Mother Nature In a Jar

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Yearn for the healthy appearance of houseplants but lack a green thumb or the interior real estate for pots and boxes? You’re a good candidate for growing a terrarium, say the experts.

A terrarium allows you to grow a collection of small plants within an open or sealed clear container made of glass or plastic – such as a jar, bottle, vase, coffee pot or fish bowl – that can be placed on a floor, desk, table, countertop or shelf. Using the right materials, light and moisture, terrarium gardens can flourish and thrive with very little upkeep and provide vibrant décor to any living space.

“Growing plants under transparent protection dates back to fifth century Greece. Nathaniel Ward, a doctor in London, accidentally discovered terrariums in the 19th century while trying to protect a fern from London’s air pollution by placing it under glass,” says Jennifer Morganthaler, clinical instructor of agriculture at Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri. “They are low-maintenance and, compared to other plants, provide more value for your money.”

They’re also increasingly popular. Consider that the number of online searches for “terrarium” nearly doubled between 2016 and 2017 – to an average of 450,000 searches a month, per Google Trends Data collected for Pots, Planters & More, a Skokie, Illinois-based planter retailer.

Susan Brandt, founder/president of Bristow, Virginia-headquartered, says terrariums are trendy again for several reasons.

“First, people like to garden year-round. Having indoor terrariums helps satisfy that need. Second, indoor plants in the home and office help create healthier and happier people. Also, making a do-it-yourself terrarium is a great way to be creative in your home, apartment or dorm,” says Brandt.

Keri Byrum, author of the gardening blog, says terrariums are ideal for people who lack the space or time to care for conventional houseplants.

“They’re great for people who travel a lot or have very busy lives,” notes Byrum. “You don’t need to have someone care for these plants while you’re on vacation or away from home.”

The steps involved in creating are simple.

1. Choose a container (note that open terrariums are drier, which decreases the chance of disease), select a well-drained, high organic growing medium like peat-lite mix or sterilized potting soil, and purchase activated charcoal. Terrarium kits with all the needed materials, sold online and in stores, cost around $20 or less. Larger terrariums with more plants are more expensive.

2. Fill the container with one to two inches of the activated charcoal, “which helps filter out odors associated with moist soil,” Brandt says. Next, top off with potting soil or peat-lite mix (a blend of peat moss, vermiculite and perlite) so that the container is 25 to 33 percent filled. “Gently pack down the soil to get any air pockets out of it,” adds Brandt.

3. Pick your plants. Choose plants that tolerate humidity and low/indirect light and are small enough to fit inside the terrarium without touching the container’s sides. Recommended species include succulents, cacti, African violet, asparagus fern and air plants (for open containers only) as well as moss, spider fern, golden clubmoss, croton, stonecrop, aquamarine and black mondo grass. “Plants with low and dense growth habits are usually best. Don’t mix plants that require significantly different light or moisture, and consider light, temperature and where the terrarium will be located before choosing the plants,” Morganthaler suggests.

4. Position the plants carefully inside the container before planting. “This will ensure that they have the look you want and establishes proper spacing,” says Brandt.

5. Choose a good location in a bright room. “But don’t place your terrarium in direct sunlight – it will dry up your terrarium and damage the plants,” says Andy Lopez, CEO of The Invisible Gardener Inc., in Malibu, California. “Instead, use an indoor grow light.”

6. Prune and water as needed. “Open terrariums may need water every two to three weeks, but a closed terrarium only needs water every few months,” says Byrum, who recommends watering with a spray bottle when the soil looks dry.

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