How to make a terrarium: a self-supporting miniature ecosystem. I show you with help from my friends and I.
Last weekend, my friends and I got together to make terrariums for the first time. It was an activity-filled day based on creating “self-supporting miniature ecosystems”.
If you’re unfamiliar with what a terrarium is, it’s like an aquarium, except it’s for plants instead of fish. It’s usually made in just about any type of class container and you are supposed to plant it to look like a miniature garden or forest enclosed its own tiny, little world. They have their own mini-climate, making them similar to a greenhouse. Sunlight enters through the glass and warms the air, soil and plants the same way sunlight enters through Earth’s atmosphere to warm our surface. The glass holds in some of the warmth, just as Earth’s atmosphere does.
You can make an ‘open container’ terrarium, or a ‘closed container’ terrarium. Many plants are suitable for terrariums. An ‘open’ container (without a lid) is best for succulents and cacti, as they like air, warm temperatures, bright lights and require dry soil. A ‘closed’ container (with a lid) is best for ferns, ivies and begonias. They like it humid, but when you see too much water condensation on the container, remove the lid for a while until it evaporates.
You will need:
- Clear glass container
- Rocks (marble-sized, depending on container) OR white sand.
- Activated charcoal (this filters the water and helps prevent growth of fungi)
- Potting soil (sterilzed)
- Small miniature plants of different colours, shapes and textures. Ensure they meet the requirements of your terrarium.
- Decorative pebbles and rocks
- Fun decor, like tiny shells and miniature figurines
Step One: Get a clear container or glass jar – make sure it is clean and shiny.
Use anything that strikes you fancy – a vase, cleaned-out fish bowl or re-use a jam jar.
Step Two: Fill the bottom of the vessel with 1 1/2-inch layer of sand (or rocks).
As a terrarium does not have ‘drainage’ holes, you need to supply a drainage layer to prevent damage to plant roots. Crushed gravel or small stone bits work well, and so does sand.
Step Three: On top of sand, place a thin layer of 1 1/2 inch layer of activated charcoal.
This helps keep soil fresh.
Step Four: Then fill the container up to half-full with potting soil.
Use enough soil so that you can create a “hole” where you want to place the root of your plant.
Step Five: Plant and Decorate
Plant your flower or fern and add decorative rocks and pebbles on top for a visual ‘wow’ factor. Make sure plants are free of insects and disease.
Remember, you are making a miniatue landscape, have fun with it, even add in small figurines. Pat down soil they don’t get uprooted easily.
Step Six: Spray water onto your terrarium.
The water kick-starts moisture, but don’t go overboard (if condensation happens, where the walls get too foggy, leave the lid open til it evaporates).
TA-DAAA! My friends and I with our finished Terrariums!
Avoid Too Much Heat: Closed glass containers trap and hold heat – and excessive heat can be the main cause of death in terrariums. With this in mind – don’t place your terrarium above radiators or in direct sunlight.
Avoid Direct Light: A newly planted terraium should be placed in shade for about a week. Then adjust light according to requirements of the plant. Most terrariums do better in diffused or filtered light than direct sunlight, meaning artificial light is also good to use. If plants develop tall, thin stems that are weak and unable to hold up leaves then you must increase amount of light slowly.
Too Much Water: Excessive water encourages the growth of molds and causes plant decay, if your tarraium walls have more than 25% condensation, remove the cover until walls are clear. You may have to do this more than once, in a closed terraium there should only be occasional clouding
Too Dry: Add a little water and mist to leaves if leaves wilt and look pale or if moss becomes brown or faded.
Molds and Mildew: The presence of mold or midlew indicates your terrarium may have too much water, air circulation may be poor or you may be using plants that don’t even work well in ‘closed’ terrariums. Remove infected plants immediately and correct the environment by letting the terrarium ‘dry out’ or by increasing air circulation.
Insects And Pests: Cut out infected area and spray with insecticide.
Plant Growth: Terrarium plants should be scaled to the size of the container. As plants grow, prune them back to avoid overcrowding.
Cleanliness: Keep it clean, remove moisture or dust from glass, remove algae, which may form a green coating on the glass, clean leaves and remove dead leaves and blossoms promptly to prevent growth of fungi.
Check out how messy our DIY terrarium session got…