Indoor Gardening Idea: Tabletop Terrariums

You could have a stylish little ecosystem right on your tabletop. Learn how from horticulturist Erica Glasener.

Posted by Erica Glasener | Oct 27, 2011
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pink.polka/Flickr (Creative Commons License)When you think of a centerpiece for your dinner party, you probably picture fresh flowers.  But what if you could display a miniature garden under glass that would offer beauty and pleasure for months or even years?  Tabletop terrariums provide an opportunity to bring a bit of nature indoors.  With some thought and planning you can create a garden under glass that will add elegance to any room, as well as delight and inspire your guests. 

Selecting the container

Today there are a whole range of containers beyond an enclosed globe to consider using for your terrarium. Clear glass containers with some type of removable lid make the best terrariums.  Below are some suggestions for containers from the book The New Terrarium, Creating Beautiful Displays forPlants and Nature by Tovah Martin, photographs by Kindra Clineff

1.     Cloches — large glass domes that were historically used to cover plants in cold weather

2.     Goldfish bowls

3.     Covered glass tureens

4.     Bell jars

5.     Canning jars

6.     Apothecary jars

7.     Cookie jars

8.     Aquariums

9.     Wardian cases ― glass enclosed houses (some are acrylic).

The plants

When choosing plants for your terrarium, select miniature plants, shade lovers and plants that like high humidity.  Avoid cacti, succulents and herbs. They will not do well in an environment that stays moist. The following plants will thrive in a terrarium if cared for properly:

  • African violets
  • Baby’s tears (Soleirolia soleirolii)
  • Begonias
  • Carnivorous plants
  • Dwarf golden sweet flag (Acorus gramineus ‘Pusillus’)
  • Dwarf  impatiens
  • Ferns — maidenhair ( Adiantum spp.), button fern (Pellaea rotundifolia)
  • Ivy
  • Moss
  • Miniature orchids
  • Strawberry begonia (Saxifraga stolonifera)
  • Violets.

What you will need

  • Potting soil ― make sure it holds moisture but drains well too; add some peat moss or sphagnum moss to help ensure good drainage
  • Gravel or pebbles — a layer for drainage under the potting soil (stones that are ¼ inch or smaller work well for drainage)
  • Activated charcoal — helps to filter water and prevent fungus problems related to a lack of drainage
  • Sheet moss — decorative and functional, you can use it in place of mulch after you plant or as a liner in the bottom of your container to absorb excess water
  • Gloves — a good idea when handling charcoal or sphagnum moss (prevent exposure to potential fungal infection that affects skin)
  • Trowels and tweezers for planting — depending on the size of the plants
  • Watering can or spray bottle to mist plants after you plant
  • Decorative items ― you decide. 

Where to site your terrarium

Bright indirect light is best, away from direct sun. Avoid extremes in temperature, near heat or cold air vents or drafty windows. Use a saucer or tray beneath your terrarium to protect surfaces.

Watering and Ventilation

In a closed terrarium you may not need to water more than once a month, depending on the season, less during cloudy months and more often in hot, sunny months. Water when the soil is dry but always sparingly. There is no need to fertilize closed terrariums; if you fertilize open containers, apply at half strength. Ventilate only as needed, for example if mold starts to form, remove mold and leave the terrarium open for a day or so.

Erica Glasener is a Networx - - writer. Get home & garden ideas like this - - on Networx.

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