Home > Great Big Greenhouse Blog > May 2013 > The Pleasure of Terrariums

The Pleasure of Terrariums

I am a bit of a control freak…ask my greenhouse associates. Therefore, when it comes to gardening (indoor or out), I like being Mother Nature. With my houseplants, I am in control of climate, rainfall, feast or famine, and pestilence. This is especially true with my terrarium, a small world by and for me.  And because of two inquisitive cats, although I generally don’t like closed terrariums, a lid keeps the plants safe from paws with claws!
This little world of succulents was constructed using a three-gallon fish tank with lighted hood. I use the light to supplement the limited amount of natural sunlight the tank receives during the day, but I really like the way it serves as a rather magical night light when I have an overnight guest. Anyone sleeping in the guest room has a tiny window onto the landscape outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico without leaving Bon Air.
This ability to create a world of your own is, I think, why terrarium making keeps coming back into fashion every few years. It is on a roll right now, I can tell you! I can’t keep terrarium plants in stock. Now, by terrarium plants, I mean smaller plants that either have smaller leaves or are immanently prunable or grow very slowly.   They must also be able to tolerate the humidity and light conditions their containers and locations provide.
Selecting a container is the first step in miniature garden making. Any container that is clear, plastic or glass, and holds water can be used—goldfish bowl, glass vase, glass cookie jar, large mason jar, large brandy snifter, etc. or a container designed for terrariums. Open containers dry faster but are easier to access when pruning or replanting. You should choose an open container for woodland or desert plantings to avoid too much humidity build up. Closed containers will require occasional venting to remove excess moisture in the form of condensation.
The next step is to select plants suitable to the growing conditions of the container and its location, with similar light, humidity, and water requirements. Low-growing, slow-growing, or small-leaved and tightly-branching plants will keep pruning or replacement to a minimum. Opt for plants that make an appealing arrangement or choose plants that will mimic a natural landscape.
Start with a layer of drainage material in the bottom of the container. This allows for a space for water to collect without keeping the potting medium saturated. You can use horticultural charcoal for drainage, or use a pea gravel or aquarium gravel layer over the charcoal. The charcoal serves to keep the collected water “fresh”, preventing a sour smell.
Add a layer of dampened potting medium (we recommend a well-draining organic mix such as Pro-Mix). Moistening the medium before using it means that you do not have to pour copious amounts of water in after planting. With a succulent terrarium, add some coarse sand to the mix for faster drying.
Try a few arrangements of your plants before actually planting them, until you have a pleasing design. After planting is finished, add any decorative touches such as stone pathways or small statuary, etc., to complete your personal miniature garden. Place the terrarium where it will receive adequate light for the plants you’ve selected. Never place a closed terrarium in strong sunlight, as it will heat up inside like a closed car in a sunny parking lot! 

A few tips on maintaining your terrarium include pinching or pruning plants before they become so overgrown. You may want to replace a plant occasionally—try to disturb the surrounding plants as little as possible. Also, only fertilize enough to keep plants healthy, as you do not want them to grow by leaps and bounds. And keep the walls of the terrarium clean to maximize the amount of light available to the plants.

Posted: 5/4/2013 by Margot | with 0 comment(s)
Filed under: MargotGunn, TheGreatIndoors
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