Terrariums are cool (again)



these boots are made for plantin’Do you remember the 1970’s? I have hazy orange and brown memories of fads like macrame, yoga, clogs, avocado colored kitchen appliances, silk-screened monochrome bull’s-eye wallhangings, and houseplant jungles. What goes around comes around. For some, bell bottoms and backyard vegetable gardens never went out of style. Others of us rediscover trends and treasures when the time is right. I don’t know who decided that enough time had passed (was it Martha Stewart?) but terrariums are all the rage again. I think they’re so cool I have to wonder why they ever went out of style in the first place. And I have to admit that I’ve gone a little nuts. Some people put up jars of tomato sauce. I put up jars of mini indoor gardens.

Ingredients: clear glass jar (water bottle, fish bowl, jam jar, brandy snifter…) or a wardian case (looks like a mini greenhouse), fish gravel for drainage, fish tank charcoal (activated carbon) for purity, moistened soil (one part compost to 2 or 3 parts potting mix), any landscape elements you like (rocks, tiny houses, plastic dinosaurs…) and plants that love warm, humid conditions. — Indoor winter heat is tough on some plants. I had a little eyelash begonia that was a gasp away from death and when I put its last nubbin in a mason jar, it immediately decided to thrive. Look around and see what needs rescue. And go shopping! Some of your local nurseries stock perfect terrarium plants (we go to Peckham’s Greenhouse in Little Compton, RI) and there are plenty of mail order places too (such as Logee’s and Kartuz)

Place a layer of gravel, lightly topped with a layer of charcoal in the bottom of a clean container. The depth of this layer depends on the size of the container and should probably be 1/2″ to and 1″ for decent drainage.


first terrarium layer - fish tank gravel and charcoal2nd layer - soil.  Tamp it down a littlesome handy terrarium building tools


Thickness of the soil layer also depends on the size of the container. It should be deep enough to hold the roots of your plants while not taking up more than the bottom third (including drainage layer) of your container. Terrariums are all about balance. Plants take in water and transpire it out. In a perfect little world, they essentially water themselves. I’ve gone for months without having to water some of my jars! When you choose and plant your babies, make sure they don’t take up any more than half of the air space in the jar. Plants that grow by leaps and bounds should be tended regularly and clipped back so they don’t strangle themselves or their neighbors. And fertilizing is a definite no-no — it wrecks the balance and plants grow too quickly.

Water your plants in just a little to make sure the soil around their roots isn’t full of air pockets and cover the jar (poke holes or leave the lid a tiny bit open for fresh air transfer), and place it in a bright but no-full-sun spot. You should be able to see the transpiration almost immediately as fog on the glass. If your terrarium ever gets so foggy that you can’t see the plants, uncover it for a while (and think about whether the plants need a trim).

Once you start making terrariums, it might be hard to stop! (or is it just me?)a growing collection of terrariums

8 thoughts on “Terrariums are cool (again)

  1. I like terrariums, and as you know, I have a big one that I need to fill with plants. Maybe I’ll start with a small terrarium and expert with it, then plant up the big one.

    I like the boots, those are cute.

    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

  2. Go for it, Carol – once you start there may be no stopping! I saw a couple of people from last week’s class and they’ve caught the bug, jazzed to make another and another and another…!

  3. I still have a houseplant jungle, stuck in the 70s, I guess, I have been thinking of doing a terrarium again, since I live in Iowa, I must do something in the winter months, a terrarium sounds like a great project.

  4. Dear IGW, The 70’s get a bad rap but I think it’s great to be stuck in a houseplant jungle 70’s style! And no doubt about it – terrariums are perfect winter wanna-garden projects.

  5. I’m totally psyched to get on the terrarium revival. I’m just bummed that I sold my glass boot in a garage sale last fall. doh!

  6. Oh Sara, What were you thinking?! Chances are though, if you keep your eyes out, you’ll find another!

  7. I always loved the idea of Terrariums. I was born towards the end of the 70’s so missed them, but as kids, me and friends tried to encourage little eco-systems in jars (which we, being kids into spy movies and such called “project E” + a number for each jar) where we would provide food, water once then seal them, and from then on hope that the sun would be enough to keep them going – some worked, some failed. If this guide had been around then, I am sure we would have been more successful.

    Danny, It’s cool that you experimented with terrariums as a kid – and probably it was more fun for not knowing if they’d work. Probably made your successes more gratifying? Thanks for visiting (I’ve never been to squidoo before…). -kris

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