Terrariums are incredibly easy to construct perhaps this is why they are often said to be low maintenance. But this is not entirely true! There are certain challenges involved in keeping one alive for ever. But the act of designing, reworking and growing has benefits, even if you do have a few casualties along the way.
Creating a terrarium is a great way to unwind and relax, you can add and subtract plants, create imaginary landscapes and escape into your miniature world. Place one on your office desk to help you de-stress and get in touch with a living, green thing which in turn creates a 'happy' workplace. Think of terrarium building as mental yoga. If you want to get started, here are some things to consider.
Open or closed?
Closed terrariums are gorgeous, and on trend at the moment. But it is easy to end up with a rotting mouldy mass of goop if you use succulents. As with all terrariums it is important to create good drainage and air circulation and plant with the kinds of plants that like damp and humid conditions as you would find in a rain forest or damp forest floor. To provide good drainage you will need to layer pebbles, activated charcoal, sphagnum moss and soil mix (see below.) Whether it is 'open' or closed. Some purists will argue that if you don't have a sealed environment then it isn't really a terrarium but I am not so strict on this do whatever you need to do to keep plants healthy.
If you layer the ingredients pictured below, excess water can drip down to the pebble layer, keeping the roots moist but not sodden.
To maintain plant health, it is important to inspect your plants and remove any that show signs of mildew or fungus as their spores will infect the other plants and eventually kill them.
Also consider the level of condescension, misty is OK, but huge droplets of water may mean your covered terrarium is too wet.
To ensure you get the right level of condensation, take the lid off regularly and let your plants breath. Once you think you have the right amount of condensation, then leave the lid on for longer periods.
I like to take the lid off and let my plants have a vacation outdoors, in a spot that has plenty of indirect light. As we live in a temperate climate in Sydney this works well. In the Northern hemisphere it will be too cold at certain times of the year or at night and may not be possible. But if you live in a temperate zone then plants really respond to being outside. Be careful to put your terrarium in a spot that is protected from rain or your terrarium will flood. I put mine under a table.
Air circulation can be a problem and this ensures your plants get to ‘breathe. It is so critical some terrarium experts say, 'only put the lid on your terrarium when guests come around and when you want to it show off!'
When starting out I suggest keeping your terrarium ‘open’ to give it the best chance. As you get more confident , experiment by putting the lid on and closely observing whether your plants are happy.
All plants need light, some like more, some like less. Try and chose plants that like shade or dappled light, like ferns. They will perform better indoors. Place your terrarium in a spot with plenty of INDIRECT light. Never place in a window that has direct sunlight as the glass of the terrarium will magnify the heat of the sun and burn your plants (killing them!) This applies to succulents too. Bright but not direct light is best. One of the great things about terrariums is they are portable, so if conditions seem to be making your plants unhappy you can simply pick it up and put it somewhere else, lighter, darker, warmer, cooler.
Most of the plants you will use like an even temperate climate, do not keep in a centrally heated room or an air conditioned one.
Most plants die from over watering, especially succulents. Keep your soil damp, but not sodden and follow the plant’s watering descriptions on the label when you buy them or check the conditions they like on the internet. A closed terrarium requires no watering but you will need to keep an eye on whether it is too wet! It may take some weeks to get the balance right. Succulents like to dry out and then have a nice soak. In the winter months when they become ‘dormant’ water very rarely. Water with a spray bottle and avoid getting the base of your succulents wet. If you have a cactus, do not directly water it, water around the surrounding soil, once a month. Put pebbles around the base of the plant to keep water away.
Like all indoor plants, if you go on holiday you will need someone to keep an eye on them drying out if you choose the open version.
A succulent is hardy and will survive bad conditions, but only for a while - while it hopes things improve. After a year or two a succulent terrarium may die, and you will think it is your fault. It maybe even quicker if the mould and fungal pests get it first. An unhealthy plant has few defences to fight off lurgy's just like us humans. The best way to care for succulent terrariums is to underwater and keep dry to moist. Plus plenty of light. Succulents crave light.
So maybe think of your succulent terrarium as a little green house and replant your succulents in a pot when they reach a certain size and put outdoors where they are happiest (where all plants are happiest ) .Then replant your terrarium with their baby chicklets in the growing season. Succulents like dry air circulation around them and a terrarium can become moist and humid so it is never going to work out if you keep your terrarium in a humid place, like a bathroom or steamy kitchen.
For a wedding setting, for small hand made gifts and a short term display, growing in a terrarium is perfect. Air plants can work well in a dry terrarium but I find them a bit boring!
Ferns, ground coverings, bonsias
Ferns thrive in closed terrariums, the moist humid conditions are more suitable for them. However again air circulation is important, so take the lid off and let them breathe if you have a closed terrarium.
I like to use tough ground coverings with a mix of moss. Mondo grass is resilient as are weeds such as spider wort. For a quick result try watercress seeds they will sprout in a few days and give a sense of achievement.
Experiment. A terrarium is a perfect mini lab for growing. The strangest plants will thrive, whilst others will just die. That’s all part of the fun. Choose plants that are either succulents or forest plants, do not mix plants that have different needs.I pinch moss, tiny plants in lawns and even wild mushrooms when I am out and about and shove them in m handbag to plant later. Moss is found on the South side of trees. Try and only scrape moss from vacant allotments and carparks, not from the bush where they are part of a fragile ecosystem. Or buy mosses on the internet or gumtree.
Try planting annuals like violets, pansies, violas and lobelia, they have lovely little flowers, so are in perfect scale and will die once they have flowered. So you won’t feel a failure! It’s all part of their life cycle. IT WAS NOT YOUR FAULT! REPEAT “IT WAS NOT MY FAULT” Annuals only last for one season .So,just replant a new one next year.
Try using plants with small leaves and flowers that are in scale with your jar. The irony of the terrarium is, if successful and conditions are favourable, a plant will grow. And grow too big for the space. Simply remove and repot and replace. Or get a bigger jar! Or have a little pruning session.
Do not over feed plants as they will out grow the terrarium quicker, again check the plants needs when you buy them. I prefer to use a surface fertilizer once a year that slow feeds as it disintegrates. Generally feed in the spring or when plant is budding and about to flower.
Benefits of a classbunny workshop
We run regular terrarium, kokadama, concrete planter and succulent workshops and provide corporate workshops and private classes for team building, hens' parties and functions. We gather miniature figures from all round the world when we travel and provide a variety of plants and jars to work with. We also bring knowledge and passion to workshop sessions and give participants a chance to ask questions and have a expert eye to help make the best terrarium both aesthetically and growing wise. For a private class and quote contact Pamela at email@example.com or join our newsletter to find out when we have the next terrarium workshop near you.
Our next Kokedama workshop is live streamed in collaboration with classbento on Sunday 14 Jun, 11am - 11:45am and you can buy a ticket with a box delivered to your door via the classbento site.
These classes are also great for Hens' parties and corporate team building, For more information contact classbunny or classbento