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Terrariums are an excellent option for the gardener who does not have endless space for trailing vines and massive planters. Even better, if you are currently living in a space but are planning on moving in the near future, terrariums can be an amazing and mostly portable solution to starting your plant collection without having to commit to new and extraneous ways of transportation when it comes time for you to relocate!
Terrariums are miniature indoor gardens contained within a clear container, usually made of glass or plastic. Terrariums actually replicate a natural ecosystem on a miniature scale, by creating a humid and self-sustaining environment for plants. Thus, within this enclosed space, you can create a microclimate tailored to sustain multiple plants of similar needs.
How to Start A Terrarium:
The steps are fairly similar for getting any terrarium started. There are, however, alterations and different care methods once you go about filling your terrarium with plants. Once you decide on what you want to include in your collection, you can make these accommodations. In the meantime. Here are our suggestions for getting started.
Choosing the right container:
The first step to creating a terrarium is picking the right container. Glass containers are ideal as they allow for ample light penetration, which is essential for the growth of succulents. You can opt for an open or closed container, but it's important to note that succulents generally prefer dry conditions, making open containers a better choice. The size, shape, and depth of the container will depend on the type of plants and the amount of them you opt to include.
Layering the foundation:
The foundation of a terrarium is crucial for the drainage and to support the plants. Begin by adding a layer of stones or gravel at the bottom. This will ensure that excess water can drain away from the plant roots, preventing rot. Over this, add a layer of activated charcoal, which helps in absorbing odors and bacteria. Finally, add a layer of well draining soil, specially for cacti and succulent plants.
Establishing the proper lighting:
Terrariums may include a collection of plants. Make sure you research their lighting requirements before investing. These plants will be kept in an enclosed environment, and therefore cannot be separated to make sure they get their individual needs met. Too much light can damage plants, and too little can stunt their growth. If you want optimal control of lighting in darker settings or during darker periods of the year, invest in a grow light. The Grove™ grow light bar light is a great option for terrariums you want to display on counter tops, shelves, or desktops!
Arranging your plants:
Make sure to arrange your plants with enough room for them to continue healthy growth, and in a way which will allow them access to resources as they continue this process. Again, this will likely be dependent on the size and shape of your container, but a good rule of thumb is to keep the taller plants at the back and the shorter ones in the front.
Overcrowding is extremely detrimental to any plant matter. If you think you may be expanding your plant collection, then you will need to consider a larger planter than your initial collection may require, or plan to invest in multiple terrariums. Too many plants can not only strain the bioavailability of resources, it can even lead to poor air circulation- which will strain the plants and make them more susceptible to disease.
Incorrect Plant Selection:
Not all plants are suitable for a terrarium environment. Avoid using plants that have different light, water, and humidity requirements. For example, mixing cacti (which prefer a dry environment) with tropical plants (which thrive in humidity) is not advisable.
Ignoring Light Requirements:
Terrariums need to be placed in an area that receives appropriate light for the plants inside. Avoid placing them in direct sunlight, which can overheat and burn the plants, or in too dark an area, which can stunt their growth.
Avoid using containers without proper drainage. While closed terrariums don't have drainage holes, you should layer gravel or stones at the bottom to create a space for excess water to go, preventing root rot. Rock and pebble mixes come in a variety, which will allow you to best optimize your selection to suit the needs of your plants, as well as to fit in with your decor.
This is one of the most common mistakes. Terrariums require minimal watering. Excess moisture can lead to mold growth and root rot. Always water sparingly. Too much water can also lead to an excess of humidity, which is detrimental to plants. Again, it is important to remember that preventing many of these issues is a preemptive matter. Setting up an effective drainage system and a well ventilated container will help to alleviate the impact of minor errors.
Sealing Closed Terrariums Too Soon:
For closed terrariums, avoid sealing them immediately after planting. Allow them to air out for a few days to let excess moisture escape and to observe how the plants adjust before sealing the environment.
Using the Wrong Soil:
Avoid using garden soil. Instead, use a sterile potting mix or a special terrarium mix that suits the type of plants you are using (e.g., succulent mix for cacti and succulents). Simply researching your plants thoroughly is the first step in avoiding improper care and setup issues.
Ignoring Container Size and Shape:
The size and shape of your terrarium container should match the type of plants and design you are aiming for. Avoid using a container that's too small for your plants or one that will restrict their growth.
While terrariums are low-maintenance, they're not no-maintenance. Avoid neglecting regular check-ups for pruning dead or overgrown foliage, checking for pests, and ensuring the terrarium is clean.
Succulent terrariums are unique in their care and maintenance requirements, differing from other types of terrariums, particularly those housing tropical plants. Here's a list of the key aspects of succulent terrarium care:
Type of Container:
- Open terrariums are generally better for air circulation as succulents thrive in less humid environments.
- Use a well-draining soil mix, typically a cactus or succulent mix, to prevent water retention and root rot. Succulents do best with potting mix that is not too nutrient-rich.
- Water sparingly and infrequently, only when the soil is completely dry.
- Avoid water accumulating at the bottom to prevent root rot.
- Place in a bright area with plenty of indirect sunlight.
- Avoid direct, intense sunlight which can scorch the succulents.
- Low humidity is ideal. Open terrariums help in maintaining this environment.
- Avoid enclosed spaces that trap moisture.
- Keep in a warm environment; succulents generally prefer temperatures between 60-80°F (15-27°C).
- Ensure a layer of gravel or stones at the bottom of the terrarium for drainage.
- Lack of drainage holes in terrariums requires careful watering.
- Fertilize sparingly, using a diluted, balanced, low-nitrogen fertilizer during the growing season.
Pruning and Maintenance:
- Prune or remove dead leaves to prevent decay and pest infestations.
- Watch for signs of over or under-watering, such as shriveled or mushy leaves.
- Space succulents adequately to allow for air circulation and growth.
- Be mindful of the growth patterns and potential size of the chosen succulents.
- Check regularly for pests like mealybugs, especially under leaves and in crevices.
- Use appropriate pest control methods if an infestation is detected.
Cacti terrariums, while similar in many aspects due to the low water and maintenance needs of succulent collections, do have some distinct differences. All succulents are cacti, but not all cacti are succulents. Understanding what the differences are between these plants is key to creating an environment where non-succulent cacti can thrive.
- Limited to cacti varieties only, which typically have spines or thorns and a thicker, more robust structure.
- Cactus Terrariums do best with open, well-ventilated terrariums which regulate humidity.
- Requires a very well-draining, gritty soil mix, often with a higher sand content, to mimic their natural arid environments.
- Cacti need less water than most succulents. Overwatering is a common issue and should be carefully avoided.
- Cacti prefer very low humidity environments, making them well-suited for open terrariums or containers.
- Need strong, bright light, and more direct sunlight than most succulents.
- Since cacti terrariums have more stringent lighting needs, it may be useful to invest in a grow light. The Vita™ Grow Light Bulb is a perfect option, which is able to fit into most standard lamps or be hung with a pendant system!
- Prefer consistently warm conditions and are less tolerant of cold temperatures.
- Cacti have a unique aesthetic, often focused on the interesting textures and forms of the plants rather than foliage color.
- Mealy Bugs, scale insects, and spider mites are all common pests which attack cacti.
- Since Cacti are traditionally very hardy, you may not notice the signs of attack immediately, which is why it is important to keep a close eye on the signs of an infestation. Look here for more information on treatments.
Tropical terrariums are amazing because they bring a glimpse of tropical paradise into your home. However, these terrariums require a totally different routine. Knowing the end result of these terrariums will grow beyond the glass, it is best to find plants that are easy to transplant.
Variety of Plants:
- Includes plants like Ferns, Mosses, Orchids, Philodendrons, and Prayer Plants.
- These plants often feature vibrant colors, unique leaf shapes, and varied textures.
- Requires a rich, well-draining soil mix, often with a higher proportion of organic matter.
- Peat moss or coco coir can be beneficial for retaining moisture.
- Tropical plants generally require more frequent watering than succulents or cacti.
- The soil should be consistently moist, but not waterlogged.
- High humidity is crucial, often necessitating closed or partially closed terrariums to retain moisture.
- Regular misting can help maintain appropriate humidity levels.
- Prefer bright, indirect light; direct sunlight can be too harsh and cause leaf burn.
- Some tropical terrarium plants can adapt to lower light conditions better than succulents and cacti.
- Thrive in warm environments, typically between 65-75°F (18-24°C).
- Less tolerant of cold temperatures and drafts.
Design and Aesthetics:
- Offers a lush, dense, and layered green look, often with varying heights and textures.
- Can include epiphytic plants that grow on other plants, like certain Orchids and Bromeliads.
- While high humidity is necessary, some air circulation is also important to prevent mold and fungal growth.
- Occasionally opening the terrarium or having a terrarium with a small opening can help.
- Requires more frequent fertilization than succulent or cacti terrariums, but always use fertilizers sparingly.
- A diluted, balanced liquid fertilizer is often suitable.
- Regular pruning may be necessary to control growth and maintain the desired shape.
- Monitoring for pests and diseases is crucial, as the humid environment can encourage outbreaks.
Perhaps the best thing about terrariums is the fact that they allow you to curate your own little world inside of a container. Experiment with your style as you build your own micro-environment, and get creative with the decor you choose to add. It can be magical to find little touches, such as miniature furniture and tiny garden tools, which allow you to build an enchanting little fantasy land to care for, all in your own space!