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Posted by on Jun 29, 2012 | 0 comments

Creating and Maintaining a Happy Terrarium

Creating and Maintaining a Happy Terrarium

Terrariums are all the rage right now. On my birthday weekend this year, I walked to Eclectic Nature nursery with the intent of making a terrarium as a gift to myself. We’ve seen a few nice ones in a couple of recent house tours, like this trio in Barbara Mancini’s basement renovation:


…and this whimsical number in Forrest and Athena’s living room:


For my terrarium, I started with glass cloche that I found in the nursery store and then went straight for the ground cover and sedums outside. Why? Because they’re tiny to begin with and they stay tiny.  The advice I got online was basically that any plants will thrive in a terrarium. Are you dubious? I was too. I decided to experiment. I’ve since become a bit more knowledgeable.

Terrarium Assembly

When I got home, I arranged the ingredients on a marble trivet I found to serve as the base. The shells and marble are there as potential decorations.


First, a layer of pebbles. Next, a sprinkling of charcoal to absorb excess moisture. You can see that I had traced the circumference of the cloche with a pencil so I could see where to arrange the materials.


Next, I piled the potting soil up and stuck one of the sedum “hen” plants into the soil. I’m estimating that the ingredients, including plants, will take up about 1/3 of the height of the pot.


After I situated a baby tears plant, I added a shell and Ana suggested we include a lamb as decoration.  Ana misted the plants with distilled water, and then I carefully placed the jar over the “scene.”


We have our happy terrarium sitting by the front window where the sun streams in but never onto her directly.


I used the rest of the ingredients to make a terrarium inside a mason jar for Katie.


My terrarium is doing fine. The inside of the cloche is steamy but we can still see inside and the plants are happy and healthy. But sadly, Katie’s baby tears have shriveled and died.


I sought the advice of the owner of the Exotic Planterium & Card and Comic Collectorama store  in Del Ray. Dennis is a horticulturist by training and he always has plant starts growing in the window of his store, so I figured he may know how to troubleshoot our terrarium woes.


He said that the plants I chose were all wrong for the closed terrarium environment. The sedums and stone crop plants need to be dry, hot, and in full sun. They work better in an open terrarium. A sandy soil is best, as well. If Katie had left her terrarium open from the start, maybe she’d have had better luck. For the closed environment, he sold me a pilea and oxalis to replace the baby tears.


I decided to leave my terrarium alone for the time being, since nothing has died yet. In Katie’s mason jar, I planted the new plants and replaced the hens and chick plant altogether. Another misting and she’s back in business.


Caring for Your Closed Terrarium

Katie asked me how to care for her terrarium. It’s so easy:

  • Keep it shut and out of direct sunlight.
  • You shouldn’t have to water or mist your plants in a closed terrarium.
  • Watch for excess moisture or mold. Mold will cause your plants to rot and you’ll have to remove them, dry out the terrarium, and replant.
  • Trim plants like the oxalis if it gets too leggy or you see brown leaves.
  • Read about choosing plants for closed terrariums.
  • For more advice on open and closed terrariums, watch this step-by-step video from Sprout Home.


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