What is a terrarium?
The indoor planting trend is showing no sign of slowing down, with terrariums becoming increasingly popular. Terrariums are miniature gardens originally grown in a sealable container which can now either be sealed or open to the atmosphere. The concept of terrariums dates to the 19th century and were invented by a London-based botanist called Dr Nathaniel Ward. The idea behind them is that once closed, they become completely self-sufficient. Our guide takes you through each step so you can build your own open or closed terrarium.
Planting your terrarium in 7 steps
Creating a terrarium at home is easy, and can be achieved by following 7 simple steps. Before starting, you will need the following:
- A suitable vessel, depending on whether you want an open or closed terrarium, allowing sufficient space for your plants to grow.
- Small stones or pebbles to help with drainage.
- Soil, moss and active charcoal for layering the terrarium.
- Suitable plants for your vessel. We have included some suggestions below to help you choose plants that grow well together in small spaces.
- Large spoon or trowel, and a spray bottle for watering.
Step 1: Cover the bottom of your vessel with a 2-inch layer small stones or pebbles. This allows for any water to drain away from your plant roots.
Step 2: Add a layer of activated charcoal over the stones to help drainage and algae build up.
Step 3: Layer moss over the activated charcoal to separate the soil from the stones, then add the soil over the top. You can add as much soil as you like, but use at least two inches. Be careful to allow enough space for your plants to fit in your vessel without touching the top.
Step 4: Add your plants. This can be a little fiddly, as you'll need to remove your plants from their original pots, ensuring any roots are teased apart and pruned to stunt the plant's growth. This ensures they won't grow too big for your vessel.
Step 5: Add a top layer of stones and pebbles to finish, along with any other decorative elements you like, such as shells.
Step 6: Place your terrarium somewhere with access to natural light, avoiding direct sunlight or strong draughts.
Step 7: To keep your terrarium healthy, you'll need to water it using a spray bottle. This avoids your plants getting soaking wet, but rather allows them to stay damp. You can use the spray bottle to clean any dirt that builds up on the glass of your vessel, wiping it clean. Avoid using any glass cleaner as the chemicals can damage your plants.
What are the best plants for terrariums?
Firstly, decide whether you are going to have an open or closed terrarium as this will dictate what plants you choose. You also need to ensure your plants are small enough for your glass vessel, as you won't want any of them touching the edges and looking cramped.
If opting for a more traditional closed terrarium that you intend to seal, think carefully about the plants you want to use. Closed terrariums require plants that enjoy high moisture levels and lower light levels - avoid direct sunlight and really strong drafts as these can be fatal.
Good starter plants for sealed terrariums are:
- Maranta Fascinator - “Prayer Plant”
- Hypoestes - “Polka Dot Plant”
- Fittonias - “Nerve Plant”
If opting for an open terrarium you can choose any plant you like, as long as you stick to plants that like the same conditions. As a general principal, cacti and succulents work well for open terrariums as they are slow growing and therefore you don’t need to regularly be replanting or cutting back your terrarium plants. If you are going to use plants other than cacti and succulents, then you need to be mindful that they will need regular watering and may outgrow the terrarium more quickly.
Terrarium styling tips
The beauty of terrariums is that you can choose almost any vessel you like. Choose from geometric open hanging terrariums and planters, to closed rectangular glass boxes with lids.
Decorate with shells, feathers or pebbles for a natural miniature garden, and place on wall shelves or hang from the ceiling for a beautiful display.
Using similar principles to planting an open terrarium, our Tembesi bowls and pots are perfect for indoor plants such as succulents and cacti. These pots are made using antique brass, and are suitable for outdoor use – you simply need to make a hole in the bottom of the pot for drainage if you plan on leaving your pots outside. The plants featured in this post are from The Potting Bench, Totnes.