How to Make a Terrarium: A Teeny Tiny Plant Lover’s Guide
So this weekend I took the next step in my plant obsession – I made a gorgeous terrarium. An ultra cute little garden that makes a beautiful natural ornament for my house. I feel fresher already!
About two years or so ago I decided that plants were my ‘thing’.
It happened when we were house-sitting for some lovely people in Indooroopilly, and they had quite a few beautiful gardens (including a fern garden) that needed watering regularly. Up until then I had mostly been used to apartment living, and I have to admit, was little bit naively shocked when I discovered how much maintenance these things took. “What do you mean I need to water it twice a week? Surely the weather and occasional rain can sort that out?” etc etc. I thought, what’s the big deal about plants that take so much effort but don’t really give something back?
Let me clarify for you, I know how ridiculously stupid this sounds. I just honestly had never put much thought into it before. My family had a beautiful fernery when I was growing up, but my dad had rigged up an amazing timed sprinkler system so, to my childish mind, plants just…sorted themselves out.
I became so used to the tending of these treasures, that I almost found a calming meditation out of it. Helping living things thrive and watching them grow as they flourished under my care was addictive. Then I found when I moved into my own little house that there was something…missing. It was missing some of that life.
So I tried my hand at some indoor plants…and my selaginellas and fittonias died a horrible, parched death. Hmm…I thought to myself…maybe this wasn’t really my ‘thing’ after all.
Determined not to let some dearly departed plants get me down, I did my research and instead decided on some of the ‘unkillable’ plants – succulents. Followers of my blog will know that to this day I have a particular affection for these teeny tiny plants.
They are not ‘unkillable’ (as I have proven on several occasions), however I now have a pleasing collection of them on my window sill in my kitchen and in some other more sunny areas of my house. Most of them – including the oldest, going on nearly two years now – I planted myself, and they make me just a little bit happy inside when I see them. I branched out to some less hardy plants too – and yes, some of them have names. It’s just how I roll.
I’m a little bit excited to share this post with you all today…making a terrarium is something that I have been wanting to do for a very, very long time. A couple of weeks ago I got a beautiful open terrarium from the Finders Keepers Markets, and it gave me the final kick up the bum I needed to attempt it myself. I was going to attempt to make a self-sustaining ‘closed’ terrarium to boot (that basically means it waters itself and is its own ecosystem as it is in an enclosed environment). You can’t say I do things by half!
In the end it was surprisingly easy. A bit messy, but very fun! And I’m pretty sure I’m addicted to this too.
How to make a terrarium:
The same basic ingredients are applicable to arid (dry) and more tropical terrariums – the main difference is in the plants you buy. If you are choosing to make a closed terrarium the humidity will be up there, so you want more moisture friendly plants – mosses and ferns make an excellent choice. I picked up a bunch of sub-tropical and tropical plants for my creation – several types of foliage colour and sizes for some aesthetic variety.
I tried Bunnings, but was severely disappointed both in their variety and quality of plants. Sometimes they get it right – but this time they definitely didn’t. So I trundled off down the road, to Oxley Nursery – and aww yeah baby, I hit the jackpot. Seriously, their fern section was bigger than Bunnings’ entire garden section. Shut up and sit down, Bunnings.
As long as you have a washed, water-tight, light-penetrating container, the terrarium world is your oyster. I love glass because to me it is really timeless decor, and I LOVE being able to see the layers made with all the different ingredients. However, I have also used ceramic pots and porcelain little bowls in the past. As long as you have pebbles at the bottom, drainage shouldn’t be an issue and you won’t need to drill holes into anything. A lid is necessary for an enclosed terrarium (just in case you hadn’t figured that out for yourself…).
- Teeny Tiny Plants – very important!
- A nicely sized glass jar – I had the perfect one, a gift from a student at the end of last year. It was filled with home made cookies when it was given to me, and I thought filling it with something else just as comforting would be a nice thing to do.
- Pebbles for drainage
- Activated charcoal to keep the water clean and prevent mould
- Soil (for nutrients and shit…obviously – you can get special succulent soil, but I’ve never had much issue with regular stuff)
- Sphagnum moss to prevent the soil moving into the drainage area
- Some top layer pebbles/rocks/ornaments for trendy hipster stylin’ (which I detest and only got some rocks for variety – I have seen terrariums with mini penguins and fairies in them. No, just…no)
The steps to make a terrarium are really very simple. You’ll want an area that you aren’t afraid of getting messy, where you can kick back with a beer, some tunes, a dog or two, and get your hands dirty.
- Create a layer of pebbles at the bottom of your container – about an inch.
- Add about 1/2 an inch to an inch of charcoal – yes, it will turn your fingertips black. Don’t wipe your face afterwards like I did.
- Next, loosely settle a layer of moss over the charcoal. It doesn’t matter if it’s not completely covered, just so that most of the soil is sitting on moss and not charcoal.
- The soil – you want enough soil to cover the root ball of your plants. I read on the Burke’s Backyard website (during my hardcore, journalistic research) that you can reduce the root ball size of your terrarium plants by up to half and the plant will still live quite happily. I had a few hit and misses during this stage – I filled too much soil in, then when I tried to dig a hole to place the plant into it was just way too hard with such a small container opening. So I took out half the soil, placed the plants all neatly arranged on top, and then filled in the soil around them with a table spoon – time consuming but much more easy in the long run!
- Plants – you want to place the tallest plants in the middle, then the smaller ones around the outside. As I said, cover the roots up slowly with soil so that it doesn’t slip down the edges and obscure all your nice layers.
- Add some trendy top ornaments. My rocks were a bit big so I only used the one! If you must use fake animals, I suggest a dinosaur.
- Finally, mist your plants with a few squirts of water, pop the lid on and watch them turn into their own mini environment! How thrilling!
If you’ve done it properly, your plants should adapt quickly to their new environment, and soon you should see the condensation gather and disappear in great cycles. They’ll most likely only need re-watering once or twice a year, and only if the condensation disappears or the plants appear to be wilting. Open terrariums may need misting once a fortnight or so.
Place your terrariums into bright, indirect sunlight. Don’t place them in direct sun unless you want the heat to make a bbq out of them!
You may need to prune your plants if they start to get a bit big. If one of your plants becomes way too overgrown or dies, it will need to be replaced. If this can’t be done without disrupting your whole terrarium you will need to empty it out and start again.
So… it may come as a bit of a surprise to most of you, but I bought way too many plants (shocking, I know). I decided to make another terrarium in a second jar I had – also from school, also previously filled with delicious goodies. This seems to be a trend! They now look beautiful on my dining table, along with my arid terrarium that I bought at the markets – I’m sure it won’t be long before I have them spread around the house though!
I’d love to know if any of you decide to make your own. If you do, give me a buzz – I have HEAPS of leftover ingredients that you can swing by and use!