Sunday, February 12, 2012

Making Terrariums - So Simple a Child Could Do It

What is a gardener to do in the wintertime when he or she needs their plant fix?
Start an indoor garden, of course! 

Terrariums are all the rage right now, and as they seem like a possible solution to my houseplant-munching cat, I enjoyed making a couple of them this winter.

Terrarium: a glass container, chiefly or wholly enclosed, for growing and displaying plants

Terrariums being sold at the hardware store
Now that they are so popular, it is a lot easier finding a variety of little plants for terrariums that were previously not available locally.

Fittonia albivenis (white), Palm seedling, Hypoestes (red), Fern
 Of course, as soon as my kids saw the first terrarium I made, they wanted to make one, so out came the old goldfish bowls out of storage. 
(RIP Fishy 1 and Fishy 2)

How to Make a Terrarium

Step 1: Choose a glass container, either open or closed, and clean thoroughly.  Choose your container with your plants in mind - some plants enjoy the high humidity of a closed terrarium, while other plants need more air circulation.

Step 2:  Put clean rocks, sand, or marbles in the bottom for drainage.  

This was actually my kids' favorite step - going outside and collecting rocks for their terrarium kept them quite busy for a good hour or two!  (This is of course much easier when you have an extremely mild winter and no snow..)

My more decorative river rocks
Step 3:  If you have a closed container, put a few spoonfuls of activated charcoal over the rocks to filter the air and prevent the buildup of bad microorganisms and odors.  You can find it at the pet store in the aquarium section (sometimes it will be labeled as activated carbon).

Step 4:  If desired, put a layer of moss or a mesh to prevent the soil from falling down into your decorative rocks.  You can use sphagnum moss or landscape fabric or any sheer fabric.  I used a strip of sheet moss I had, turned upside down.

Step 5:  Plant your plants, using a light potting soil.

Hmm... this one is still going to have to go up high out of reach of the cat..
Some common plants for terrariums include Fittonia albivenis (also known as Nerve Plant), certain types of Begonias, orchids, ferns, Peperomia, and Hypoestes (also known as Polka Dot Plant).  Make sure to choose a grouping of plants that all prefer the same light and humidity levels. 

Clockwise from top left:  Fittonia albivenis (pink), Fittonia albivenis (small and white), Palm seedling, Hypoestes (red), Fern
Step 6:  Add any decorative items you would like.  My four-year-old added rocks and glitter hearts to her terrarium.

My four-year-old's terrarium: Fittonia albivenis (pink), Fittonia albivenis (red)
My two year old added the rest of her rocks on top and left me to finish with sheet moss - she just wanted to go outside and collect more rocks!

My two-year-old's terrarium: Fittonia albivenis (pink), button fern
Step 7:   Lightly water your plants (the lightly part being the hardest step for kids - I suggest a spray bottle) and set in a location that gets the proper amount of light.   Most terrarium plants like a decent amount of indirect light but not direct light. 

Water the terrarium every once in a while when the soil starts getting dry.  If you have a closed terrarium, you will need to let it air out every few weeks and be careful not to overwater (especially with little kids that looove to water).

My four-year-old's terrarium
As you can see, making a terrarium is so simple even a child could do it!
Now keeping it alive, that's another story...


  1. Ah, terrariums! That takes me back. I made many of them in the 'seventies and 'eighties, so I think of them as very retro. And of course they go back to Victorian times really. They are certainly not in fashion in Australia at the moment, so it's interesting to know they are undergoing a revival in NC! I think I'll have to make one next winter now that you've brought the memories alive.

  2. They are so pretty. I made my Grandma one when I was a kid and she kept it for years. Love having green in the winter.

  3. Easy and fun too. But I guess not as easy for a two and four year old. They turned out really nice and a nice project to share with the kids..

  4. I love the terrariums. I have a 4-year-old daughter at home. I am sure she would love to do something like this.
    Thanks for the idea.

  5. Yes...these do bring back memories...but certainly NOT of being allowed to make one....oh no siry-bob!
    They do look beautiful, that's for sure...keep us posted x

  6. The plants in your terrarium are a perfect example of how different textures and colours create a gorgeous combination. I may try to copy this combo outside this spring. Thanks!

  7. Nice terrariums. They bring back memories, but I was the 4 year old not the responsible adult. If you really want to have fun, you also include a little frog, then forget to put the lid on... well I like yours better. It is nice that there are so many varieties of plants for them now.

  8. Love these, never thought of this idea for a gardening fix in the winter months!

  9. now I know what to do next in my lounge. Another good reason to pop at the garden centre... again !

  10. It's funny how things make a comeback! They were quite fun to make though.
    And thankfully my kids didn't add any frogs or other wildlife... ;)

  11. What a wonderful post on how to make terrariums. It's true that it's easy to do that kids can do it. Being the supportive mother that you are, you are there to teach and help them to keep it alive! Being in the lawn maintenance Phoenix line of work, it is great to come across a post like this that is inspiring.


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