February 03, 2012

A terrarium for every room

I planted a terrarium last weekend and the plants are still alive!


In fact, they appear to be thriving. Apparently everyone in the Madison area is doing the same thing—at least that’s what the sales clerk at the greenhouse told me.

And terrariums are making a resurgence nationwide, according to Better Homes and Gardens. Some of the benefits mentioned by various sources include their low maintenance needs, the fun of creating a micro tropical forest, and the low cost of the materials.

But one of the main reasons I decided to start one is my cats. Sorry to be gross, but one cat eats plants, and the other one eats the soil and uses it for certain unmentionable purposes.

Last winter, I longingly viewed pictures of beautiful houseplants on my favorite blogs, but I had to look the other way...because of my cats. Sure, I could put the plants up on a high shelf or a ledge. But that is so inconvenient for watering purposes, so over the years I’ve pretty much given up on houseplants.

Then about midwinter 2011, I watched a segment on CBS Sunday Morning about terrariums, and I started noticing them on blogs. A light bulb clicked on in my head and I thought:  “I can have my cats and houseplants, too! A closed terrarium will keep the cats out of the plants!” The idea percolated in my mind until spring, when I got busy with other things, and the list of excuses went on and on. Until last weekend, when I decided to just do it!

Before I describe the materials and the steps I followed to create the terrarium—which you can find very easily by Googling “terrarium” and “steps” or other similar words—I should share a few mistakes I made. Because most “how to” lists don’t mention those things, but they’re good to know.

First, plan in advance where you’ll get your plants. Shop around for a greenhouse or a florist that carries very tiny tropical plants. Or wait until spring or summer when annual seedlings are plentiful at garden centers. I stopped at four retailers before I found plants that would fit and thrive in a terrarium.

Next, make sure you have all the materials ready, or plan to spend a day or so shopping for them. Even though we had many of the items on hand, I still had to make a few extra trips for supplies.

Don’t plant a Phalaenopsis Orchid in a closed terrarium. The more I read about Orchids, the more I’m realizing they have different habitat needs than other terrarium plants. Phals need more air circulation, and the whole point of a closed terrarium is that you mist it at the beginning and then neglect it. No need to water a closed terrarium—for weeks on end!

Now here’s what went right for me, and here’s how it came together:

Materials

A large glass container with a lid. My hubby bought these for me, but you can use just about any glass container.


Small rocks and/or pebbles. Gather these from your yard or buy decorative ones from a craft shop. But don’t use beach rocks—apparently the salt kills the plants.


Activated charcoal. You can use acquarium charcoal from a pet supply store or borrow it from a spouse or friend who already has a supply on hand. Charcoal filters the terrarium air, and keeps the air and the soil fresh.


Potting soil. Any basic, quality potting soil will do. Most of us already have bags of it, right?

Sphagnum moss. I had a bag of it from a previous craft project, but you can buy it at greenhouses and craft stores.


Decorative rocks and figurines for the top of the terrarium. Again, craft stores should have plenty of these in stock.


The plants. Research this part in advance and, as I mentioned before, check around for suppliers.


A reliable water mister. As the terrarium gets established, it will need light misting a few times a week. If it’s an open terrarium it will probably need a weekly light misting. A closed one rarely needs it.

To pull it all together:

1. Select a location with bright, indirect light for your terrarium. We have an egress window that’s the perfect spot for a terrarium—lots of bright southern light, but it doesn’t shine directly on the spot.



2. Place small pebbles and rocks in the bottom of the container to a depth of about one to two inches.

3. Sprinkle a light layer of charcoal on top of the pebbles.

4. Add a layer of Sphagnum Moss to prevent the soil from settling into the rocks.

5. Add potting soil. It will settle a bit, but don’t fill the terrarium too close to the top—especially if you want to close the lid.

6. Place your plants in the terrarium! I planted Arrowhead Vine (Syngonium podophyllum)…


English Ivy (Hedera helix)…


Tropical Yew (Podocarpus)…


Moon Valley (Pilea involucrate)…


Button Fern (Pellaea rotundifolia)…


and Miniature Phalaenopsis Orchid (Phalaenopsis sogo gotris ‘flora ark’).


7. Mist the works, place the top on, and enjoy! I've been misting mine daily because I have to leave the lid ajar for the Orchid.

But I’m thinking of pulling out the Orchid and placing it in its own open-air terrarium. Then I’ll have room for a Cyclamen! Maybe I should add a terrarium to the dining room, and the living room, and the family room…

(For more advice on starting terrariums, visit Dee at Red Dirt Ramblings. She’s a pro, and has a large collection of unique terrariums.)

41 comments:

  1. i read dee's post, remembered my big empty glass jar, but still didn't make my terrarium! now another nudge. i'll just have to do it, like you said. yours is beautiful; love that orchid, especially. i bet it's really nice to have plants in the house again, isn't it?

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    1. Yes, I know the feeling, Daricia. You'll have fun once you start, though. It's really pretty easy. It IS wonderful to have plants in the house and to know that the cats are safe, too. :)

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  2. Phalaenopsis (and most other commonly available orchids) will not like growing in this because you have potting soil in there, which will kill the roots. Replace the potting soil with a bark mix or even LECA, and you'll be on to a winner, as long as you don't over-water. Most orchids quite like being in humid environments, but they benefit from some air movement. There are hundreds of fantastic little orchids in the Pleurothallid Alliance that I think might do quite well in one.

    Good luck! :)

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    1. Thanks so much for the info! I read somewhere that it's OK to have a Phal in with the other plants as long as you keep it in its own pot (out of the soil) and make sure the air circulates. But to me, that defeats the purpose of a closed terrarium that doesn't need much care. So I will be pulling out the Orchid this weekend and putting it in its own open terrarium jar--up on the mantle where the cats can't get it! Thanks again for sharing your knowledge!

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  3. What a timely post. I bought a couple of glass containers at the thrift store yesterday with terrariums in mind. Houseplants are rare in this house because of Butterscotch, the cat. Your step by step instructions are so helpful. Thank you so much for this post. One question...is a certain planting tool necessary to get the plants in the soil? Your container and plants are gorgeous. You did a great job.

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    1. Thanks for your kind comments. I was able to reach down into the jar/soil to plant everything. But I read somewhere that you can use a coat hanger or wire to make tools that reach down into narrow-neck jars. I've seen some tool kits at greenhouses, too. Good luck! I'd love to see your finished terrarium when it's done, too!

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  4. I love this posting and all of the details. They use to be all the rage when I was a kid and I remember making my grandma one. She loved it and had it for years.Yours turned out so beautiful.With cats you do have to rethink about indoor plants because it is their nature and this looks like a wonderful choice for you to have your flowers too.

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    1. Thanks, Lona! It's kind of a magical little environment, isn't it? I sort of recall a school project way back when, too, but I don't remember if it lasted very long. Yes, it's great to know the plants AND the cats are both safe and I can enjoy both of them. :)

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  5. I've been wanting to make a terrarium! Thanks for the step-by-step and all the tips.

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    1. Sure! I'll look forward to seeing your terrarium, too, Holley! :)

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  6. What a great idea, I think I will make one for my son, he has a couple of houseplants in his flat, but they don't get watered very often...a terrarium sounds ideal! Great explanation :-)

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    1. Thanks! You are a very thoughtful mom! I think this might be the start of a serious winter hobby for me. :)

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  7. Dee also got me thinking of doing this and now your wonderful terrarium has given me the extra nudge I needed...I have not had a chance to go shopping with my full schedule of late but we have a bit of a lull soon so I hope to get a few started...thx for the great instructions.

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    1. I did some rearranging today. I now have a closed-top terrarium, an open-top Orchid terrarium, and a Cyclamen in a cage. I'm thinking that might be just the beginning. Take that, cats! ;-) I can't wait to see your terrariums, too, Donna!

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  8. Okay. I think I need to try this! Thanks for the details. I remember having one of these as a kid. Maybe I could grow moss since I can't seem to grow it outside in the blistering heat. This really looks like fun. And I like the idea that I won't have to water it much!

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    1. Yeah, apparently Moss grows well in these mini tropical worlds. I haven't watered mine for a couple of days after taking out the Orchid and closing the lid. There's plenty of moisture inside. Amazing!

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  9. Cool project! I have the opposite problem with houseplants. We're selling our house (ARGGH) and the realtor actually said we have too many indoor plants. Perhaps that's because I divided the Boston ferns and all the divisions grew to full size and I couldn't bear to let them die so I brought them all inside. :) Now I'm trying to find new homes for them...

    I've been trying to figure out what unmentionable things a cat would do with potting soil...

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    1. Tee hee (cats). Yeah, I didn't want to write much about that. I had a beautiful Norfolk Pine that was like six feet tall, and Ginger destroyed it. Maybe once you're in your new house you can start increasing your collection again. Good luck!

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  10. I have often wanted to create a terrarium. You have made it seem so easy with your step-by-step instructions. I have cats as well, and I put decorative stones around the soil, and periodically spritz some plant leaves with cedar oil. This has worked well. However, there is one plant that one cat still likes to chew on. I had to move it higher where she cannot reach it.

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    1. It really is that easy. Really. Of course I don't have much experience maintaining a terrarium, but it sounds like it doesn't take much. Your cats are better behaved than mine. I tried everything (including citrus oil), and the cats continued to mess with the plants. Argh.

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  11. Hi Beth! You make me want to do my own terrarium! Really!

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    1. I will look forward to your posts about your terrarium. I'm sure it will be a classy, creative one!

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    2. Well, it seems I can't turn back... :D

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  12. I think you have found a great solution for cats and the garden. Now I think I wanna do a terranium too.

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    1. Autumn Belle: You probably have lots of plants all around you that would thrive in a terrarium. How fun! You probably don't even need to buy them! I will look forward to your posts about it!

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  13. Very nicely done, Beth. I have not made a terrarium in years, but the are a lot of fun to make. There are so many miniature plants and those that can be kept small to use.

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    1. Thanks, Donna! I'm a little addicted now. It's so fascinating to see how well they do in such a small space. Very fun!

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  14. Nice job! I've had a few types of plant over the years that would have been great in a terranium. I haven't had the time to create one yet, we'll see. Sorry your cats are such stinkers. Mine like to snack on my plants once and a while, but luckily I haven't had the other problem.

    Amy

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    1. Yes, you are lucky Amy. ;-) I'm thinking about buying a few plants and cloches--not really terrariums, but the cloches keep the moisture in and the cats out!

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  15. This is one of the winter projects I have planned--I've gotten as far as buying the container:) I saw the same article in BH&G last month and was intrigued, too. I'm not much of a houseplant person either; my cats don't really bother my plants, but they have a habit of knocking them over, so I'm always cleaning up dirt. A terrarium looks so cool anyway--thanks for the tips, Beth.

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    1. I know--all last winter I kept thinking, "I need to do that." But I didn't get around to it. I'm so glad I did this year, though, because it's a little touch of summer in the middle of a boring, blah winter. It's so easy once you get it going!

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  16. Goodness, that brought back some memories! My Dad used to work for a large chemical plant that used huge glass vessels. He brought one home and my Mum planted it up as what we called a Bottle Garden - but basically a large terarrium.

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    1. Wow--that must have been impressive! Do you have any photos? What a neat memory, too!

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  17. Wow, you fit in quite a lot of plants inside the jar! It seems a great idea and an exciting new way to grow plants. Good luck and I hope it does well for you.

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    1. Thanks, Masha! It's an experiment at this point. I'll keep you posted. The Orchid is out on its own now, and I placed a gazing ball in with the plants.

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  18. I'm SO glad you figured out how to have some houseplants ~ excellent idea and great detail on how to set it up too. Hope it goes well.
    Thanks again for the award too. I haven't done anything about it yet (I'm sure you noticed!) ~ I've still been so distracted with Pinterest during my free time.

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    1. Yep, no worries about the cats! :) You are very deserving of the award! Pinterest is distracting me, too. I held off for quite a while, but now I'm really getting into it, when I have time.

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  19. Would it be possible to do a closed one with a "baby tears" plant? I keep looking at these and am falling in love.

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    1. I would think so. Here's info about using Baby Tears in a terrarium: http://bit.ly/y6YzAe

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  20. Beautiful terrarium!
    In other thoughts, I had a similar problem with my cat and plants, resolved by growing cat grass (oats in reality) which cats need in order to get rid of/prevent hair balls; and placing river rocks on top of the soil in all pots so no more eating/digging, and hopefully that'll make it less desirable to use as a toilet!

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  21. Oh, thank you for the link love. I didn't see it before now. I can't imagine why . . . . I love your instructions on how to build a terrarium. Very good and complete. I love these little, enclosed worlds, and I tink they are a bit of an addiction for me in winter.~~Dee

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