen, attach the climbing stem to the pole initially, keep it moist and from then on in the plant will root into the moss pole all by itself as it grows upward.
So far, so good. But the problem is finding a moss pole that really works!
I ordered some coir-covered (coir is coconut fiber) poles from India that looked great, but they held no moisture whatsoever and it was impossible to get plant roots to fix onto them. Then I tried a moss pole, again bought on the Internet, that was covered in “preserved moss” (dead moss soaked in glycerin and died green). Same story: it held no water.
I next resorted to making my own moss poles by wrapping sphagnum moss around a section of plastic stake (PVC pipe would also work) using florist wire (you could also use fishing line) to hold it in place. The final result was great: sphagnum moss holds water readily and the plants root right into it. The problem is wrapping sphagnum around a stake . Sphagnum just doesn’t hold together on its own, so fixing it around a pole requires a lot of florist wire (fishing line) and a lot of time.
Instead, I now make my moss poles the easy way. Here’s how:
1. Gather the materials: 60 to 90 cm (2 to 30 feet) wide hardware cloth (wire mesh), dried sphagnum moss, bucket, wire cutter, flexible wire (florist wire, for example) or twist ties, pliers, work gloves, bamboo stake, potting soil, large pot, climbing plant.
2. Soak the sphagnum moss in a bucket of tepid water while you work.
3. Wearing gloves (to avoid cutting yourself on the cut wire), clip a 20 to 25 cm (8 to 10 in) width of hardware cloth using the wire cutters.
4. Roll the hardware cloth into a cylinder, using wire or twist ties to hold it together.
5. Use pliers to tuck the cut ends of the hardware cloth inside the cylinder so you don’t risk cutting yourself on them in the future.
6. Remove the moss from the water and wring it out.
7. Fill the cylinder with moist sphagnum moss, packing it tightly using the bamboo stake (or some other long tool) to push it down.
8. Place the pole in the pot.
9. Fill the bottom of the pot with moist potting mix and tamp down to hold the stake in place.
10. Unpot the climbing plant and set in the pot near the pole.
11. Fill in all around the plant and the pole with moist potting mix and tamp down so the pole is held solidly.
12. Fix the stems of the plant to the pole with twist ties or flexible wire. (You’ll be able to remove them later when the plant roots into the pole.)
13. When you water in the future, moisten the pole as well as the potting soil.
From now one, as the plant grows, the aerial roots that form at the nodes of its stems, attracted by the humidity of the pole, will grow into the moss of the pole and the plant will climb on its own.
There! That was easy, wasn’t it?
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I water my moss poll by watering from the top of the pole. The moss has started to become dense. What should I do?
Is that a problem? It won’t hurt the plants growing there and I would think it looked good. At any rate, you could try watering less and letting the moss therefore dry out a bit. That should slow it down if not stop it.
Hi, I am grateful to have found your idea. I have been a bit confused about preserved vs sheet moss, etc. You cleared this up so nicely.
Thank you, much appreciated.
I didn’t go into this in the article, but you can also cut the base of the cylinder and splay it out if you find you need greater stability.
Made a PVC pole type and put a t-fitting on the bottom with some PVC arms. I was trying to make the pole more stable but didn’t work too well. Sigh. I’ll let the Philodendrons grow up but if they can for now.
Next I’ll try your latest method. Might work better.
I wish I knew how much moss to buy.
Moss is sold in different formats (sometimes by weight, sometimes by quantity) and length too is a factor, so you really have to experiment.
Thank you – this is exactly the info I was looking for. Coir didn’t seem soft, penetrable and wet enough to me so I’m glad to get my thoughts confirmed. If I’m going to the trouble I want to do it right. How does repotting go withe aerials so deeply intertwined in the mesh and moss? Do you prune the plant at the top or do you just add to the pole or do you cut the pole open and start again, reinserting the aerials manually?
Repotting a plant that has reached the top of its moss pole is a problem. That’s why you should use a pole of the maximum size you want right from the start.
Repotting itself is not a factor: it’s easy to do, even with a pole in the center of the pot.
Increasing the height of in existing pole, though, would be very hard to do. The plants are just growing on the pole, they’re rooted into it.
The most logical thing to do when a plant outgrows its pole would be to cut off the top, reroot it, and plant it at the bottom of the pole so it can regrow.
I did this many years ago with a split leaf philodendron. In the summer I would place it in the shade outside where it was easier to thoroughly water the pole. Imagine my surprise when watering the pole after bringing it inside in the fall, I discovered a toad nestled down in the sphagnum. Scared the life out of me, but I carried the whole pot outside and successfully got him back in the wild. And btw, it’s important to not let the moss in the pole get dried out as it’s quite difficult to thoroughly rewet it.
I never let mine even close to dry out: every time I water, the stakes get their share!
Do you ever have any issues with a) algae growth on your poles due to the moisture/light, or b) issues with mold or rot since the moss is always wet and (theoretically, with tropical plants anyway) warm?
No to both a and b.
As the moss decomposes and settles, more can be added in on top, at least as far down as the roots allow. The roots may not need it, but a well stuffed pole is more presentable than an empty cage.
How do you water the sphagnum pole? Misting? Pouring water down the centre from the top? What is the best way? Thanks in advance
You could mist, I suppose, but that will take time. I just pour water over the pole to moisten it, then water the pot.
I’m not familiar with the term “hardware cloth”. What is the spacing of the wires?
Darn! I was hoping to avoid that question, as I wasn’t sure how the measurements worked in various systems (Canada, US, Europe, Australia, etc.). However, in the US, 19 gauge cloth, with about 1/2″ holes, would be fine. You could also use hardware cloth with smaller and larger holes.