Last summer, I wrote this post about buying a terrarium as a birthday present for my sister, Hannah (a fellow blogger – check out her latest post at Hannah’s Home). Today, we finally got around to planting it up, and did a few more while we were at it. It was super fun and I’m really pleased with our little glass gardens. Here’s what you’ll need if you’d like to make your own terrarium:
- A purpose-made glass terrarium or large vase
- Pebbles or grit
- Activated charcoal, the kind you buy for aquarium filters
- Compost suitable for the plants you’ll be growing (multi-purpose compost will be too rich for cacti, for example)
- An attractive pebble or rock
- Small, slow growing plants
I went for succulents, my sister chose ferns. What plants you buy should be determined by the type of terrarium you’ll be using. If your terrarium is enclosed, then I advise you to go for ferns and mosses. The environment inside will be quite warm and humid, and not all plants will enjoy those conditions. Succulents or cacti, on the other hand, prefer drier conditions and should be quite happy if you plant them in a vase with a wide opening.
Start by placing a base layer of pebbles or grit in the base. This will provide drainage and prevent the roots of your plants from sitting in water if you accidentally over water them. Next, add a layer of charcoal, just enough to cover the pebbles. This will help maintain the health of your terrarium. Then, add a layer of compost, no more than a couple of inches at this point. Remember you will see all these layers through the glass, so take care to keep them level and separate.
Consider the composition of your plants, and play around with them outside the terrarium. One large and two smaller plants often works, or try one large plant, one medium plant and three tiny ones. And try to have variety in the colour, shape and texture of the foliage. As well as your plants, you can incorporate a decorative element, like a nice rock or pebble. My sister bought some petrified wood, which was sparkly and had a pleasing texture. You could also use a chipped flint or a few broken pieces of slate, whatever you can lay your hands on. I like the idea of using a fossil.
Once you’re happy with your composition, it’s time to prepare your plants. If you have bought succulents such as sempervivums (house leeks) that grow in a cluster of rosettes, you should be able to break off and use individual plants by gently pulling apart the rosettes, along with their roots. It’s worth gently teasing the soil off the roots of your plants, taking care not to damage them, so that you can plant them fairly shallowly.
Now make a little well in the compost, place your plant, add a little more compost around the base, and lightly firm in with your fingers. If space is tight and your hands feel too big for this job, a desert spoon or even chopsticks may prove an invaluable tool! Mosses can simply be placed on the surface of the compost. After planting, use the dessert spoon to add thin a layer of grit around the plants so the soil is completely covered.
(It’s at this point that I also can’t help thinking that the whole thing will only be improved by the addition of a tiny dinosaur or Playmobil explorer. But each to their own. You may be happy to leave it as it is.)
The sides of your terrarium are bound to be covered in compost, dirty finger prints and smears, so wipe them down with a piece of kitchen roll. Finally, spray the plants with a light mist of water. Now step back and appreciate the little work of art that you have created; a miniature indoor garden to delight you when it’s grim outside.
Regardless of what you’re growing in there, your terrarium will do best out of full sun, but in good light, in a spot where it won’t experience extremes of temperature. In other words, don’t put it on a shelf above a radiator or on a drafty windowsill. Finding the ideal spot can prove rather tricky so don’t be disheartened if your first attempt doesn’t thrive. Try again in another spot or with a different plant type. And don’t over water it! A little spritz or dribble every so often will suffice.