How To Create An Open Air Terrarium (A DIY)
I remember back when I was just a wee groovy lass in the 1970s, a huge fad for indoor gardeners (and quirky therapists) were terrariums: small to medium sized glass or plastic bowls landscaped with river rocks, moss, dirt, assorted succulents and other low-maintenance plants. Every 70s home seemed to have one (usually sitting below the giant macrame owl).
But terrariums date back even further than the 1970s. According to gardening lore, terrariums were created quite by accident in the late 19th century when gardening guru Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward noticed a fern sprout inside of a corked bottle which he had placed in a hibernating chrysalis. Terrariums, or "Wardian cases" as they were called back in the day quickly gained popularity in Victorian England, but faded just as fast. Becoming popular once again in the 1970s and fading just as fast (once again), the terrarium seems to be making yet another comeback, no doubt because creating one is cheap, easy and fun.
The beauty of creating and owning a terrarium is that it is literally a mini, low maintenance indoor garden of greenery that fits with just about any style of home decor and can be designed in a myriad of different ways.
HOW TO MAKE AN OPEN AIR TERRARIUM
Wide mouthed glass container, such as a fishbowl, vase, clear bowl or even a wine glass. Note: You can use a terracotta pot, but I prefer using glass because then any pretty rocks or sea glass I might use will be visible.
Pebbles, sea glass or river Rocks
Sand (for succulents)
Small plants such as succulents, ferns, ivy, etc.
Other decorative items, such as sea shells, colored rocks, small sticks and little tchotchkes
A small shovel or scoop
Gardening gloves (optional, natch!)
Terrarium Tip: Little terrariums made out of pudding dishes or wine glasses (picked up for cheap at the dollar store or thrift stores) make great party favors, table centerpieces, desk accessories and even hostess gifts!
Wash and dry your container. While it seems counterproductive to clean something you’re just going to fill with dirt anyway, you really don’t want your plants to come into contact with something that might be detrimental to their health.
Add pebbles, river rocks or sea glass to the bottom of the container for drainage. Add a layer of moss on top of the pebbles to keep the next layers of activated charcoal and potting soil from mixing in with the pebbles. Moss also holds water and will help to keep keep the terrarium moist.
Next, add the activated charcoal, which will help keep your terrarium fresh and odor-free, and top with potting soil. If you’re going to use succulents or cacti, mix in some sand with the soil using a soup spoon.
Add your plants! In an open container, succulents and cacti work best. You can also add spider fern, variegata, aquamarine, black mondo grass and Minimus Aureus (similar to lawn grass). A jade plant would work great too! When you place the plants in the planter, make sure you plant them well into the soil, similar to how you might plant outdoors. It’s fine to crowd the plants just a bit, but If you use a combination of succulents and other plants, group the succulents together and separate from the others; they don't require as much water as the rest.
Finally, add your decorative items. If you need help placing the elements in your container, try using chop sticks.
Terrarium Tip: A fun place to find decorative items for your terrarium is in the aquarium section at your local pet store! You can also find sweet fairy items at your local craft stores, too.
Once you’re happy with your arrangement, place your terrarium in indirect sunlight. You don’t want to overexpose the plants and have them dry out and die.
Maintenance is minimal with a terrarium, but you do want to follow a couple of rules. Water your terrarium about once a week, using roughly 2 tablespoons of water, depending on the size. An open air terrarium doesn’t need much more than that. Also, if you see any dead or dying leaves, give them a snip; you don’t want your terrarium to overgrow or become unruly.
Terrarium Tip: How about using clear plastic bowls and letting the little ones put together their own terrariums? This is perfect to keep them entertained on a summer afternoon or as a birthday party or classroom craft, all while learning a little bit of botany, too!
This DIY is for open air terrariums, but you can make a terrarium using a closed container as well. Want to learn more about that? Check out how the Gardenista does it.
Terrarium Tip: A great resource for inexpensive terrarium items can be found at Teresa's Plants & More.