GROW: Terrarium is a great way to introduce kids to gardening | Lifestyles
While gardening has long been a popular pastime for adults, parents may be looking for ways to get their children interested in the hobby as well. As traditional gardening activities take a back seat in the cold season, building a terrarium is a great way to get youngsters excited about this popular activity.
You may remember the popular glass or plastic balls or baubles that are often wrapped in a macrame hanger. Today’s terrariums are more modern and actually increase the visual presence of the plants in them.
The concept of the terrarium was developed in the early 19th century when Dr. Nathaniel B. Ward, an English doctor with a passion for botany and entomology, discovered that he could germinate spores from a coveted fern in a closed jar. He developed the so-called Wardian suitcase, a glass box resembling a miniature greenhouse and used to transport plants collected in distant lands back to the British Isles. Within this seclusion, he was able to grow plants under conditions that were almost identical to those of their natural environment. Since the plants inside the container were decorative, the idea was soon carried over to the interior design of living spaces.
A terrarium is simply a garden in a closed glass or plastic container. They are a great way to grow a collection of small plants. All you need to get started is a few things, including a clear glass or plastic container, potting soil, plants, water, and a bright window. The container does not need to have a top as it can easily be covered with clear food wrap.
It is best to use potting soil instead of garden soil because garden soil is heavy and does not provide adequate ventilation and water movement. Avoid using stones, charcoal, or sand for drainage. Potting medium is like a sponge and holds the water until it is completely saturated. Using only potting soil will help prevent root rot.
Choose plants that are naturally small, grow slowly, tolerate high humidity and tolerate low to medium light conditions. Mix it up by choosing plants of different colors and textures to add visual interest. Avoid cacti and other succulents as the environment in the terrarium is too humid. A plate garden is a better choice for succulents.
When adding the potting medium, add about ¼ inch for every inch of width of the container, but it doesn’t need to exceed 3 inches in depth unless you are creating a berm. Varying the depth of the potting medium increases visual interest. Natural rocks and stone can be added to complete the plant landscape.
When planting, consider where the terrarium will be set up and how it will be viewed. It should be near a bright window but not in direct sunlight. When it’s visible from all sides, plant the taller, vertical plants in the center, with shorter, rounded plants around the edges. If the terrarium is only viewed from one side, the taller plants should be placed at the back and the shorter ones at the front.
After planting, add small amounts of water from a spray bottle set to a coarse jet to rinse off the plants and terrarium walls. Avoid getting the plants too wet as they won’t dry quickly in their surroundings. Keep the potting medium moist, but not saturated, and cover it with the container lid or clear, colorless plastic wrap. The lid may need to be vented occasionally to reduce moisture.
To prevent the plants from growing out of the terrarium, use fertilizer labeled for indoor plants in half the recommended amount and frequency.
For a list of plants suitable for the terrarium and other information, see the Oklahoma State University Extension information sheet on terrariums.
David Hillock is a consumer gardener at Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension.