Garden Topics: Tropicals & Houseplants

Terrariums, Create Your Own

Terrariums, Create Your OwnTerrariums have taken on a fresh, sparkling persona; they underscore the beauty of individual plants, and the glass can make even mundane plants shine.

A part of the charm of these verdant plantscapes is they're virtually care free. This is the smallest-and simplest-garden you'll ever tend.

Choose from an array of elegant hand-blown glass vessels made to hold tiny plants, or just grab any clear glass bowl or jar off the shelf at home. Even an old goldfish bowl will do. To make it easy though, you should be able to fit your hand into it.Terrariums, Create Your Own

Dwarf plants that like low light and high humidity are your best bets.

Terrariums need indirect light (Direct sunlight will quickly cook plants) Place a terrarium near a window that faces north, northeast, or position it under fluorescent lights).

Terrariums are a wonderful way to display plants indoors. They differ from conservatories in that the plants are inserted directly into the soil layered in the terrarium rather than placing small pots of plants under glass. Like a conservatory, a terrarium creates a beneficial humid environment for plants.

Planting Steps:

1. Since the terrarium is sealed, it is important to keep the base and the soil sterile. Either run a glass container through the dishwasher, or wipe down all surfaces with rubbing alcohol and water.

2. Build your terrarium by starting with a base level of gravel for drainage.. You need 1 to 2 inches of pebbles to buffer plant roots from any water that may pool at the bottom. Without the pebbles, the soil would become muddy very quickly.

3. Next, add a layer of activated charcoal, which keeps the soil clean and helps to control mold and bacteria growth. Activated simply means it's been through a process where it's made more porous and hence more absorbent. Wet soil can smell and charcoal is great at absorbing and removing any nasty smells. The charcoal acts as a filter for the water that will gather.

4. Cover the charcoal with an inch layer of sphagnum or sheet moss which will stop the potting mix from settling down into the lower layers of the gravel and charcoal

Planting Steps - Terrarium5. Now add sterilized potting soil, enough (2 to 3in.) so that the total contents occupy about 1/4 of the container. You can even create hills and valleys. Do not use soil from an outdoor garden as it may contain bacteria or fungi that will flourish in the humid environment. Put several inches of soil into the container - enough to cover the roots of your plants. It should be damp, but not wet.

6. Create an interesting landscape with plants by choosing a variety of colors and textures for your terrarium. Remember that less is more - don't crowd your terrarium. Your plants need room to breathe and grow and simple arrangements are more pleasing to the eye.

7. Arrange plants still in their pots in a pleasing display before putting them into the soil. We have found that the line of 'ittie bitties' work perfectly.

Planting Steps: Terrarium8. Once you've decided where to situate each plant in the terrarium, gently work them out of their plastic pots and carefully tease out the roots of any that appear to be root-bound. You may need to reduce the size of the plants root-ball to fit the space you have. You can trim up to half the roots and the plant will be fine.

9. If a terrarium is to be viewed from all angles, arrange the plants with the tallest one in the middle. If it's viewed from one angle, position the tallest plants to the rear. A range of different heights, colours and leaf shapes will always create interest exactly as they would in a garden bed.

10. When you plant your arrangement, ensure the roots are well away from the sides of the container. There should be a thick layer of dirt between the roots and the glass.

11. Give your plants a drink by drizzling a little water down the side of the container or using a spray bottle to mist the terrarium. Cover the terrarium (if it has a lid) and place it in a light-appropriate area. You'll want to watch the plants carefully for a few days to ensure they do not dry out as they re-establish their roots.

12. Place the terrarium near a window but not in direct light, since that will produce too much heat and humidity, which promote disease.

13. And there you have it. You've created your own living masterpiece!

Maintaining your terrarium:

Maintaining your Terrarium1. Terrariums are extremely easy to maintain, which is a huge part of the appeal.

2.The most important thing about the care of this type of garden is to avoid over-watering. There is no drainage hole, so add enough water so that the soil is just moist. Error on the dry side because too much water will cause your plants to rot. There should not be a pool of standing water in the bottom pebble layer. Restrict the use of fertilizers to ensure that the plants remain small.

3. Keep your plants healthy. If you see weeds, mold, or sick plants, immediately remove the affected area. You should also be careful to remove wilting parts of the plant, such as old flowers

4. If you have any quick-growing plants, regularly pinch them back or remove dead or damaged leaves.

5. If some plants do not thrive, try other choices, or make a completely new terrarium by reusing the glass container

6. If your terrarium is airtight, occasionally air it out. Though this usually isn't necessary, if your plants are wilting, or there's condensation on the sides of the terrarium, the lid should be left open to allow for some drying.

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