Imagine you’re an interstellar planetologist on a mission to alter the state of planets or moons into luscious gardens capable of sustaining (human) life. In this mission, you must know how to make a terrarium.
The terrarium is a confined area used for growing, observing and researching plant development. Adding creatures such as worms, snails or reptile results in creating vivariums (“viva” meaning life, in Latin). Or consequently, by adding water and fish you create an acvarium. Insect aficionado? Insectarium! Terrariums are reduced scale simulations of the conditions of life and it’s absolutely fascinating to witness their development.
In no way am I an expert or above the general knowledge when it comes to plants. But with some research, I think I managed to put-up a nice collection of terrariums (yep… I didn’t stop at one). Looking online, you will find quite a few websites that sell terrariums for anything from 1 euro to almost 1000, which in my book is just too expensive. Obviously they’re made by artists or professionals and they indeed look amazing. Nonetheless, the joy of making a terrarium yourself is far greater.
What you need and where to look for
Plants – I must admit, as much as I appreciate plants, there have been days when watering the house plants was completely out of my mind. And this is one of the reasons why I went with cacti or succulent/ fat plants. These remarkable plants evolved to conserve water. Forgot to water the plants? That’s fine, no need to water them more than once every 3 weeks. They come in interesting shapes and sizes that make them a great choice for ornamental reasons. And did you know that some cacti have psychoactive agents? These plants require some exposure to direct sunlight, but not more than 6 hours/ day. They’re not prone to a large number of pests or disease but you can treat them to insecticide if you think it’s needed. I got all my plants from a indoor/ outdoor garden store. The plants have labels on them so picking the right ones for your terrarium is pretty straight forward. Keep in mind not to mix outdoor plants with indoor ones or water loving plants with cacti.
Tip: Overwatering is just as bad as underwatering. Adding too much water to a confided glass space can lead to molding or even the slow death of the plants inside due to harmful bacteria.
Containers – the more intricate the container, the better. That’s what makes people go “whaaat! plants can’t fit in there, that’s crazy!“. Look for glass jars, bowls, glass tanks, candle holders, hanging vases, light bulbs, glass domes, whatever you fancy. Most of my glass bowls come from thrift shops aka hidden treasure chests. They were no more than 1-2 euros and scratch free. The narrower the neck of the glass, the harder it will be to insert the plants so if you’re new to this, try sticking to something you can easily manage. There are two ways to approach containers according to the plants you pick. Fat plants, like the ones I’ve got, do need ventilation (meaning that most of my terrariums have an open hatch). Au contraire, if you want to observe the cycle at first hand, pick plants that love humidity and close them in completely.
Tip: Don’t forget to wash your containers with water, at a high temperature, just to get them clean and sanitary. Bacteria and mold are your enemies here (nah, mold is pretty awesome but not in your terrariums).
Soil and drainage – Building terrariums is like building pyramids – a good foundation is key. In the case of these enclosed little worlds, the most important element to consider is constructing drainage holes. For this you need: activated charcoal (found in the pet store, acvariums section), gravel stones or small rocks, moss and soil (choose the soil accordingly, meaning either water or non-water intended).
Tip: If you notice your moss drying out, you can easily revive it by spraying it with water and keep it in the sun for a couple of hours daily.
Decorations – Although not a necessity, adding decorations to your terrarium will truly give it that unreal look. Gnomes, birds, dinosaurs, Legos, miniatures, mushrooms, shells or runes can help tell the story of your little sampled world.
Tips: Keep it light tho. Your decorations should compliment your terrarium and not overrun it. Simplicity works best so don’t overlook decorating solely with gravel, sand and moss. I started with adding more decorations than needed and they just ended up being removed.
Tools – Gloves for handling plants and soil, spatula to scoop soil and charcoal, cardboard surface or paper to work on (it will get messy), cardboard box for garbage collection, a long wooden pick to arrange your plants position inside the container, water spray bottle and a relatively large, clean surface. I hadn’t had the necessary amount of clean hands to also take pictures of the tools so my bad but I’m pretty sure you can envision them just fine.
That’s pretty much everything you need to get started. It takes about 15 minutes per terrarium.
Easy steps in creating a terrarium:
1. Create a thin bedding of pebbles and gravel stones in the glass container. This will act as drainage as you must imitate the conditions in nature.
2. Add activated charcoal in between the stones. Activated charcoal helps against mold and bacteria.
3. Add moss over the charcoal. Fresh moss acts as drainage and it prevents the soil from becoming soaked into the base of the terrarium.
4. Add a generous layer of soil and dig holes in it for the plant roots.
5. Add your plants in the soil holes. Avoid the placement of plants exactly against the glass or each-other as it might lead to spots or over-moisture.
6. Add decoration such as small sculptures, pebbles or sand.
7. Myst your plants with water.
8. Bask in the glory that is your very own terrarium. Now you can freely scatter or preserve life wherever your travels take you, into the wastefulness of space and time.
Maintenance – Observe your plants regularly and check for any suspicious changes such as yellowing of leafs, rot or condensation. Rotting leafs or plants need to be removed or they’ll spread. Also, condensation is not welcomed when you’re planting succulents. Condensation can lead to bacteria so try keeping your terrariums fresh and healthy. Once every month or so try to move the soil around with a dining fork. Another important terrarium maintenance requirement is keeping the glass clean, inside and out. Use a napkin to remove excess moisture. Water your plants as they need it, depending on their environment. My succulents are being watered every 2 weeks and they seem to be perfectly fine. And there you have it. Taking care of a terrarium is a lot like having your own experimentation area. Every terrarium is unique and thus it varies in conditions, just like a planet.
Here are my finished terrariums:
Terrariums can be great personal gifts and a great alternative if you live in an apartment because not only do they look great but they’re very easy to maintain. I wish you success in creating one yourself.