Mommy Katie: 5 Steps to Building a Living and Thriving Terrarium

Thursday, December 11, 2014

5 Steps to Building a Living and Thriving Terrarium

Also called Wardian cases after their creator Dr. Nathaniel Ward, terrariums were very popular in Victorian times. Recently, people have rediscovered the joys of these self-contained tiny gardens. As ecosystems in miniature, they make excellent teaching tools for children. Additionally, they thrive on neglect, so even if you're too busy for an outdoor garden, you can build and maintain one.

1. Choose a Container

Image via Flickr by erin
Although you can use plastic containers, glass usually works better and is more pleasing to the eye. Containers with wide mouths are the easiest to use, but there are ways to manage making and caring for a terrarium in a narrow-mouthed container, too. For example, you can use tongs or chopsticks to thread plants through the narrow neck of a bottle. Even a light bulb can be turned into a terrarium.

2. Create Your Base

The base of your terrarium will serve as a drainage area and a filter for the water and the air that'll recycle itself, especially in a closed terrarium. You'll construct your base in three layers: rock, charcoal, and sheet moss.

  • Rock Layer: This is the first layer that goes into the bottom of your terrarium. Pebbles, gravel, or coarse sand are the best choices. Because you don't want the soil to sieve through the rocks, make sure that the texture and consistency of this layer are fine (not too fine, though). 
  • Charcoal Layer: On top of the rock layer, you want to put down some activated charcoal. This will act as a filter for the water and even the air inside your miniature ecosystem. This is essential to prevent mold from developing.
  • Sheet Moss Layer:The last layer for the base is the moss layer. You can use almost any kind of moss, but sheet moss, also called sphagnum moss, is preferred. Sheet moss will prevent the soil from falling through the cracks in the bottom layers and will also draw moisture up and toward the plant roots.

3. Put Down Soil

All plants need soil, and terrarium plants are no exception. Avoid potting soil because it holds too much water and makes it easier to over water. Peat is a good choice because it has good drainage and still has the essential nutrients for your plants. Use enough to cover the roots with a little extra.

4. The Plants

Almost any plant will do fine in a terrarium, but you need to keep size in mind. Large plants won't work in a mason-jar terrarium while they'll thrive in one with more space. Also, don't place succulents with plants that love moisture since they have conflicting needs. Here is a good source for plants that enjoy terrarium life.

5. Decorating Your Little Garden

Spice up your project by turning it into a decorative terrarium. Decorations can be anything you want. Examples are crushed glass, decorative rocks, marbles, pieces of glass, plastic animals, etc. Be creative and play with different textures and colors. Although this article is about landscaping an outdoor garden, it still has some ideas you can use for your terrarium.
From lush landscapes of ferns and creeping ivy to a sandy expanse of cacti, rock, and scrub, terrariums are miniature gardens that anyone can create and enjoy.

Once you’ve mastered these steps, your terrarium will be the talk of your house. If plants and the outdoors is something that interests you, consider attending an environmental law school to further your education on all things environmental.

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