The terrarium in the picture above was a gift that my sister and I made to give to my mom for her birthday. Although she's excellent at taking care of living things, like her children, she's got a pretty rough track record when it comes to plants and things. We thought that because of it's small size, and simple maintenance requirements, a terrarium might fair a bit better.
Step 1: Materials
To make a terrarium you will need:
- glass globe to house the terrarium - this can be purchased new or a repurposed glass jar or bowl that has a pleasing volume
- activated charcoal
- well draining potting soil
- various mosses
- small sticks or bark
- minerals, shells, or stones
- small plants well suited terrarium life
- air plant like tilandsia, or another bromeliad you like
- succulent, if you like, although, it's not recommended to mix succulents and plants due to different watering requirements - we did anyway
- a nice hook or string to hang it by
- spray bottle or mister
Step 2: Sand Layer
Find a small cup, scooper or funnel to load the sand into the terrarium. It doesn't take much, 1 cup of sand is probably more than enough.
Step 3: Activated Charcoal Layer
My sister and I devised a simple cardboard chute to deliver materials precisely where we wanted them in the terrarium. The chute, plus a push stick or brush works much better than the dump method.
The activated charcoal layer just keeps things "fresh", or so I've read.
Step 4: Soil Layer
We found the paintbrush to be very helpful in moving the soil around. If you were making a larger terrarium, or working with one that had a larger hole, I think positioning plants and soil mediums would be much easier, but alas, we liked the look of this globe and did our best.
Step 5: Large Features
The living plant we chose was hearty, and strategically planted at the back of the terrarium where it's likely to remain moister. We positioned the succulent on a little hill of soil so it would drain first, as well as located it closer to the opening which is likely to be a dryer environment. I'm sure it won't take too long for terrarium experts to correct my potentially fatal mistake, however, we really wanted to combine both plants and succulents in a single terrarium.
It can be easier to position the plants before filling the terrarium with soil, and then backfill the space between the root balls of the plants. You can also simply dig small holes and plant normally. Both methods worked well for us, but the bigger the plant, the more sense it makes to put it in before the soil, and then add the soil around it.
Don't overcrowd the terrarium with large elements, there's quite a few additional small elements that we're adding, so it's important to leave yourself some room to be creative with what little space remains.
Step 6: Small Features
We added in a hearty dose of a few different types of dried, ornamental mosses, a mineral that my mom really likes, and a small stone egg - my mom has a PhD in Pre and Perinatal Psychology, what can I say, she's really into eggs.
We also included some dried pieces of tree bark from some trees that were shedding this past fall in Oakland. This was followed up by inserting a small "air plant" called Tilandsia. These plants don't need to be planted in the conventional sense - they require no soil and simply extract their nutrients and water from the air. They are perfect candidates for terrariums.
Finally, we added in some colorful shells that we had collected at the beach (wash them thoroughly as they may introduce salt to the tiny ecosystem, and plants and salt don't get along well) and a small little set of thorns that had come off of a cactus that I used to owned, but died.
Step 7: Accessories and Maintenance
You've also got to water the terrarium from time to time. Maybe once or twice a week depending on location and weather conditions. We set my mom up with a dual watering system - the regular water can that services most regular house plants, and then a special mister that's designed to spray down living things like the air plant. A regular spray bottle from the drug store will work just fine, we just wanted to class the gift up a bit.
Maintenance on these little guys is pretty easy. Simply hang it in an area that receives moderate sun, but not direct sun if possible, and make sure you water the little guys once a week or so. If it's looking real wet in there, or if mold or a swampy odor develops, you're definitely over-watering. If the plant parts start to wilt, they you'r likely under watering.
I'm looking forward to making a bunch more of these in the future out of reclaimed cool looking glass volumes. I'll be keeping my eyes open for this kind of stuff at yard sales from now on.