Terrariums have been around since the 1880’s when Dr Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward accidentally discovered a way to transport plants around the world.
He designed a wooden case with glass inserts so plants could be moved from Europe to overseas via ships. When the plants arrived alive and thriving he realized his accidental greenhouse created the perfect environment.
The Wardian case or terrarium was the perfect microclimate for plants to grow and survive the long sea voyage. Inside the container water and air continually recycle to keep plants moist and thriving.
Basically if you’ve ever been in a greenhouse it’s the same idea on a much smaller scale.
Almost like a mini rainforest.
Air, food and water recycle in your container creating a balanced eco-system.
Perfect for plants that love high humidity like ferns and other sub-tropical plants.
A terrarium can be open or closed. If your terrarium is closed you’ll need to vent it occasionally to allow moisture to escape.
Terrariums can be set up in small wooden or metal cases with glass panels, round glass globes, glass urns and candy or cookie jars. Demi-johns or any large glass-blown jug are perfect too. You could even use an aquarium tank.
The larger the container the more room you’ll have to grow different types of plants.
When you’re choosing plants for your terrarium, pick ones that are slow growing. Some plant centers and nurseries carry miniature plants suitable for terrariums.
If you start with a container you can easily fit your hand in, planting and tending your terrarium will be a lot easier. But if you’re working with a bottle, you’ll need to buy a telescopic fork and spoon to plant inside it.
Recommended Plants for your Terrarium
- Bird’s Nest Fern
- Club Moss (Selaginella)
- Dwarf Palms
- Ivy – Hedera Helix
- Maidenhair Fern
Here’s What You Need to Plant Your Terrarium:
- glass container or case
- small rocks or pebbles
- decorative bark or wood chips
Buy charcoal and sand at your local pet or aquarium store. Potting soil, small bags of pebbles and bark can be found at hardware, garden or home improvement stores.
Here’s How to Plant your Terrarium
1. Start with a clean glass container. Don’t use soap as the residue may be harmful to plants. Wipe out your container with a mixture of warm water mixed with a little white vinegar if needed.
2. Once your container is completely dry, start to layer with clean small rocks or pebbles. Depending on the size of your container, this layer can be from 1 – 5 inches deep.
3. Then add a thin layer of activated charcoal (you can get this at aquarium stores). The charcoal acts as a water purifier and keeps mold and mildew from building up inside your jar.
4. Now add several inches of potting soil. If for example you’re planting orchids you can use soil specifically for orchids. For most plants, a good quality potting soil designed for house plants will do.
5. You can vary the depth of the soil to create little hills and valleys inside your container.
6. While your plants are still in their pots you might want to place them in the terrarium to make sure you have enough room. Get an idea of where each plant would look best.
7. Place the largest plant in first and then vary your arrangement with plants at different heights to create a natural looking garden.
8. Take your plants out of their pots. With a spoon, dig a little hole in your soil the same depth as the plant pot. Gently place the plant in and press soil down firmly around the base of the plant. Avoid adding additional soil on top of your plant.
9. Once you’re finished planting, water very lightly around the base of the plants.
10. Place your terrarium where it will get bright indirect light, but not in direct sun. Glass can act like a magnifying glass and your plants’ foliage may burn if left in sunlight too long.
How to Take Care of Your Terrarium
If your terrarium is closed
When there’s a lot of condensation or water building up on the sides, open the lid or vent to allow air to circulate. You may need to water lightly once a month but check the soil and plants first before you do
If your terrarium is open
Check soil and plants first before you water. Plan on watering every 3-6 weeks.
- Trim back any dead or brown leaves.
- Prune back fast growing plants that may crowd out the other plants
Terrariums are ideal for anyone who spends a lot of time traveling or away from home. Because they create their own eco-system you don’t have to water as frequently. Don’t neglect them completely though.
Try “bottle-scaping” your garden with little pieces of rock or driftwood you find. Make it yours and enjoy it for years to come!