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Terrariums (How to Make a Terrarium)

February 4th, 2008 · 2 Comments · Interesting

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(photos by: TarynMarie)

Terrariums, as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary, are, “A small enclosure or closed container in which selected living plants and sometimes small land animals, such as turtles and lizards, are kept and observed.” Terrariums were discovered by a British physician by the name of Dr. Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward. Ward was interested in botany and entomology. Around 1829, while observing a moth pupa he placed in a jar, he noticed that grass and a fern had started to grow in the soil that he had placed in the bottom of the jar. This was important because up until this point his efforts to grow ferns in London had been unsuccessful. He determined that ferns grown in a sealed container could survive where ferns grown outside in his garden had to deal with London’s pollution and thus died. He expanded on this experiment and the Wardian case or terrarium was born. This was important not only for people who love plants but because it opened a whole new form of commerce since you could ship exotic plants anywhere in the world.

Terrariums are beautiful and easy to put together. I made my first terrarium in grade school as a science project. I used a huge pickle jar! A school mate did a similar project using a 2 litter soda bottle. I especially like small, glass terrariums that fit on table tops or bookshelves. The best terrarium, for people who lack a green thumb, are ones filled with succulent plants such as aloe, hen and chick, pig’s ear (Sempervivum Tectorum), and jade plants for example. Succulent terrariums are also open air containers, so there is no need to keep a lid on the container to maintain a specific moisture level. Moist terrariums require a lid and are best suited for plants such as ivy, ferns, moss, begonias, and orchids.

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I like these containers by Smith and Hawken for making small glass terrariums. You can leave the lids off for succulent terrariums. They are a few steps up from my pickle jar days but pickle jars only cost as much as the pickles in them.

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(photo by: n.gottier)

How to Make a Moist Terrarium:

Materials Needed:

Container (You can use jars, glass canisters, or containers such as the ones above. I have recycled 2 litter soda bottles and pickle jars.)

Small pea gravel (You want enough for a 1 inch layer. Rinse and allow to dry before using.)

Activated charcoal (You want enough for a 1/2 inch layer.)

Potting soil or a mixture of 2 parts loam to 2 parts sand to 1 part compost (leaf based) (You want enough for a 3 inch layer.)

Spray bottle with water

Small brush

Plants selected to suit the height of your glass container, the width and the moisture/light level of the terrarium. Remove from containers and remove any dead leaves or debris.

Directions: Clean and dry the glass container. Spread a 1 inch layer of gravel on the bottom. This provides good drainage for the plants. Add a 1/2 inch layer of activated charcoal on top of the gravel. This filters the water and can help cut down on foul odors. Add a 3 inch layer of soil on top of the charcoal/gravel layers. Place plants in desired arrangement and pull soil back to plant. Start with the smallest plants if you are planting multiple plants. After planted, even out the soil and press around the plants to insure they are held in place by the soil. Make sure that the plants are not touching the sides of the container and use a small brush to remove soil from the leaves of the plant. Mist your plants with the spray bottle. Once the water has disappeared from the leaves, put the lid in place. Set the terrarium in an area with bright but indirect sunlight. Keep an eye on the moisture level of your soil but once it is perfect you should not have to water for months.

How to make a Dry Terrarium:

Materials Needed:

Container

Small pea gravel (You want enough for a 1 and a 1/2 inch layer. Rinse and allow to dry before using.)

Activated charcoal (You want enough for a 1/2 inch layer.)

Cactus potting soil (You want enough for a 1 inch layer.)

Sand (You want enough for a 1 inch layer.)

Spray bottle with water

Small brush

Plants selected to suit the height of your glass container, the width and the light level of the terrarium. Remove from containers.

Directions: Clean and dry the glass container. Spread a 1 and a 1/2 inches layer of gravel on the bottom. This provides good drainage for the plants. Add a 1/2 inch layer of activated charcoal on top of the gravel. This serves as a filter for the plants. Add a 1 inch layer of soil on top of the charcoal/gravel layers. Place plants in desired arrangement and pull soil back to plant. Start with the smallest plants if you are planting multiple plants. After planted, even out the soil and press around the plants to insure they are held in place by the soil. Add a 1 inch layer of sand around the plants. Make sure that the plants are not touching the sides of the container and use a small brush to remove sand/soil from the leaves of the plant. Mist your plants with the spray bottle. Set the terrarium in an area with bright and direct sunlight and water every two weeks. When watering you don’t want more than an inch of standing water in the bottom.

Note: You can add other objects to your terrariums such as shells and figurines. I happen to like picking plants that offer color and perspective versus adding other items. Just have fun making it appeal to you.

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