The Q&A Archives: How to Create a Terrarium

Question: What are the basic instructions for creating a terrarium? Jacqueline Bates Washington, DC

Answer: A completely closed terrarium is a moist microclimate ideal for humidity-loving plants that are often hard to grow in the dry atmosphere of most homes. When the leaves of the plants give off water vapor, it condenses inside the terrarium and runs back down to moisten the roots. When the plants use carbon dioxide in making food, they simultaneously release oxygen, which they use to convert food into energy in a process that replenishes the carbon dioxide. Almost any glass container can be used as a terrarium provided that it is made of clear or lightly tinted glass in order to admit light. You will need the glass container, plants (low-growing plants: devil's ivy, fittonia, small-leaved English ivy, Japanese sweet flag, prayer plant, striped inch plant; tall-growing plants: calathea, chinese evergreen, maidenhair fern, small-leaved philodendron, small specimens of dieffenbachia, dracaena, palm and umbrella plant), pebbles, charcoal, and potting soil. First, place a 1/2 inch layer of pebbles in the bottom and coat them with charcoal followed by enough potting soil to fill the bottom quarter of the container. Knock the plants out of their pot and gently brush the soil off the roots. Remove any yellowed leaves. Plant it at the same level it wasgrowing in the pot. After all the plants are in place, add water a little at a time to moisten the soil lightly but evenly. Cover the whole thing and place in shade for a few days. If the soil seems dry add water, if it seems wet, remove the cover for a few hours each day to let water escape. When it is ready, place in the appropriate light, avoiding direct sun. Occasionally, watering with an atomizer may be necessary but some terrariums have survived with little or no attention for years! Enjoy!

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