Selaginella is an attractive, interesting plant to grow. For the best results, keep the soil moist but not overly wet, maintain high humidity around the plant, and don’t expose it to temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Here the short care tips for this ground cover plant if you are looking for quick info. Read more details about it at the end of this article.
Selaginella Quick Facts
|Origin||South Africa, South America, North America, Asia, Australasia|
|Scientific Name:||Selaginella sp.|
|Common Names||Spike Moss, arborvitae fern, spreading club moss, trailing moss|
|Height||Limitless spread on some varieties|
|Watering||Maintain moist soil|
|Light||Bright, indirect light to full shade depending on the variety|
|Pests||Mealybugs and spider mites|
Varieties of Selaginella
There are over 700 species of Selaginella that grow natively in many different regions across the world, including China, Africa, South America, and Australia. Selaginella plants are usually perennials, but depending on the variety, they can be climbers, creepers, or trailing plants. Some can grow to form small mounds, while others have a very low spread and work well as ground cover.
A few of the common varieties include the following.
Commonly known as trailing Spike Moss, this variety of Selaginella is native to Southern Africa. It grows to a low height of just one inch but can spread limitlessly by rooting stems. Its foliage is a vibrant green color, though other cultivars exist with brown or golden foliage.
Native to China, this variety of Selaginella forms small mounds of foliage. Its stems can extend to eight inches in length, with a spread of around 12 inches. It is commonly known as Staunton’s Spike Moss.
This plant is commonly known as Arborvitae Fern, although this variety of Selaginella is not technically a fern at all. It spreads rapidly to lengths of over 110 feet, with dark green detailed leaves (Southern Living).
Selaginella Care Tips
This plant enjoys being in moist soil but dislikes soggy soil, so when watering, aim to reach a happy medium. A key part of ensuring the plant does not get too much water is planting the Selaginella in well-draining soil. This will mean that even if the plant is accidentally overwatered by human error, or if it receives a heavy rainfall when kept outside, the water can drain away and not result in the plant sitting in soggy soil. Soggy soil will lead to root rot if it continues for a sustained period of time, which is generally fatal for a plant, so make efforts to prevent overwatering.
You can check the soil before you water it, touching to see if you can feel any moisture in the upper most level of the soil. If the soil is moist to the touch, then it doesn’t need watering again just yet. However if it is dry, you can add water. Some varieties of Selaginella will become completely dormant when they are left to dry out, and their leaves will become discolored and turn in on themselves like tiny curled up balls. Once water is added to the plant, it will bounce back to life and return to a lush green color. You can see from this trait that underwatering the plant is much more preferable to overwatering it, so if you are unsure of how much to water the Selaginella, you should err on the side of caution. Over time you will learn exactly how your plant likes to be cared for.
In winter, the plant will need significantly less water, and you should reduce your watering schedule.
Light requirements can vary dramatically between different varieties of Selaginella, but if kept indoors as a houseplant, a safe bet is a position of bright, indirect light. Outdoors, Selaginella plants like to be in partial shade to full shade. If kept in partial shade, ensure that any light the plant receives is morning light so that it isn’t too intense, and then, shelter the plant from afternoon light when the sun is at its strongest.
Selaginella plants enjoy high humidity. If you keep the plants indoors, you can increase the humidity around the plant by grouping it with other plants, as this is a natural way to create a higher humidity. Alternatively, you can spray the plant with a light water mist, or set the plant on a pebble tray. Humidifiers are also a good way to increase humidity, though they will increase the moisture content of the whole room, not just around the plant.
Selaginella plants like temperatures ranging from 50°-75° F. Because of this, some varieties can work well as houseplants, but they are more commonly found growing outdoors. There are some Selaginella species that will tolerate temperatures as low as 40° F, and these can be grown outdoors all year round. If kept inside, keep the plants away from heating vents which may dry the plants out.
In its natural environment, Selaginella plants self-propagate from spores that are produced in the short terminal spikes (Royal Horticultural Society). However, if you wish to propagate the plant yourself, you can do so with stem cuttings or plant division.
To divide the plant, you can remove it from its pot once it becomes root bound and separate the rhizomatous roots up into sections. Depending on the size of the plant, you could half it or divide it up into several new plants. Take the newly divided plants and pot them into appropriately sized containers with moist, fresh potting soil and continue care as normal.
To propagate with stem cuttings, you will need to take a cutting of around 4 inches and dip the cut end in rooting hormone. Prepare a small pot with moist growing medium and create a hole in it with the blunt end of a pencil. Tuck the stem cutting into the hole and set it in a warm position to root.
To encourage rooting, you can cover the stem cutting with a plastic bag, which will help to create a humid environment and replicate that of a glasshouse. You will know roots have formed once new growth is produced above soil level, or if you tug the stem and come up against resistance. When roots have formed, you can transplant the young plant to a larger pot or plant it directly in the ground outside. This is best done in spring so that the plant has a chance to become strong over the growing season so that it has better chances to survive over the colder winter months.
You can cut back the stems of this plant to keep its size-controlled or to encourage bushier growth. If the plant gets leggy or straggly, you can simply pinch the stems back, and the plant will respond with new growth at the base, creating a fuller-looking Selaginella. You should also prune any dead or damaged stems as you notice them to keep the plant in good condition and promote good health.
Common Pests and Diseases
The most common pests for this plant are spider mites and mealybugs. You can keep spider mites at bay by maintaining high humidity around the plant, as these typically infest plants in dry conditions. Mealybugs can be prevented in part by reducing the frequency with which you fertilize your plant. Mealybugs prefer soil with a high nitrogen content, so overfeeding your plants can encourage these pests to inhabit your plant.
If you do spot a pest problem on your plant, then deal with it immediately by spraying the plant with a strong blast of water to physically remove the pests, followed up by applications of organic neem oil.
What has your experience been with Selaginella? Let us know in the comments, and share this page with other growers!