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Ask a Master Gardener: Thaddeus T. Tur’tle’s Terrific Terrarium

BY: Melissa Wold, Mobile County Master Gardener www.mobilecountymastergardeners.org


Hello, all! I am Thaddeus T. Tur’tle, and this is Terrific Terrariums. Today, we are building a habitat in a glass. One that is simple to construct and easy to maintain. Even you snails can accomplish this feat. And we all know what slugs you are about completing anything. [ed. note: voice all complaints directly to ttt@terrificterrarium.com].


A bit of history on terrariums might be in order. Botanist Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward created the first terrarium (originally dubbed a Wardian Case) in 1829. Ward sealed a moth inside a glass jar with damp soil. Within a week, a small fern sprouted. Ward noticed that during the day, condensation would build on the sides of the jar but fell back down into the soil at night. This humid environment was perfect for growing certain plants. Wardian Cases were the rage of the Victorian Era. Modern terrariums became popular in the United States in the 1970s and are now making a comeback for homes and offices.


Let’s get to work on our project. First, you need to select your structure. Large family? Consider an aquarium. Enough room to include everyone’s favorite décor. Live alone? Down-sizing? An oversized brandy snifter may be the cat’s meow. Elegant and minimalist. Today, in homage to Mr. Ward, I will be using a trifle bowl.


The following materials are needed to create your terrarium:


· Clear glass container; lidded or open

· Miniature rocks, pebbles, or gravel

· Activated charcoal

· Peat or sphagnum moss

· Potting soil (potting soil specific for containers or African Violet mixture works well)

· Miniature spade or spoon

· Mist bottle

· Plants


The selection of plants will depend on whether you have a closed or open container. Open terrariums, because of the lack of humidity accompanied by more air circulation and sunlight exposure, make great environments for succulents. Plus, succulents are hardy and need little attention. Perfect for novices. Closed terrariums have high humidity levels thus making them conducive to growing moisture-resistant plants like small palms, ferns, and orchids.


The number of plants will depend on the size of your container. Odd numbers add an aesthetic vibe. Plants should never touch the sides of the container, so don’t overcrowd. Choose plants of varying colors and heights but with similar light and water requirements. Be creative.


Got your materials? Let’s build.


1. Place a one-inch layer of small rocks or pebbles in the bottom. These will act as the drainage base preventing excess water from damaging roots.

2. Add a layer of moss to prevent soil from falling between cracks of rocks or pebbles.

3. Add a ½-inch layer of activated charcoal to assist in water purification. (If you cannot find charcoal, gravel can be substituted).

4. Add at least 1½ inches of potting soil. You may need a deeper level depending on plant size.

5. Using a small spade or spoon, create holes in the soil for your plants.

6. Remove plants from their original containers and gently place them in the new soil. Cover the roots and tap soil down to prevent air pockets.

7. Mist well.

8. Finish off your landscape by adding more pebbles or moss over top of the soil and add any decorative accessories.


Great job! Caring for your habitat is simple. Generally, only sunshine and water mist are required. No fertilizer is needed. You don’t want those plants outgrowing their home. Check weekly for moisture. If the soil feels dry, mist the plants. Remove any mold on the container’s sides. If using a closed container and soil is wet, remove the lid for a couple of days to allow for evaporation. Moderate sunlight is required and northern exposures are preferred. Watch for browning or wilting. You may need to experiment with finding the ideal spot. Prune leggy and overgrown plants. Clean glass periodically with a clean cloth but no chemicals!


Your new green space is not only beautiful but healthy. Terrariums can improve the air quality in your home. Also, they help reduce stress and anxiety, improve concentration levels, and induce positive, happy emotions.


Congratulations on creating a paradise in a glass. Drop by my trifle bowl for a visit. This is Thaddeus T. Tur’tle saying: “Ta-ta!”


Resource: Complete Guide on Terrarium by Tora Ramiscal



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