Magical, Miniature, Glass World – Terrarium
One day last spring I went for a walk around my Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. My family had been away from Vancouver for a long while and on our return it was exciting to see all the new shops that had popped up on Main Street. Always busy rushing around getting the essential errands done, I rarely make it into of any of the stores. When I do, however, Main Street never disappoints me. There are many creative expressions taking place inside these independent shops, so I always return home inspired. On this particular excursion, wearing my baby on my back, I stepped into Much and Little for the first time. The shelves of this sweet little shop are full of imaginative and tasteful objects that I would be delighted to give as gifts. There was one item in particular, though, that I would have been thrilled to receive. I was instantly smitten with the mason jar terrariums. Obviously crafted from love, these magical, miniature, glass worlds of plants held me in awe. I would have been so happy to live with one of these terrariums. Unfortunately, our apartment in Vancouver, like so many, was almost as miniature as the plant-filled jar. There was no room for any extras. And anyway, I reminded myself, my family would be off to California again in less than six months.We had no space in our transient lifestyle for any living creatures other than ourselves. Still, I felt a level of want that was rare. There was nothing to do but finish admiring and get terrariums off my mind. My son and I wandered around a little more, and then we made our exit for the street. We hurried off to get groceries before my son needed lunch, and I pushed my desire back.
I had thought occasionally of the terrariums since, but mostly they were out of my mind. Then this spring my husband and I made a huge decision to stay put in California – at least for the foreseeable future. Not soon after, visions of terrariums began to crowd my thoughts. With so many projects already imagined and on the go, I really had no time to be thinking about terrariums. Still, I found myself researching online, checking books out from the library, ordering supplies, browsing thrift stores, and purchasing plants at the garden center. I also started a Pinterest board that I could easily refer back to. I learned loads.
When I felt ready I began building. So far I have made and, also remade, about a dozen terrariums. The learning curve has been steep! I dedicated far more time than I intended, but It has been worth it. These glass worlds are special. It is a blessing to have their magic scattered throughout our home.
Instructions for Building Terrariums
Materials to Gather in Advance
Choose your jar: Choosing the right home is pretty easy. There are not many restrictions, but some containers are easier to build your terrarium in than others.
The jar needs to be clear and transparent. Colored glass will block out wavelengths of light that your plants need to grow.
Succulents and cactus need to live in containers without lids because they do not want a damp environment.
The taller your jar is, the more room your plants have to grow. You can also put more growing medium in these containers.
Wide jars provide space for more plants.
A wide-mouth jar means that you can get your hands inside. For your first terrarium I would recommend this.
Gather your growing medium: Potting soil and purlite are all you need.
Light potting soil is best. I tried a couple different organic potting soils that I found at a Big Box hardware store. Both were far too heavy. It was very easy to add too much water when I used this soil. The best medium I found was a Danish Potting Soil. It is not actually soil at all and the texture is light and fluffy.
Sterilize your soil in your oven if you cannot find soil that comes pre-sterilized. I cannot stress enough how important this is. I found out the hard way and ended up with a fungus gnat infestation both in my terrariums and in my living wall planters. Bags of soil at Big Box stores are usually sold outdoors and are frequently contaminated with the eggs of gnats and other creatures (this problem shows up on multiple garden forums. I read of one man who had millipedes crawling all over his house! Yuck. I also found a very large slug in an indoor planter. Ugh). Do not sterilize soil that already has the purlite added in.
Do not use soils with fertilizer added. You do not want to boost the plant growth. Ideally, you want your plants to stay small. Soils containing water retaining crystals are also not appropriate for terrariums.
After sterilizing your soil, mix purlite into your soil. I fill a yogurt container 1/3 of the way with soil and then another 1/3 full with purlite. I replace the lid and shake it all together. It is also perfectly acceptable to add a layer of purlite, followed by a layer of soil in your jar. However, I find this looks messy once the dark soil runs down into the white purlite. The layering method also takes up a lot of room in your terrarium.
Purchase Charcoal: Charcoal deodorizes your terrarium.
Activated charcoal can be purchased in some gardening centers and in pet stores. The pellets are attractive.
Make certain there are no other additives in the charcoal.
Pick the right plants. Tropical plants are happy in closed terrariums. Succulents and cactus must have homes without lids.
Choose tropical plants and ferns that enjoy moist environments.
Plants that are slow growing are best.
Ideal plants for terrariums include Hypoestes, small ferns, Selaginella kraussiana (Club moss), Begonia species, Peperomia species, and Fittonia verschaffeltii among others.
I keep an assortment of plants in 4 inch pots on my dining table. I snip cuttings from those that will self root in the terrariums, and divide others, such as the ferns, when I need to.
Succulents are also gorgeous in terrariums as long as there are no lids. There is an endless selection of small, beautiful succulents that work very well.
Gather Stones: small stones and fragments of shells have to be placed at the bottom since there are no drainage holes in a terrarium.
Tiny rocks work best, especially if your container is quite small. The smaller your rocks are, the less space your layer of rocks will take up in the terrarium. This means that there will be more room for plant growth. in your container.
You can gather rocks from your garden or purchase them at craft stores or online. I have heard that Anthropologie has a sister store that sells terrarium supplies. I have never been, though I hear the stock is beautiful. I have also heard they are quite pricey.
There are beautiful stones to be found at the beach, but it is illegal to remove seashells or rocks from the beach.
If you gather stones from outdoors, be sure to soak them in a solution of water and white vinegar for several hours. This way you won’t introduce any unwanted bacteria, disease or pests into your terrarium.
Have a water dropper, chopstick and paintbrush on hand, as well.
Easy Step By Step Instructions
1) Begin with a clean, dry glass jar.
2) Pour stones into the bottom of the jar. Create a layer about one inch thick.
3) Create another layer of activated charcoal on top of the stones. Completely cover all of the rocks. A layer that is about a quarter inch thick should work. I scoop up the charcoal with a lid from a yogurt tub. Then I slowly turn the jar as I pour the charcoal from the lid into the jar. I find that this works very well to ensure that the charcoal is evenly distributed and level.
4) Grab a clean, dry container such as a yogurt tub. Fill it 1/3 of the way with your potting soil. Fill it another 1/3 with purlite. Put the lid on your container and shake well so that the soil and purlite are evenly combined. I scoop up the mixed planting medium with the lid from the yogurt tub. I slowly turn the jar as I pour the planting medium from the yogurt lid into the jar. I find that this works very well to ensure that the planting medium is evenly distributed and level.
5) Place any special ornaments into the jar where you would like them. Large shells or stones, beautiful beads or charms, or children’s figurines create a nice world. You don’t have to add any ornaments. With plants alone, your terrarium will look great!
6) Use an implement such as a chopstick or the wrong end of a paintbrush to push a planting hole into the soil. Most plants will actually root on their own in the soil because the environment is moist and conducive to plants taking root. If you do decide to grow by starting a cutting, cut a stem with about six sets of leaves. Remove the bottom three sets of leaves. Plant the stem into the hole you have created.
Other plants, such as ferns, do very well in terrariums. Most of the time, any house fern you have will be too large just as it is. Thankfully, ferns are extremely easy to divide! If you use ferns, follow the instructions here for dividing. Before you plant your fern, carefully examine how its roots are growing in the pot you are transplanting from, and recreate this same situation in your terrarium.
You might also transplant a small plant with roots intact into your terrarium. This is trickier, because there might be a root system that is larger than your layer of soil. You can trim back these roots somewhat and you can also pile a mound of soil up over these roots. This can be attractive, because it provides texture and a look of layering in your terrarium.
Some plants, like oxalis (shamrock) like an environment that is less moist than what other houseplants prefer. You can rest the tip of the tuberous root on the soil and use a rock to raise the other (sprouting) end of the tuber up above the soil.
I carefully rinse off all of my plants and roots before planting them into the terrarium. Too often, plants come home from a garden center with bugs, especially aphids. This can be a real problem. Rinsing the plants before planting helps to prevent the spread of bugs into your carefully constructed environment.
7) You can smooth the soil and also remove soil debris from your plants and ornaments with a small paint brush.
8) The next step is watering. Some people recommend pouring water down the edge of the terrarium. I don’t like this because it causes soil and purlite to run into the rocks. It also leaves spots on the glass. This is not attractive. Instead, I use a water dropper to pour water onto the soil, focusing some water on the areas around the plants, but wetting all the soil. It is very important to practice restraint! It is incredibly easy to overwater a terrarium! Depending on the size of your jar, 2-4 oz of water should be sufficient. Do not give into the temptation to overwater! The environment in your terrarium will just keep growing more and more damp. If you notice mold growing or plants rotting, remove the lid and allow your terrarium to dry out for a few days.
9) Place the lid on your terrarium and you are done! Place your terrarium in a bright location with no direct sunlight.
Enjoy your own magical, miniature, glass world!