Do you love growing plants but lack the time necessary for maintenance? Terrariums are self-contained environments that, once established, require little to no attention from the gardener.
A terrarium is an enclosed, transparent container used to create a micro-environment for growing plants. Many consider any glass container with sides, whether the top is open or not, a terrarium. However, one story of the original terrarium involved a scientist who discovered he could grow tropical plants outside of their environment by maintaining them inside a sealed glass bottle.
To create a terrarium, select a clear container with a lid. Plastic or glass will work as long as light is able to penetrate. Clear plastic wrap can be used as a covering for the container if a lid is not available.
Sterilized potting media with a mixture of perlite, vermiculite and peat moss is a good choice for growing in a terrarium. It is not necessary, as once believed, to include layers of rock, sand and charcoal beneath the growing medium.
Choose plants that are slow-growing and naturally small. They should prefer humidity and low- to medium-light levels. Succulents and cacti are not good choices due to their preference for dry growing conditions. Taller plants should be placed in the center of the container if it will be visible from all sides. If the terrarium will be a one-sided design, taller plants should go toward the back with lower growing plants in the foreground.
Accents can be included in the terrarium to create a miniature garden look. Small pebbles and other decorative features like garden fairies can turn the garden into a whimsical scene.
Avoid planting too close to the sides of the inside of the container. This will create a crowded look, may cause unsightly stains on the container and can cause the leaves to have a buildup of moisture resulting in rot.
Potting media should be moist when planting. Water the plants in, gently adding only a little water at a time. Place the lid on top of the container and observe over the next several days. If the inside of the container becomes covered with thick condensation, remove the lid and leave the container open for a day allowing moisture to escape. Replace the lid. If no condensation is forming on the inside, add a little more water to the soil. Once the right moisture levels have been achieved, a light layer of condensation will build inside the terrarium and then trickle down the sides back into the soil. This water cycle will continue making it possible to go several months without having to add any additional water to the terrarium.
Minimal fertilizing may be necessary. Use a houseplant fertilizer and apply at half the recommended rate. This will prevent plants from outgrowing the container prematurely. Depending on the plants selected, pruning may be required to maintain your terrarium’s desired look.
Terrariums make a fun family project and can be an attractive centerpiece for the table. They make unique gifts and can even be a great way to bring the outdoors into your office.
Cynthia Domenghini is an instructor and coordinator for K-State’s horticultural therapy online certificate program.