Everything You Need To Know About Terrariums

By Sven Alberding

Everything You Need To Know About Terrariums
Which plants to choose, how to build one and tips for maintaining your little plant world.

Terrariums are back in vogue, filling small spaces with succulent greenery that looks perfect on display.

It all began with Dr Nathaniel Ward, a physician in London in 1829. He was obsessed with collecting things but voyages were long, and most birds, bees and trees didn’t make it back to London. The Wardian case was born when he discovered by accident that a fern had germinated inside a sealed glass bottle in which he’d been keeping moths’ cocoons.

The premise was simple: to grow plants in closed glass cases, where condensation provided moisture, while dead leaves and other debris supplied nourishment. It finally enabled exotic plants to thrive. The 1970s saw a revival of the case, as what we now refer to as terrariums, adding to the many psychedelic aspects of a culture filled with pet rocks, mood rings, water beds, crystals and incense.

Today with a trend towards apartment living, terrariums are perfect for almost any space. Look for interesting containers with different shapes and textures: an upside-down glass jar, a fish bowl (minus the fish), mason jars, wine bottles. They don’t have to have a lid, allowing the plants to flow and fill the space. Fill them with a variety of textures and colours, using stones, gravel and greenery such as moss and ferns, and create your own little green world.

Plant profile

Terrarium plants need to enjoy high humidity – low to moderate light levels – and remain relatively small. Ferns, Selaginella moss, Miniature orchids, African violets, Tillandsias (air plants), Carnivorous plants, Helxine soleirolii (peace-in-the-home), Plectranthus and Cyclamens are all great terrarium options.

Plant care

  • Get started with any glass container of your choice with an opening big enough to fit your hand through. Clean it and rinse off any soap.
  • Begin with a layer of pebbles, followed by horticultural charcoal. Charcoal is particularly important in closed
    cases – it keeps the air clean of fumes from decomposing material.
  • On top of the charcoal goes a thick layer of potting soil and you’re ready to plant.
  • Since terrariums are essentially self-contained ecosystems that recycle their own water, you should not have to water very frequently. Use a spoon, eyedropper or a water sprayer to ensure you don’t over water. You can add moss in areas between plants to retain moisture in the soil.
  • Prune plants to keep them the desired size. Remove any dead plants, algae or fungus.


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