Terrarium plants help you bring the outdoors in, even in winter. For a small investment and a few hours of time, you can bring some greenery into your home in mid-winter.
Got the winter blues? Can’t wait to get in the garden? Make a terrarium in an afternoon, and start digging in the dirt!
A terrarium is a glass container that offers a controlled environment for a group of plants. A closed container, such as a lidded jar, is best for terrarium plants that need high humidity. Condensation collects on the inside walls of the jar, and provides the humidity and watering the plants need. An open container, like a fish bowl, is good for succulents and other plants that thrive in arid conditions.
Buying the container
You can scour second hand stores and yard sales for unique and vintage containers. Because terrariums are becoming popular, your garden center will probably carry a wide variety of containers. They should also have the plants you need; they might even have a special section for them.
Style will be a personal choice. You can opt for rustic, contemporary, vintage, classic, or Victorian for any décor. Choose several for an eclectic grouping.
Terrarium supplies and plants
Aside from the container, terrarium supplies you will need rocks, gravel, or sand to put in the bottom for drainage, activated charcoal to combat mold, sterile seed starting mix or potting soil, and an array of plants. Terrarium tools are simple – a spoon or very small trowel for planting, tongs or chopsticks to move plants in containers with small openings, a funnel for adding soil and water, and scissors for trimming plants.
Good high humidity plants for closed terrariums include ferns, club moss, bromeliads, and several varieties of Pilea and Peperomia. Just like any landscaping project, choose them for texture, color, leaf shape, and form for visual interest.
For an open container of succulents, use sand or cactus potting soil instead of gravel, charcoal, and potting soil to create their natural environment. Appropriate plants are aloe, lithops, jade, Sempervivum, hens ‘n’ chicks, and snake plant.
Buy the smallest plants you can get. This is why a garden center should have ‘terrarium plants’. They need to be smaller than what you would normally buy as a houseplant.
This page has an excellent list of plants for all light and humidity conditions.
Putting it all together
Wash your container in hot soapy water, rinse well, and let it air dry. Put a 1” layer of gravel in the bottom for drainage. Top with a layer of activated charcoal enough to cover the gravel. Add enough potting soil to cover the roots of the plants.
Arrange your plants on your work surface until you like the design. Then using your spoon or small trowel, make a space in the soil, break up the root ball, and plant as you would anything else. You may need to add more soil when you’re done to be sure the roots are completely buried.
Water in your new planting very carefully. You don’t want to overwater it. Add a little at a time without creating puddles. Once it’s covered, it will water itself with the condensation it creates.
Make a fairy garden by adding figurines, a cottage, a walkway, and ‘boulders’. Being such a tiny garden, a terrarium holds a certain kind of magic anyway!
Do not put your terrarium in direct sun. Think of your car on a hot summer day. The plants will die! Bright, indirect light is suitable for most plants, although some will tolerate low light situations.
Monitor your closed terrarium for moisture and humidity. If there is too much condensation, leave it open for a day or two. If it needs water, add a bit with a spoon or funnel. Terrariums are self-regulating, so it won’t need water often, but you do need to check it.
Trim brown or dead leaves with small scissors to prevent mold and disease.
Terrariums in home décor
Greenery fits anywhere in the house, if you ask me. Large terrariums made in aquarium tanks can be a focal point in the living room. A small one in a Mason jar can sit on a desk or the bathroom vanity. You can even take one to work!
A grouping can grace a windowsill. Create visual interest with all different containers and plants. That’s a great way to experiment with growing them! No one says you have to make just one.
Small terrariums can be place markers at a dinner party for guests to take home. A really large one can be the base of a coffee table.
Fight the winter blues
For a small investment and a few hours of your time, you can enjoy playing in the soil and creating a miniature landscape. This is a wonderful project for kids and seniors. Terrariums make thoughtful gifts, and they are a good way for apartment dwellers to be able to garden in cramped quarters.
As always, start small, and keep it simple. You can get more elaborate once you have caught terrarium fever!