Terrarium rehab

Terrariums are (still) cool.  Last year I wrote a post (Terrariums are cool (again)) on how I make – and became addicted to – terrariums.  And if you were inspired then to make one (or ten), they might be in need of a little rehabilitation by now.  One of the coolest things about terrariums is that you can ignore them once the initial fascination wears off.  And that’s kind of the whole point:  Terrariums should be able to take care of themselves for a while.  But then there does come a point when we need to pay them some attention again.

In order to be truly neglect-able terrariums need to have the right balance of light, air and plant material (among other things like soil and drainage).  These terrariums (above) dried out completely.  According to their owners, the tops were never opened so they really “shouldn’t have dried out – it’s not our fault!”.  Look familiar?  I suspect that they were not given enough light.  The light requirement is a delicate issue — too much sun and the terrarium cooks like a little oven.  With no sun at all, the plants transpire too slowly to produce the condensation that waters the soil – and without a vigilant gardener adding water and changing its location, everything crispifies.  There was no resuscitating these terrariums.  I started over from scratch and I’ll give them back to their owners for another go at neglect in a sunnier spot.  Winter sun is generally weak enough for placement near a west or south window if not right in it.  And I keep some of my mason jar terrariums on an east facing windowsill all year round.  A sunbeam at some point in the day is important for creating foggy condensation.

This terrarium thrived in a college dorm room window that got late afternoon sun.  According to Gail’s son, it was a curiosity and conversation piece – everyone thought there was something … else … living in it.  But as you can see the plants had gone beyond friendly competition and were strangling each other.  Look familiar?  Gail removed the overtaking Selaginella fern which had started out as a tiny cutting; the 10 strawberry begonias (Saxifraga stolonifera) which started with one; she divided the creeping fig (Ficus pumila) and the button fern (Pellaea rotundifolia) and ended up creating a whole new terrarium from pieces of the old.  If you check on it, a little trim of overgrowth now and then would save you having to start over.  But I really think half the fun of having terrariums is making them – I just adore the look of a freshly planted jar.  (And that’s when my craving kicks in all over again and have to make or redo at least 4 more.)

Do you have any terrariums?  Are they thriving or suffering?  Are you as addicted to them as we are?

Stay tuned for more posts about houseplants.  – Anyone care to join me on the topic?  Create a link and leave comments, if you do!

9 thoughts on “Terrarium rehab

  1. Not a one but that doesn’t mean I don’t admire them! They are delightful and may be a way to have plants that are cat proof! Gail

    Gail, Of course I think terrariums are the perfect foil for your hungry herbivore! My kittens managed to punch a hole in the plastic of one of mine but when they couldn’t get inside they lost interest. I think I needed a better vent on that jar anyhow. Try it! -kris

  2. Those are nice. I have had them in the past but not at the moment.

    And why not?? Are you inspired to try again? -kris

  3. I admit that I, the chronic underwaterer & killer of houseplants, am considering starting a terrarium. Rumor has it that losers like me, I mean people like me who are houseplant challenged, can manage them. It will be an interesting experiment, especially as I haven’t even decided on a container yet. Wish me luck.

    MMD, Trust me, terrariums are perfect for a person like you – it takes an underwaterer to know an underwaterer (that’s my flickr i.d.!). While my other houseplants struggle under my care, my terrariums thrive near to bursting. The only problem is that it’s possible to run out of flat surfaces for them all – that’s once you stop looking for the perfect container and start planting any and every container (jam jars at my house are full of plants). Good luck, of course and keep us posted! -kris

  4. Hmmmmm, I am a terrarium freak as well, with vivid memories of making them about 65 years ago for Christmas presents to dubious grannies. There were gnomes in them, I recall,,,,Well, I have made several stabs at this horticultural beastie since then and my question is:

    Don’t you have to leave a little, tiny slit of air so the poor thing can breathe? Maybe I am claustro-terrarium-phobic but I always allow a bit of air to get in the there,

    Merry Christmas, dear Kris…Love this blog! Ginny

    Ginny, You’re right about the air exchange. I mentioned it in my first terrarium post last October but you can’t quite see the slits in the plastic of the ones I remade last week… I’m thinking that terrariums might be the perfect environment for some of the Red Rose Tea Wade figurines I’ve collected over the years… Too bad they haven’t come out with a gnome series yet!
    Merry Merry to you too and thank you! -kris

  5. Hmm…terrariums. I haven’t ever tried them as in my mind, they still carry too much baggage from the 70s. Terrariums conjure slimy aquariums lurking by the window, macrame hanging planters, and pet rocks. I dunno…there’s some ferns that tempt me into trying it as any fern will wither and die in the 0% humidity of my house in the winter time. Maybe if I found a really elegant container for them. Still…

    Susan, It’s time to let go of that baggage! Think of all of the other things that have been revived with updates – clogs, bellbottoms (a.k.a bootcut jeans), orange… And your ferns (plus some begonias) will be so much happier. Plus there are all sorts of elegant containers on the market now (even potterybarn has some) and if you cruise flea markets you might be lucky enough to find a cool old apothecary jar like mine. -kris

  6. I used to have a rather large terrarium. They were very popular in the 70’s. I also find them fascinating and will have to consider them once again. I think I will have a ‘Wardian Case’ as that sounds so much more mysterious don’t you think? A rose by any other name….LOL

    Layanee, I think “Wardian Case” has a much more elegant ring but it’ll have to be one of those ornate mini greenhouses and probably not a mason jar to ring true! -kris

  7. Thanks for bringing back some memories. I used to build them with my dad. We actually won a couple of blue ribbons at the Philadelphia Flower Show.

    Your terrariums must have been extra beautiful – do you have any pictures of them to post? -kris

  8. You know, I just came from Garden Web’s Terrarium forum. Low and behold, I come here and see this new terrarium posting. I have been toying with the idea of turning two abandoned aquariums of ours into terrariums. I’m thinking I just may have to just do it!

    Hi Cris! – I’m very glad to see you here! I fully support your desire to plant those aquariums – it’s a perfect winter endeavor for a garden designer (keeps your hand in, so to speak). -kris

  9. I love these terrariums. I think I will be trying to make one when I get back home. Never have tried one. Is there a website that has basic information on how to start one and plants to use. Very interesting how these need a perfect balance.

    Priscilla, There are lots of websites and entire books on how to make a terrarium (My post from last October has a quick step-by-step and materials list.) There are lots of perfect plants – it depends a bit on the size of your container. Anything that likes a humid environment and doesn’t need full-full sun is a good bet – ferns, some begonias, creeping figs … Good luck and have fun making it! -kris

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