Making a terrarium or miniature conservatory is a perfect indoor gardening project for those bleak winter months. A terrarium is an enclosed environment, and with the right soil mixture, light and moisture, it becomes a self-contained ecosystem ideally suited for high humidity plants.
A balanced terrarium will exhibit moisture on the sides of the container from the water evaporating from plant leaves. The condensation drips down the sides of the container keeping the plants moist.
Colorless glass containers make the best terrariums, since colored glass filters out the light. Wide neck containers are the easiest to work with. The containers should have a lid, and if they do not come with one, purchase a clear glass plate to place over the opening.
Some containers that make ideal terrariums are:
- Flea market finds such as canning jars, pickle jars or candy jars.
- Brandy snifters.
- Fish bowls or aquariums.
- Miniature conservatories available at garden and craft stores.
Before planting your terrarium, wash it out with a solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water. This will prevent algae and fungal diseases from thriving in the humid environment.
When selecting the plants for your terrarium, keep in mind the size of the container and select a combination of tall upright plants and smaller creeping ones as well as flowering and foliage plants. Place taller plants in the center or at the back, depending on if the container will be viewed from all sides or just from the front. Alternate the smaller plants around the tall ones.
Tropical and subtropical plants work best in a terrarium. Some suggested plants are:
- African violets.
- Dwarf begonias.
- Small ferns.
- Strawberry geranium.
- Small ivy.
- Creeping fig.
- Club moss.
- Baby tears.
- Irish moss.
Planting Your Terrariumcolor>
Begin by covering the base of the terrarium with a 1- to 2-inch layer of perlite, pebbles or gravel. On top of the base layer place a quarter inch of horticultural charcoal, which will keep the soil mixture fresh and minimize bacterial problems. Then add a layer of moisture retentive potting soil (a mix of equal pats potting soil, peat moss and sand works well). This top layer of soil can also be graded to create small hills and valleys.
Remove each plant from its pot and trim any dead foliage that might encourage rot. Shake off excess soil from the plant roots. Gently tease out the roots to help the plant get established. Make a hollow in the soil layer where you have decided to place the plant and insert the roots carefully.
Press down the dirt firmly around the stem of the plant. Be sure to leave space between each plant to allow room for growth. Try to prevent any leaves from touching the glass as this can promote bacteria growth.
Once all the plants are placed where you want them, cover the bare soil between the plants with decorative moss or pebbles. This will prevent the soil from drying out. Use a spray bottle filled with water to lightly moisten the soil and the moss or pebbles. Add decorations like miniature benches, acorns, pinecones or other natural elements to finish. Finally, cork or cover the terrarium.
If the neck of your container is very narrow, handmade tools can make the planting easier. Cut a narrow bamboo stake to the appropriate length and hot glue a wine cork to one end. Use this tool to press soil around stems of plants. Attach a fork to the bamboo stake to create a mini rake or a spoon for a mini shovel.
Care for Your Terrariumcolor>
Place your new terrarium in diffused light. Direct light will heat the terrarium too much and can scorch the plants. When natural light is not available, artificial florescent light can be used. Keep the soil evenly moist in the beginning. Once established, terrariums require very little or no watering. Containers that are left open may require watering every few weeks.
If you notice too much condensation on the sides of the container, remove the lid for a few hours or a day. Conversely, if the soil starts to dry out, the terrarium should be refitted with a new lid that is airtight. Pinch back plants occasionally so the foliage does not touch the glass.
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