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Do-it-Yourself Terrarium

By Kim Robson

Summer is rapidly coming to a close. Wouldn’t it be great to capture a bit of summer’s green and keep it on your desk over the winter? You can create your own tiny world full of lush, beautiful plants to brighten your day by making your own terrarium. Green plants help chase away the blues and remind you of spring – plus they will help improve your indoor air quality. Terrariums are quite easy to make, require minimal maintenance, and if put together correctly can last indefinitely with minimal water. It’s a fun weekend project to do with the kids. Terrariums are not only beautiful and adorable, but perfect for gift-giving.

You will need the following supplies:

· A clear glass mason jar, vase, bowl, or aquarium. It can be sealed on top or not, but sealed terrariums are better for moist tropical plants; open ones are better for cacti and succulents.
· Rocks, pebbles or recycled glass chunks
· Activated charcoal (sometimes called activated carbon or aquarium filter charcoal)
· Potting soil appropriate for your plants (sand for succulents, soil for moist plants)
· Various small plants
· Moss (optional)
· Figurines, sticks or decorative items (optional)
· A scoop, spoon, or spade
· Chopsticks (can be helpful for fine placement)
· Scissors and gloves

Look for glass jars in thrift or antique stores, or scrounge around your house for an old jar, or just buyone. Jelly jars or mason jars can make rustic terrariums. Whether they are open or closed will determine the type of plants you can use. Everything else is available at your local nursery.

Shop for tiny plants that will fit inside your jar. Keep succulents and cacti in separate terrariums from ferns and tropical plants because they require different amounts of water and soil. You’ll want cactus sand for succulents and regular potting soil for plants. The rocks are for a drainage layer; the activated charcoal keeps the system healthy; and the moss can be used for decoration and to help retain water.

Step One: Add the base layer – this can be rocks, gravel, pebbles, or coarse sand. Spread at least 1” of drainage material evenly across the entire bottom of your terrarium.

Step Two: On top of the drainage layer, add a thin layer of activated charcoal. This will help clean the air when the organic materials begin to break down.

Step Three: Add soil – all-purpose potting soil is fine. You can play around with this layer to add depth and contour to your landscape with different levels of soil. Make sure you have enough soil that your plants’ roots are fully surrounded by soil and not extending into the charcoal/gravel layer.

Step Four: Add your plants! First, think about how you want them arranged, and then dig little holes in the soil to place them. Pack the soil tightly around them.

Step Five: Add decorative touches like larger rocks, moss, twigs, or tiny figurines.

Now enjoy your tiny tabletop garden! An enclosed terrarium will need virtually no water – in fact, you may see condensation on the inside. An open terrarium may need a little misting once a week. They’re creative and fun craft projects to do with the kids, and make great gifts – and the holidays are coming up fast! For a more involved science project, next week I’ll detail how to make your own sealed biosphere.


About Kim Robson

Kim Robson lives and works with her husband in the Cuyamaca Mountains an hour east of San Diego. She enjoys reading, writing, hiking, cooking, and animals. She has written a blog since 2006 at kimkiminy.wordpress.com. Her interests include the environment, dark skies, astronomy and physics, geology and rock collecting, living simply and cleanly, wilderness and wildlife conservation, and eating locally.

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