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Terrariums—Bringing the Outdoors In

Terrariums—Bringing the Outdoors In

If you’ve run out of hobby ideas to keep you occupied during the pandemic, why not try bringing a bit of nature inside with some terrariums?

Although the green-home builders at Tommy Williams Homes are great fans of the outdoors, let’s be honest: The landscape is rather bleak right now. So a little indoor mini-garden such as you can create with a terrarium could be a great mid-winter mood brightener.

You can start with a basic terrarium that will cost under $20 and take less than an hour to put together. If you catch “the bug,” however, you could end up with much more elaborate—and expensive—specimens.

One of the great things about terrariums is that they can be a solitary project or involve the whole family, including all ages. Another is that, once they’re assembled, they require little care. You just sit back and enjoy your tiny indoor garden!

Two main types

The hallmark of terrariums is that they are self-sustaining. The moisture inside the container collects on the sides and flows back down into the soil. Thus, they tend to require very little watering or care, unlike potted plants.

There are two types of terrariums: open and closed.

Closed terrariums are just what they sound like: small self-contained ecosystems that survive on their own. Once everything is in place, you close the lid on the jar or put the cover in place, and your work is done, except for occasional misting and opening the container once a week or so to let excess moisture evaporate.

Experts recommend that beginners avoid closed terrariums because they can be tricky. Too little moisture and the plants will die; too much and they’ll rot.

Open terrariums, however, have at least a portion of the container open to the air. These are best for plants that require more sunlight and air circulation, or are prone to rotting in excess moisture.

What you’ll need

Any type of container that is largely closed off will do. Some people even use empty wine or soda bottles, but these can be extremely difficult to work with. We recommend you stick with jars, or specially made terrarium containers.

You’ll also need plants (see below), potting soil, gravel, activated charcoal from a pet supply store or nursery, and—depending on the size of the opening—tweezers, a fork, tongs, or other such tool that will allow you to place plants into the container.

Best terrarium plants

Terrarium plants must be small enough to fit into your container, as well as slow growing. Generally, they should also thrive in less-than-full sunlight. Check with your local garden center for small plants specifically designed for terrariums or fairy gardens.

A few tried-and-true terrarium plants:

  • prayer plant
  • lucky bamboo
  • miniature fern
  • croton
  • pothos
  • nerve plant
  • peperomia

Be sure to select ones with leaves small enough that they won’t block light from other plants.

Some terrariums feature succulents and/or cacti, but most experts recommend you avoid those until you’ve had more practice. Because the environment is moist and humid, succulents tend to rot quickly, preferring environments with very little water.

Setting up your terrarium 

Start by adding a layer of gravel or sheet moss on the bottom of the container to keep water away from the roots and prevent root rot.

Next add a layer of potting soil that is deep enough to hold the plants in place, but not so deep that the tops of the plants stick out of the container’s opening. Hint: A layer of fiberglass window screen will keep the soil from leaching down into the gravel.

Now come the plants. Remove them from their containers and trim the roots if they’ve become root-bound (that is, all roots and little to no soil). Then make a hole for the plant with your fingers if you can fit your hand into the container, or with one of the tools. Pop the plant into the hole, then gently tamp down the soil around the base of the plant.

Finally, mist the soil so that it’s damp, but not soaking wet. And you’re done! That’s all there is to it.

Up your game

Once you have a basic terrarium in place, you’ll probably want to experiment with themes for your little universe.

Since the terrarium craze of the 1970s, manufacturers have created a world of miniature items for terrariums, from tiny garden furniture and accents to fairies to mermaids. Check your local garden shops, hardware or craft stores, and of course, online.

You can also get creative with the groundcover, by adding sea glass, beach stones, or sand, moss, or other items that will complement your theme.

When you’re ready to move up to a sustainable, energy-efficient home, look to Tommy Williams Homes, the most experienced green-home builder in Gainesville. Stop by today and view our wide range of styles suited for any lifestyle.

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