Planting a Terrarium
A terrarium is a miniature landscape in a covered, transparent
container. A dish garden is similar, but a dish garden
is planted in a shallow, open container. The terrarium
is a modern version of the Wardian case, developed by Nathaniel
Ward in London in the 1800’s. His curiosity for getting
ferns to survive in sheltered environments inspired him
to get a carpenter to build him glass cases in which the
plants could be grown. Soon all of England adopted these
cases, or terrariums to grow ferns and exotic plants from
around the world.
- Container – Any transparent container
with a wide opening, such as a wide mouth jar, commercial/ industrial
food jars or an old aquarium.
- Soil - Use a mixture of one part coarse builders sand,
one part peat moss, and one part potting soil; garden
is too heavy for plants to grow well.
- Plants – There
are lots of choices. Garden centers sell dwarf forms
of many tropical houseplants. Some possibilities
- English ivy
- Swedish ivy
- baby’s tears
- African violet
- asparagus fern
- Chinese evergreen
- nerve plant
- prayer plant
- Succulents are generally not used in
a terrarium, because of their need
for dry conditions. But
attention to watering, it can be
- Washed, fine gravel,
pebbles, or coarse sand
- Activated charcoal
- Sphagnum moss
- Glass cover
- Prepare the container by washing with hot,
soapy water and rinsing it well.
- Planting consists of
four layers. The bottom layer is for drainage. Place
one inch of the gravel on the
of the container. For deeper containers, use three inches.
On top of drainage layer, spread a thin layer of activated
charcoal. Place a thin cover of sphagnum moss on top
of the charcoal to prevent the soil from shifting down
into the drainage layer. The final layer is the soil – place
several inches on top of the moss. The bottom three layers
should be laid out evenly. The soil can be contoured
for a more realistic look.
- Your terrarium will be more
interesting if you design it to follow some type of theme
such as woodland, tropical,
bog, etc. Place the plants in natural groupings. Start
with the largest plants to anchor the scene. Fill in
with the rest of the plants. Try various arrangements
before you firm the soil around the roots. If the terrarium
will be viewed from one side, build up the moss and soil
toward the back of the container. Place larger plants
toward the back and cluster smaller ones toward the front.
If viewed from all sides, the taller material should
be in the center. Use natural groupings – regular
spacing looks unnatural. Because the environment within
the terrarium is moist, ‘slips’ or cuttings
of plants can be inserted and they will root easily.
Once the plants are in place, cover the surface of the
soil with more sheet moss.
- When you are ready to plant,
remove plants from containers; trim off dead leaves and
remove excess soil to expose
roots. Trim off roots if plant was rootbound. Set plants,
fan the roots out over the potting mix, and firm roots
around soil. A cork fixed to the end of a stake provides
a suitable tamper.
- Accessorize your terrarium with pebbles,
small pieces of wood, or figurines if appropriate. The
should be in scale with the plants.
- Carefully moisten
the soil and mist the plants to wash off any soil that
sticks to the leaves or sides of the
container. Repeat misting next day, then cover the
terrarium to prevent moisture from escaping.
- The terrarium should not need water for 4 to
6 months. Water only when the fogging stops or the plants
wilted; then only add small amounts every 2 or 3 hours
until wilting stops. If a large amount is added all at
once, there is greater danger of over-watering. If there
is water in the bottom, leave the top off for several
hours per day. Don’t replace the cover until the
wet foliage has dried.
- Place the terrarium where it receives
bright but never direct sunlight. Direct sunlight on
a closed container
will cause heat buildup that will injure most plants.
You also can keep the terrarium under artificial plant lights
for 12 hours per day.
- Rotate the terrarium to keep plants
- Trim plants that get too large to maintain
shape and condition; remove crowded plants.
is not needed for at least a year. Use fertilizer in
very small amounts since the plants grow slowly and
you don’t want them to outgrow the container. Use
a water-soluble type at 1/4-rate.
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