Tovah's Top 10 Terrarium Tips

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Tovah's Top 10 Terrarium Tips

June 22, 2009
11:06am
Photo by: Kindra Clineff

Work is okay, but you'd rather be gardening, right? No problem. Here's a way to achieve fuss-free fusion and take care of business and botany simultaneously. Or, if you prefer, here's a streamlined bridge between horticulture and your home. What? You're feeling a little time-challenged? That's where terrariums come to the rescue.

Terrariums make it possible to incorporate growing things into places that aren't exactly conducive — like your dry, lackluster, light-lacking work space or your equally moisture-deficient living room. A closed terrarium becomes a biosphere where humidity is elevated, plants are self-watered and the mini ecosystem just chugs along on autopilot with minimal intervention.

If memories of past terrarium fads are flooding back, rest assured that this manifestation will be minus the macramé. This time around, terrariums have a clean, sparkling demeanor. They're more about bringing nature indoors and less about filling far-out fishbowls. They serve as a segue between outdoors and in. And garden design definitely comes into play — in a drastically reduced landscape. Think of it as Somebody Shrank the Garden. Where the real estate might be less than 6 inches in span, the challenge lies in making it meaningful, as well as mastering the method. Here are some hints:

  1. Find a suitable receptacle. Start by accessing your attic and digging out that stray vase, canning jar, apothecary jar, candy dish, cookie jar or whatever (I recently gave a glass teapot a second career). Almost anything works. If you can get your hands in the mouth of whatever you're planning to use, it will make it easier. A lid makes the environment lower-maintenance. But even if the venue doesn't come with a top, you can always balance a glass plate. Or leave the container open and check it for moisture more often.
  2. Select appropriate plants. They should be compact, humidity-loving and low-light compatible. Ferns and mosses are particularly apropos, as well as orchids, bromeliads and a host of other easy-to-find houseplants.
  3. Avoid cactuses, succulents and most herbs (mints are okay) — anything that prefers bright light and low humidity.
  4. Use pebbles and charcoal for the base layer to encourage drainage, and always wear gloves when working with ingredients.
  5. For a planting medium, select a light, humus-soil potting mix.
  6. Let those creative juices flow when designing a terrarium, employing all the same tenets that come into play outdoors. Mix textures, add a small orb, marble or faux mushroom to serve as a complement. Think color, think balance and unleash your inner landscape architect.
  7. Firm the plants in when you plant them, just as you would in the garden bed, and water your terrarium very lightly after planting.
  8. Close 'er up and watch the biosphere swing into action.
  9. Place your terrarium in indirect light. Full sun can fry the contents — with the same sizzle as a closed car on a sunny day.
  10. Every 10 days or so, give the terrarium a little fresh air. Open the lid for half a day, then close it up again. If no condensation appears after closing, add a very small amount of water.

It's simple, it's fun, it's creative and it can change your world. 

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