Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
February, 2001
Regional Report

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Build your own terrarium to satisfy your "green" cravings in midwinter.

Planting Terrariums

It's been a long winter already, so I had to do something! This week I satisfied my midwinter craving for hands-on gardening and brightened up my kitchen at the same time. I made a terrarium.

Preparing the Terrarium

A terrarium needs bright light to grow well, but direct sun will overheat the interior and damage the plants. Any clear-sided container and lid will work as a terrarium, so I cleaned up an old plastic aquarium. I started by laying gravel in the bottom, followed by a thin layer of horticultural charcoal, 3 inches of barely damp planting medium (half potting soil for African violets and half soilless potting mix made from bark), peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite.

Selecting Plants

Once the basics are in place, it's time to select the plants. Terrarium plants should thrive in humid, moist soil conditions. There are a number of suitable small houseplants to choose from. Some are naturally tiny, while some will need thinning and will eventually outgrow the terrarium.

After a little research I selected baby's tears (Helxine soleirolii), selaginella 'Yellow Clubmoss' (Kraussiana aurea), Buddhist pine (Podocarpus macrophylla), variegated ming aralia (Polyscias fruticosa), miniature African violets (Saintpaulia ionantha), an unnamed papyrus seedling, and a baby 'Neathe Bella' parlor palm (Chamaedorea elegans).

Planting It

First I tried out different arrangements of plants for looks and made sure everything would fit. (The palm did not.) Then I popped each plant out of its pot and into the soil. Finally, I watered each plant to settle it in firmly, wiped the inside walls of the terrarium clean, and put the clear top in place. That's it!

Care and Maintenance

With its lid on, a terrarium is a closed system of recycling moisture, indicated by a faint hint of mist on the glass. At first, you may have to prop the lid open to vent excess moisture (too much moisture on the glass) or add a tiny bit more water if it is dry (no moisture on the glass). Once it's balanced, it doesn't need watering.

Keep a close eye on the plants at first, in case you've included any pests, which would build up fast in the enclosed environment. Ongoing maintenance is minimal: just remove dead leaves if needed and prune or replace plants that become overgrown.

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