What Is A Terrarium?
So first up, what is a terrarium? This might seem like a simple enough question, but the better you understand the answer, the easier caring for your terrarium is going to be.
Like many great things, the terrarium was invented by accident. Whilst working on an experiment, a botanist left a plant in a sealed jar. A few days later he made an observation: condensation had formed on the glass, and the plant looked healthy. And so the terrarium was born.
The invention spread like wildfire through Victorian Europe, giving people the chance to maintain all sorts of exotic plants. And in recent years, the terrarium has made a huge comeback.
So. It’s basically a sealed glass container, filled with plants and soil. Sounds simple enough, right?
But in their simplicity lies their genius.
Terrariums create a unique environment for their plants. The glass lets light and heat in, but the sealed container stops water vapor from escaping. So the water condenses and is reabsorbed by the plants, forming a self-contained ecosystem. In other words, your plants recycle their own water, maintaining themselves with little upkeep required.
Why Get A Terrarium?
There are so many reasons to get yourself a terrarium. They don’t need to be watered often. You are able to grow a really exciting range of plants. And the focused shape of the terrarium allows for levels of concentration and calm with unique mental health benefits.
So. Without further ado. What’s the route to the best terrarium?
First up you need a sealable container. A big glass jar with a lid will do. A reconstituted goldfish bowl is a common favorite. Or better still, get your hands on a DIY starter kit like this. That way you’ll have all the ingredients to get going.
Terrarium Care - Preparing Your Terrarium
You’re going to want to build a soil base in your terrarium, and for the best results you’ll want to build a drainable base. Lay down a layer of gravel in the bottom of your glass container. You want to lay this as evenly as possible.
Then comes the charcoal. Put a layer of charcoal on top of the gravel. This addition might seem a little weird, but it’s very helpful (and very clever!)
Charcoal will limit the potential for mould in your terrarium, which - as we will discuss later - is a big risk factor. Charcoal also has a whole bunch of other interesting uses and will help improve the health of your soil and boost your terrarium care credentials.
Then finally, it’s time for the soil! Before you lay it into your glass container, mix your soil with a little water to loosen it up and give it a nice moist texture. Now lay it down on top of your charcoal layer. And voila! Your base is prepared.
Now for the really interesting bit… the plants!
Terrarium Care - How Do I Select My Terrarium Plants?
Well, first and foremost, you want small plants. Things that will fit comfortably into your glass container. Smallness isn’t just useful for practical reasons, it’s also a way of sharpening your focus. Terrariums are all about attention and care. A small plant allows you to care for each and every square inch. This isn’t the place for your six foot cactus!
Next up, we’re looking for slow growers. You don’t want one of your terrarium plants filling up your container, and you want to keep trimming to a minimum. And again, this is all about focus. Slowness helps you to sharpen your attention and bring new levels of awareness. Bamboo might be a fun plant to grow, but not in your terrarium.
Your terrarium is a sealed greenhouse. It’s going to be full of water vapor, a little like a rainforest! So you’re going to want to choose humidity loving plants. This is especially exciting for those of us who live in parts of the world where tropical plants wouldn’t normally thrive. Your terrarium opens up a whole new world of opportunity. So this isn’t the place for those dry loving desert plants (looking at you, succulents). When it comes to terrarium plant care, we keep it tropical.
Colours and Textures
And finally, look for plants with colours and textures that appeal to you. Your terrarium should grab your attention, a bit like a beautiful painting. Make it rich and vivid and eye grabbing. Your canvas is small and contained. Make it shout!
So, Which Plants Fit The Bill?
Ferns are a great bet. Try a Boston Fern or a Maidenhair Fern. They can really help create a base for your terrarium. A background on which your more colorful plants can shine. Dwarf plants are a smart move too. Not only are they small, but they will add some tropical flare.
Airplants are excellent. Try a Ionantha, a Fuchsii v Gracilis or a Tectorum. They will sit on top of your soil, and give you some great textural contrast.
A Peperomia, with its red vines and green fronds, is a transfixing option. Or why not really push the boat out and go for a small orchid? Small, stunning and beautiful, like a proud actor an orchid can take center stage with great ease.
Top Tip: Try one of our Succulent Terrarium Kits and build your own miniature dessert today!
How To Care For Your Terrarium
So now you’ve chosen the plants, it’s time to think a little about how your terrarium plant care.
One of the great benefits of a terrarium is that they need very little upkeep. You’re creating a self-sustaining ecosystem, so photosynthesis is doing most of the work for you!
But. Here’s the catch. The little maintenance that you do need to do becomes even more important. And remember, terrariums are a great mindfulness tool. So why not consider your terrarium care as part of your mindfulness routine?
As with so much plant care it’s all about light, heat, water and trimming. Here are some top tips.
Terrarium Care - How Much Light Does My Terrarium Need?
What you’re looking for is bright, but indirect sunlight. Near enough to a window, but certainly not in the path of full beams. A terrarium in direct sunlight will start to roast! With all that sunlight pouring in and nowhere to go it’s a sure way to kill your terrarium plants.
So. Keep it indirect. Think about your plants in their natural habitat, growing on the rainforest floor where they are protected from the sun’s direct power by larger trees. Those are the conditions it will love in your terrarium too.
Terrarium Care - How Much Heat Does My Terrarium Need?
The key is consistency. Your terrarium will do well at room temperature. It’s very good at finding its own equilibrium. But this equilibrium will be disrupted by sudden changes.
So keep your terrarium away from radiators. And windows too. Temperature fluctuation isn’t great. Again, cast your mind to the tropics. This is not the extreme ping-ponging between hot and cold we might expect in the desert. A consistent climate is what we’re looking for.
Terrarium Care - How Much Water Does My Terrarium Need?
You want to keep your soil moist but not soggy. Water is the biggest danger to your terrarium. Unlike a normal house plant, your excess water has nowhere to go, so deadly rot can easily take hold. Keep an eye out for yellowing roots, mushy looking leaves or sludgy-feeling soil. These are all signs that you’ve too much water in your ecosystem.
If you do spot these warning signs, you should open up your terrarium. This gives the moisture an opportunity to dissipate.
On the flip side, if your leaves are wilting, or if your soil feels dry and sandy, then you are going to want to introduce some water to your system. Give your plants a spray, or gently add a little water to the soil.
And remember, it’s all about paying attention! Keep your eyes peeled for these warning signs and you’ll keep your terrarium healthy. And what’s more, you’ll be practicing a mindful approach to plant care. Which is all part of the point!
Terrarium Care - Cleaning Your Terrarium
You’re going to want to keep your terrarium clean. From time to time you should clean the inside of the glass. A build-up of dirt on your glass can stop light getting into your terrarium and disrupt the ecosystem.
But whatever you do, don’t use bleaches or any chemical-based cleaner. Just a wet cloth will do.
Terrarium Care - Trimming Your Terrarium Plants
With slow-growing plants in a limited ecosystem, you shouldn’t have to prune your terrarium plants very often at all. But when you do need to trim, it’s important to do it properly.
First up, always be sure to trim back any foliage that is touching the sides of your terrarium. You don’t want plants to get soggy as they rest up against condensation. Trimming these back will also allow light to distribute evenly around the terrarium.
Any stems that are looking a little straggly, just cut them down to the nearest leaf joint. This will encourage new and healthy growth.
And as soon as you see a moldy plant, trim it away! The quicker you can get that mold out of the ecosystem, the less likely it is to spread.
Oh, and when you do trim, do it with care. The less you disturb your plants the better. Sharp pruning scissors will do the job. Don’t cut off more than is necessary. Again when it comes to terrarium care, use it as a chance to exercise your restraint and focus.
Terrarium Care - Why Is My Terrarium Foggy?
Don’t worry too much if you get fogging in your terrarium. It’s normal. But it might mean that you need to do a little maintenance. There are two main reasons for fogging: 1) An excess of water in your terrarium. 2) A big difference in temperature between the inside and outside of your terrarium.
And if fogging becomes an issue, you’ve a few options. You can open up your terrarium for a little time. This will reduce the water vapor in your system and could reduce your fogging.
Alternatively, you might want to think about moving your terrarium to a slightly warmer area. This should help balance out the temperature difference and reduce the fogging on the inside.
So there you have it! Now you have all the tools to get your terrarium plant care up and running.
In a world where things can often seem chaotic and frenzied, your terrarium can restore a sense of calm and control.
Moreover, at a time when so many of us are disconnected from nature, stuck in small apartments during a pandemic, your terrarium can provide a rare and important piece of green space. An oasis in our modern world.
And best of all, this is a hobby that can grow and grow! Once you have mastered your first terrarium, why not try and maintain a few more? As you go you’ll learn more and more, getting intimately familiar with the lives of your new ecosystems!
And remember, when you’re practicing terrarium care you aren’t just caring for your new plants, you’re also caring for yourself.
Top Tip: Want to create your own terrarium but not sure where to start? Try our Rainforest Terrarium DIY Kit!