What Is A Terrarium?
Simply put, a terrarium is a glass vessel that contains plants and soil, creating a miniature ecosystem. These low-maintenance indoor gardens are an attractive way to incorporate plants into either a home or office setting while providing a beautiful aesthetic and many other advantages.
Why are Terrariums Gaining Popularity?
Terrariums were incredibly popular in the 1970’s and then slowly faded into the background. In the last handful of years though, they are gaining popularity again for a myriad of reasons, but this time as sleek, modernized versions of the iconic, large displays of the past.
It is thought this current rise in popularity goes hand in hand with an overall increased awareness of health and well being. People are realizing the immense benefits that nature, plants, and green spaces have on their physical and mental wellness. To facilitate this connection when life and work keep you from getting outside, indoor plants provide the same perks.
Choosing to garden in a terrarium provides you with an incredibly low-maintenance way to garden indoors. Terrariums are fairly self-contained and self-sufficient, needing little care. Depending on the type you choose to have it may be weeks or months between basic tasks such as watering.
How Terrariums Work
The micro-environment created within a terrarium is a miniature replication of our natural world and the processes that occur in it. At the very basic level, terrariums work because of the natural cycle water progresses through due to evaporation, plant transpiration, and rainfall.
In a glass terrarium, moisture evaporates from both the soil (or another growing substrate) and the leaves of plants due to the heat generated from sunlight. It then collects and condenses on the roof and/or walls of the display. The condensation falls back to the soil, mimicking the natural rainfall cycle that provides moisture to all living creatures on our planet.
Types of Terrariums (Enclosed vs. Open)
There are two main types of terrariums: enclosed and open.
When most people think of terrariums, they envision the icon enclosed displays of decades past. While still popular in their resurgence, these glass structures have a lid that seals them completely creating a high humidity environment within. The moisture inside a closed terrarium constantly recycles itself, continuously providing water the plants need for growth. When properly designed they can go months without needing any water.
Open terrariums are just what their name implies — displays that have an opening to release moisture, creating a system that maintains a lower humidity. This type works really for succulents or cacti. The moisture is still recycled to a degree, but at a much lesser amount. Therefore they require more frequent watering than enclosed displays.
Building Your Own Terrarium
In this day and age of do-it-yourself projects, many people are choosing to build their own terrariums instead of purchasing one already constructed. One benefit to building your own is having the ability to completely customize it to your liking.
Tips for building a terrarium:
- Start by selecting a clear glass container. While colored glass looks pretty, it blocks some of the light from plants.
- A wide mouth vessel is much easier to work with, especially when you need to get your hands into it for planting.
- Pair plants with similar humidity and sunlight needs.
- Choose slow growing plants or varieties that stay shorter upon maturation.
Once you’ve collected all of your supplies it’s time to start putting everything together. Starting at the bottom of your terrarium, there is a specific order to follow when building a display.
- A thin layer of stones, small gravel, sand, or bark chips to provide a collection area for drainage.
- A thin layer of activated charcoal to filter and purify the water.
- A thin barrier over the charcoal layer to prevent potting soil from settling. Commonly used items are screens, moss, or simply paper in coordinating colors.
- A layer of high-quality potting soil or another growing substrate (such as coconut coir or sand, depending on the plant requirements) to anchor the roots of your plants and retain moisture.
Now it’s time to arrange your chosen plants in the terrarium, carefully planting them without disrupting all of the growing substrate. After planting, some people like to add a top dressing such as small gravel, bark chips, or moss to cover any visible soil. This layer helps to retain soil moisture and adds visual interest as well.
Terrariums are a great way to maintain an aesthetically pleasing, indoor garden. These miniature ecosystems are low maintenance due to their glass enclosures and the naturally occurring recycling of moisture that occurs within, yet provide many benefits to the audience of their beautiful nature display.