Tuesday, January 26, 2010

wanna learn how to make a terrarium?

so, painting has been a little slow lately - but plant dorkiness is in full force. for some reason terrariums and bell jars have become an unhealthy obsession of late.

first things first - find yourself a container. this is one of the last jars in my house that doesn't already hold a plant. i had to dump dog biscuits out of it. no container is safe anymore 'round here.

this is a one is a little small, but it'll work. it's about the size of a big jelly jar. it has a lid, so it'll hold onto its moisture longer. that means a minimal chance of me forgetting to water it and then murdering the thing, so that's good.

here is the fun part - go find yourself some plants. not any plant will do, though; it's gotta 1) like humidity and 2) be small. midgety small, even. ferns are good. moss is too. extra points if you wanna put carnivorous plants in there, because that means you gotta feed them bugs by hand. it seems a little cactus would be awfully cute in a little jar - they're awfully gonna be awfully damp and awfully dead before long. don't do it.

now for the planting bit. put down a thin layer of charcoal, so the whole bottom of your container is covered at least 1 piece of charcoal thick. you can be fancy like me and buy horticultural charcoal ($4 for a decent sized bag!) or you can fish around in your fireplace or you can rip open an extra aquarium filter and use the charcoal in there - it's all the same stuff. it'll sweeten your soil, which is just another way for me to say it'll keep your soil from getting too acidic.

next you're going to want to add a layer of crushed rock, about 1/2 an inch thick. this adds a bit of drainage to your terrarium, and separates the charcoal from the soil so the charcoal doesn't decompose too quickly.
you know what else works for this? pea gravel! tiny chunks of broken glass! little bits of cement! if you find little bits of cement aesthetically pleasing, that is. i won't judge.

next - time for potting soil! soil from your backyard is not going to cut it, since there's all sorts of molds and microscopic critters out there that are gonna get antsy living in a jar. you should pour at least 2 inches of soil on top of your gravel layer, and then make little pockets to place your plants.
this terrarium is too teensy to hold more than my lil polka dot plant, but if you haven't used up every big jar in your house yet, you have the fun of creating a little ecosystem! mix tall & short! fluffy & needle-y! light green and dark!

please don't be the kind of person who takes plants out of their plastic pots and just plops them in the dirt. you're going to end up with roots that are too afraid to venture out into the new dirt, and they end up circling around themselves until it starves. no one wants that. gently massage those suckers and tease the roots apart. take out some of the the old dirt from in between the roots and spread out the roots when you plant it. let them know that it's okay to try new things.

last - water! it doesn't take much, just until it's a bit moist. you're going to find that you won't need to water it much if you've got a top on your container, since the soil will just absorb from the enclosed air the water vapor that the plant transpires. smart little beasts, those plants.

you might need a critter or two...

alright. now go out there and remember to only use your new-found terrarium powers for good.


  1. Cool. I just built a carnivorous plant terrarium in an old 10 gallon fish tank that I was afraid to use for fish anymore since it had a crack in the glass near the bottom. So far I have a pitcher plant, a few flytraps, some sundews (including a pygmy type), and some life spaghnum moss. Nothing much happening yet since everything is in the adapting stage including my favorite sundew!

  2. AWESOME. i have a sarracenia that's waiting for a terrarium, and that little thing is the cutest plant alive. good work with reusing the aquarium - i've been told carnivorous plants do best and won't shock when the entire plant is kept in the pot it grew up in, just sunk and surrounded by dirt and moss to conceal the pot. did you do this, too?

    i am so excited about feeding this plant that i am gross enough to buy bananas to bring in some fruit flies, but the bananas always end up getting eaten...