How To Make a Moss Mechanic

This article originally appeared on Team Flower as a guest blog post.

How to Make a Moss Mechanic

As a florist who specializes in weddings, I make a lot of arbors and chuppahs.  As a passionate environmentalist, I am committed to avoiding floral foam.  I have spent a lot of time and effort looking for the best, most sustainable foam-free mechanics.  The Moss Roulade is my go-to base for a flower spray.  I use it for the majority of the wedding arbors I make.  It is an adaptable and easy technique that is reusable.  Read on to learn how to make a moss mechanic!

I call this a “Moss Roulade”.  It is perfect for outdoor weddings with a short set up window.  I commonly make mine it in the studio the day before.  When I arrive on site, I simply attach it to the structure, fine tune the design and cover my mechanics, and I’m done!

The Moss Roulade serves a few different functions, much like floral foam would.  It is a great floral foam substitute!  It provides a matrix to hold stems in place.  Depending on the moisture in the roll, it can provide a water source.  Primarily though, it provides a source of humidity, reducing transpiration and therefore the moisture needs of the plant material.  I find this to be adequate for most wedding installations since they are typically of short duration.  If I am using a particularly thirsty stem, I will place it in a water tube, and insert that into the mechanic to ensure that the stem has enough water.

I live in Pacific Northwest, outside of Seattle on Whidbey Island.  Moss is abundant here, making it a sustainable choice for me to use in this mechanic.  Moss is a compostable, renewable resource that isn’t shipped from afar.  Depending on where you live, you may choose to substitute another material for the moss.  The important quality to consider in an alternate material is that it has some amount of moisture holding capacity.  Since I am very committed to  sustainable floristry, it is also important to me that product be local, renewable and compostable.

One material I have used instead of moss for a roulade mechanic is excelsior.  Excelsior is a softwood shaving product used for packing & shipping, and for stuffing furniture.  You may have received some in a gift basket.  Many garden centers that sell statuary will have it as a waste product.  I love an opportunity to give a second life to a waste product!  Since it is made from wood, it is compostable and renewable.  It is lighter than moss, which can be a valuable quality, but it won’t hold as much moisture for as long.  It is important to match the material to the need of the project and the botanicals.  There have been many projects where I have used my roulade mechanic dry; it is an excellent matrix for stems.

There are just a couple of downsides to the Moss Roulade.  One is that it can be a bit messy to make.  Two is that it can be heavy when wet, and may be prone to rolling a bit on the structure if you don’t cinch it down tight.  Despite this, I still think it is a very worthwhile technique to have in your toolbox.  But because of these things, I definitely always make them at my studio, and not on site.  You must make sure it is well drained before the couple is scheduled to be near it.  When used wet, it really is best suited to outdoor events, or for industrial settings with concrete floors and low sensitivity to water issues.  Last, be aware of the weight, and consider working your design on site until you are familiar with the way the mechanic behaves on your structure.

How to Make a Moss Mechanic

To create a Moss Mechanic you just need a few things:  florist netting or chicken wire (I prefer green), moss or a moisture-retentive filling, and some hemp twine or wire.

The first step is to cut your floral netting to the length you need for your mechanic.  I have some rolls that are just 18” long, and I have others that are 4’ – 6’ long – it just depends on the design.  The thickness of the roulade will also vary with the project.  Some designs call for a skinny piece, others need a fatter piece.  In general, the fatter the roll, the more moss it will contain – which means it will have better moisture holding capacity but will also have more weight.  The more spirals of netting in between means more control of your stem placements.  So again, adapt the mechanic to your design.

Lay the floral netting flat, and layer it with moss.  You can create contour in your roll if you desire, by piling more moss in some areas and less in others.  Next, begin to roll the netting onto itself, much like you would roll a roulade cake, or a sushi roll.  As you roll, tuck more moss in to make sure the roll is evenly full.  You don’t want to pack the moss in, or it will be hard for stems to penetrate.  Neither do you want the moss to be sparse, or there won’t be enough to hold the stems in place.  As you roll, bend the piece to the shape you want.  Give it a curve if it will be used on the corner of an arbor.   Arch it if it is for an arched arbor.  Or you can leave it straight.

Once your roll is finished, tie it shut with your wire, hemp twine, or whatever else you like to use.  I avoid using zip ties since they are plastic.  If I know I will be keeping my roll for reuse then I prefer wire.  If I know it will be a short term item, I use hemp twine because it is strong but compostable.  I typically tack mine shut every 6” or so.

Once your roll is made, you need to make it ready to use.  I always start by locating my anchor ties.  These are the ties I will use to attach it to the structure.  I thread them through so that I am catching several layers of wire.  Sometimes I have to use a stick to get the twine through.  You can jam wire through a bit more easily.  Leave them nice and long!

Next, soak the roll.  Depending on the size you can do this in a sink, bucket, or a bus tub.  For very long rolls I will sometimes layer a flower box with a plastic tarp to make a sort of bathtub.  That is also commonly how I transport the rolls.  Turn the piece to make sure all the moss gets in contact with water, and give it enough time for the moss to really absorb the water.

Remove the roll from the soaking tub and let it drain for a little bit.  Then, frame up your design!  Sometimes you need to “pre-drill” to insert soft stems:  find a sturdier stem or a skewer and pre-poke the hole.  You can simply rough the design ahead of time, and then finish on site, or you can make a fairly finished piece ahead of time!  One big plus to this mechanic is that you don’t have to work as hard to hide it, like you would with foam.  This can help out with your budget!

You have a choice about how you cut your stems.  You can cut them short enough that they end inside the roulade, where they will suck up as much moisture as is present.  Or you can leave stems so long that you can tube them from the back side.  But here’s my favorite make-ahead trick.  Most often, I cut stems so they are just inside the back of the roll or are almost poking out the backside.  I then rest the roll back into the flower box “bathtub” with a little bit of water, deep enough for the stems to drink.  I then mist the piece generously, cover it with moist paper towel and then a lightweight piece of plastic, and pop it into my cooler to wait overnight.

Once you get to the gig, remove the roll from the bathtub and let it drain (on the lawn, in the parking lot, etc).  While the piece drains, I will often spread a tarp out under my work area to protect the space from any last drips that might come out.  Once the piece is well drained, simply tie it to the structure, add a few finishing touches to conceal your mechanics, and voila – a foam-free wedding arbor is made!  Once the wedding is over, it is easily snipped from the frame.  You can pull all the botanicals out, set the piece aside to dry, and it will be ready to store until the next wedding you need it for!  If you don’t care to store it, simply snip the ties to open it, and shake the contents into the compost bin.  Then roll your floral netting/chicken wire up for the next project!

And remember, this mechanic can also be used dry or barely damp for indoor installations or for materials with very low water need, such as hard greenery or flowers like Protea, etc. or for things that can be tubed.  Dry moss can be a bit flakey, so you may want eye protection if you are designing with it overhead.

I hope this info helps you with your own floral practice!  The floral industry can be a dirty business.  If everyone makes just a few small changes, we can help cut down on!

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