Along with daisy stickers, peasant blouses and macrame, terrariums bring out a certain nostalgia for aging flower children like myself. But with all the talk about sustainability these days, they are the perfect teaching tool about enclosed ecosystems, not to mention carefree mini-gardens for those of us with cabin fever. Whether it's your first terrarium or your first in years, I'd say it's time to give terrariums another try.
Clear glass containers are best, I found a large cannister at TJ Maxx for $7; there are lots of inexpensive and interesting candidates out there. Use your imagination. In addition to plants, you'll need small pebbles for drainage. I used both decorative river rock and aquarium gravel I had on hand, either will do, but I wanted a layered look. Charcoal is necessary for odor control; find it next to the potting soils in most stores. Some sources will say sphagnum moss is the next layer, to keep soil and rock separated, however I decided against it, for aesthetic reasons; green plants won't show up well against it. Instead I pre-moistened my potting soil to keep it in place and easier to work with while planting.
The terrarium trend hasn't gone unnoticed by the garden centers, there are lots of tiny houseplants available right now. I chose a Rex begonia and baby's tears, for contrast in color, size and texture. In spite of being 3 and 4 inch pots, they ended up being to big for the container. After dividing the plants I had more than enough for another terrarium.
Colorful foliage and varied leaf shapes like that of polka-dot plant, nerve plant, pepperomia, maidenhair ferns are just a few of the potential terrarium possibilities.
Layering the materials in order of size from large to small, finish with enough soil to anchor the plants. With narrow neck vessels it may be necessary to use funnels, and fashion wire tools to fill and plant the container. I chose a wide mouth jar shape to make it easy; I was in high school the last time I planted one of these. I also had a Boston Fern and a rooted sweet potato in my room; destined to be a plant geek.
I trimmed off some older and drooping leaves from the begonia to keep the size in proportion to the jar. As the plant grows additional trimming is needed from time to time. I'm tempted to take a few of the extra leaves for rooting other begonias.
I used my soil scoop to delicately top off the last bits of potting soil, then tamped it down with a wooden spoon. Spray the interior to wash off stray particles of soil and to initially water the planting. Be careful not to flood it. I added a little ceramic mushroom for a woodland look. Feel free to add ornaments but keep it from getting crowded.
While condensation is visible, the terrarium is sufficiently watered. It helps to occasionally lift the top to keep it from getting moldy. Spritz when condensation isn't present. Be sure to set the terrarium in indirect light, strong sunlight will cook it quickly.
With the remaining plants I used the same technique with a glass trifle bowl. With the open arrangement I'll have to be more diligent with watering, and wonder just how much the close sides will maintain humidity.
(Thanks to my daughter, Hannah, on her last day before returning to college for helping with some of the photography today...always a lovely and talented assistant.)