Indoor Gardening Idea: Tabletop Terrariums

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 whole miniature garden offering beauty and pleasure for months or even years? Tabletop terrariums provide an excellent opportunity to bring a bit of nature indoors. With a little planning you can create a garden under glass that will delight your family and guests, and add atmosphere to any room. 

Here's what you need to know. (PS: This is a great project for kids of all ages.)

Selecting the container

Today there is a whole range of containers beyond the iconic enclosed globe to consider using for your terrarium. TIP: Clear glass containers with some type of removable lid make the best terrariums. Have fun with one of these suggestions (from The New Terrarium: Creating Beautiful Displays for Plants and Nature by Tovah Martin)

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

  2. Goldfish bowls — which come in a variety of sizes

  3. Lidless glass tureens — from local garage sales or thrift shops

  4. Bell jars — from a lab supply shop or hobby store

  5. Mason jars — the beloved crafting staple

  6. Apothecary jars — traditional glass containers for medications

  7. Cookie jars — filling these with succulents is a low-cal alternative

  8. Aquariums — a great repurpose for no-longer-functioning fishtanks

  9. Wardian cases ― attractive enclosed plant containers 

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 — place a layer in your pot for drainage before adding the potting soil (stones that are ¼ inch or smaller work well for drainage)
  • Activated charcoal — use activated charcoal to help filter water and prevent fungus problems related to a lack of drainage
  • Sheet moss — use decorative and functional moss in place of mulch after you plant or as an absorbent liner in the bottom of your container 
  • Gloves — protect your hands when handling charcoal or sphagnum moss (prevent exposure to potential fungal infection that affects skin)
  • Trowels and tweezers for planting — select these depending on the size of your tabletop terrarium plants
  • Watering can or spray bottle — mist your plants regularly to maintain the moist atmosphere they love 
  • Decorative items ― let your imagination run wild! 

Where to site your terrarium

A cozy spot with bright indirect light is best, away from direct sun. Avoid extremes in temperature, heat or cold air vents, and drafty windows. Place a saucer or tray beneath tabletop terrariums to protect surfaces such as furniture or countertops.

Watering and ventilation

In a closed terrarium you may only need to water about 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 tabletop 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. 

Updated October 4, 2018.

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