Brighten up your home with a garden terrarium

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Do you yearn for a house full of plants but lack a green thumb? Or maybe you don’t have space to hold all the plant babies you’d love. 

If either of these is true for you, you’re a good candidate for growing a terrarium.

A terrarium allows you to grow a collection of small plants within an open or sealed clear container made of glass or plastic – such as a jar, bottle, vase, coffee pot, or fishbowl – that can be placed on a floor, desk, table, countertop, or shelf. Using the right materials, light, and moisture, terrarium gardens can flourish and thrive with very little upkeep and lend vibrant décor to any living space.

“Growing plants under transparent protection dates back to fifth century Greece, says Jennifer Morganthaler, clinical instructor of agriculture at Missouri State University. “Nathaniel Ward, a doctor in London, accidentally discovered terrariums in the 19th century while trying to protect a fern from London’s air pollution by placing it under glass. (Terrariums) are low-maintenance and, compared to other plants, provide more value for your money.”

They’re also increasingly popular. Consider that the number of online searches for “terrarium” nearly doubled between 2016 and 2017 – to an average of 450,000 searches a month, per Google Trends Data. 

Susan Brandt, founder and president of BloomingSecrets.com, says terrariums are trendy again for several reasons. “First, people like to garden year-round. Having indoor terrariums helps satisfy that need,” she says. “Second, indoor plants in the home and office help create healthier and happier people. Also, making a do-it-yourself terrarium is a great way to be creative in your home, apartment or dorm.”

Keri Byrum, author of the gardening blog MissSmartyPlants.com, says terrariums are ideal for people who lack the space or time to care for conventional houseplants.

“They’re great for people who travel a lot or have very busy lives,” says Byrum. “You don’t need to have someone care for these plants while you’re on vacation or away from home.”

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Table top plant decorative garden in a glass vase, view from above

The steps involved in creating your own terrarium are simple.

1. Choose a container (open terrariums are drier, which decreases the chance of disease), select a well-drained, high organic growing medium like peat-lite mix or sterilized potting soil, and purchase activated charcoal. Terrarium kits with all the necessary materials can be found online and in stores for around $20. Larger terrariums with more plants are more expensive.

2. Fill the container with one to two inches of the activated charcoal, “which helps filter out odors associated with moist soil,” Brandt says. Next, top it off with potting soil or peat-lite mix (a blend of peat moss, vermiculite and perlite) so that the container is 25 to 33 percent filled. “Gently pack down the soil to get any air pockets out of it,” says Brandt. 

3. Pick your plants. Choose plants that tolerate humidity and low/indirect light and are small enough to fit inside the terrarium without touching the container’s sides. Recommended species include succulents, cacti, African violet, asparagus fern, and air plants (for open containers only) as well as moss, spider fern, golden clubmoss, croton, stonecrop, aquamarine, and black mondo grass. “Plants with low and dense growth habits are usually best, says Morganthaler. “Don’t mix plants that require significantly different light or moisture, and consider light, temperature, and where the terrarium will be located before choosing the plants.”

4. Position the plants carefully inside the container before planting. “This will ensure that they have the look you want and establishes proper spacing,” says Brandt.

5. Choose a good location in a bright room. “But don’t place your terrarium in direct sunlight – it will dry up your terrarium and damage the plants,” says Andy Lopez, CEO of The Invisible Gardener Inc.

6. Prune and water as needed. “Open terrariums may need water every two to three weeks, but a closed terrarium only needs water every few months,” says Byrum, who recommends watering with a spray bottle when the soil looks dry. 

Hopefully, following these tips, you’ll start to see your black thumb turning a little bit green as your terrarium garden thrives and adds life to your home or office.

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