Monday, 20 January 2014

How To - Make a Terrarium

Terrarium Tutorial

Glass terrarium used in home decor

Terrariums are so in trend at the moment, but also very vintage.
Believe it or not they have been around for quite awhile.They were first created in the Victorian era and were known as Wardian cases after their inventor Dr Nathaniel Ward. These were closed terrariums and were used to transport different plant species from one country to another such as tea and rubber plants. Growing ferns and other tropical plants in Wardian cases at home became a massive obsession with the Victorians. And this in turn had a huge effect on the fashions at the time, with tropical plant motifs used on everything from clothing to wallpaper.

In the seventies there was a resurgence, and making and having terrariums became a very popular hobby.
In the late seventies my older sister had a very large fish tank terrarium full of ferns and african violets.
It was a beautiful lush green world living inside the house. I admired it enormously, but I thought it must take a great deal of time and care. When I mentioned this point to my sister at the time, her reply had been that it only needed water once in awhile and a little trim or tidy every few months.

And that's the beauty of these wonderful little ecosystems.They don't need a lot of time spent on maintenance so they are pretty much fuss free, a bonus for busy people. I suppose that's partly what has driven this updated trend in terrariums. As well as the visual and environmental benefits they bring to your office or home decor.

Now there are many other tutorials out there, but I thought we would still do our own. Because the thought occurred to me, that when I wanted to know how to make handmade soap I looked at many different tutorials and read numerous books on the subject until I had gathered enough information that suited my understanding and style of doing things.So we decided the world is big enough for another tutorial! And if we can influence the making of even one more terrarium then we haven't wasted our time.
So this will be a succulent terrarium.Or is that a terrarium of succulents? 

What you will need.
A glass container

Glass terrariums

Stones, activated charcoal and succulent pot mix.

It needs to be activated charcoal because this has been treated to improve its absorption power.

Materials for terrarium, rocks charcoal and pot mix

Succulent plants

Choose plants the appropriate size for your container, you want them to have some room to grow. If they are too big they can be very difficult to get into the container, and you may lose more than the odd leaf or two!


 A scoop, brush and chop stick.

 A spoon makes a good scoop for these smaller containers. The brush and skewer are optional, though I find them quite useful.

tools needed to make a terrarium

Water and something to do the watering with.

I prefer to use a spray bottle for watering terrariums. The gloves are optional,if you would like to wear gloves the close fitting ones are probably best.

Watering  a terrarium

Step 1.
Place a layer of stones in the bottom of the container. About 1/2  an inch thick, but this depends on the size of your container. The stones are used for drainage.

Assembling a terrarium

Step 2.
Place a thin layer of activated charcoal over the stones.
The charcoal is used to keep the terrarium fresh and protect it from mold and fungus. 

Assembling a terrarium

Step 3.
Add enough soil so your container is about a third full.

Before planting think about what angle your terrarium will  be seen from, and how you would like your arrangement to look.
Its best to place your tallest plant at the back if it will be seen from the front In the middle if it will be viewed from all sides, or to one side if it will be seen from front and one side. A lot depends on your container style as well.
Of course you can mix it up a bit and have a taller plant in front of a ground cover to make a little grove area, or any design your imagination can come up with, because that's half the fun! 
Depending on your container style it can be difficult to position the plants and broken leaves or branches do happen, so you might like to begin with the standard planting arrangement at least for your first time just to get the feel of it.

This terrarium has an opening in the front and I will be placing a trailing plant at the mouth of the opening. I expect this will give the front the main focus of view, so I will position the larger taller plants at the back as background.

Making a terrarium

 Step 4.
Remove the largest plant from its pot, loosen the roots and brush off some of the soil.Make a hole in the pot mix where you would like the plant, position the plant in the hole and cover the roots with soil. Firm the soil around the plant. It can be very tricky getting the plant in the small hole and positioned correctly ( this is when you may loose a few leaves) Continue this pattern until all the plants are planted where you want them. Add a bit more soil around the roots if needed.

 Now you can add some rocks and moss or whatever embellishment you like. I find rocks are helpful just to stabilize everything.I used a few rocks in this terrarium. One for the taller plant at the back, because it kept leaning forward! Another two in front with some moss. Because the opening in this terrarium is in the front and positioned low, I needed to slope the soil down to the front. The rock and moss help to hold the soil were I want it, as well as giving the terrarium a more natural look.

Glass terrarium with succulents

(Sorry I have no photos of planting : [ After I planted the first succulent my camera battery decided to give up the ghost at this most inconvenient time! As it was a two day wait till a new one arrived, I went ahead with the rest of the planting - and a few choice descriptions for my battery! )


Glass terrarium

Step 5
The last step is watering. You will find that there is probably soil on the plant leaves and on the glass. This is when a small brush of some kind is handy, I like to brush the plants and the sides of the terrarium of any stray pot mix before I water.

Because these are succulent plants we dont want to over water them, but because they are freshly planted I like to give the terrarium a few more sprays of water than general. It just helps everything settle into place, but definitely don't over water it. You want to see that the soil is damp when you look at the sides of the terrarium, but you don't want a pool of water in the bottom.Then next day I will check it to see how it is, if I have moss in the terrarium I might just spray that again.
 The next watering should be about two weeks later.

Terrariums have no drainage holes, and the glass works like a green house. So they don't need a lot of water. Succulents are water retaining plants and they like to dry out between waterings, in fact they like a little neglect!


General care
Only water every few weeks with a light spraying.Between waterings if a particular plant seems as if it is drying out ( looking shriveled or crispy on the ends of the leaves ) you can give it a few drops of water. If they are getting to much water they will bloat up and look strangely swollen or even go moldy. If a plant does go moldy, remove that plant immediately. To keep it looking good and stop mold growing remove any fallen leaves.This can be done with tweezers or even a bamboo skewer.

The terrarium will need good indirect light and fresh circulating air, so keep it near a window were it gets lots of light but no direct sun! and make sure its a window that you open often so the air in the terrarium can circulate. Succulents are easy to care for and low maintenance, just follow the guide lines and you should have a terrarium that adds some lovely natural beauty to your decor, is very fuss free and best of all - made by you!

Other bits and bobs
Succulents are best suited to open terrariums, ferns and other plants that like high humidity are suitable for closed terrariums.
You can use just about any glass container to make a terrarium from a jam jar or vase to full size fish tank. And you can add all sorts of accessories to it. Such as figurines like gnomes, dinosaurs, deer, toadstools. Or natural objects like drift wood, pine cones, shells or anything that takes your fancy.
So there you have it, you can make an endless variety of terrariums to suit every room in your house
So get your vintage vibe going and start planting!

 If you have made your own terrarium you might like to share some tips or insights with us.
Or tell us what you thought of this tutorial, as we have some others in mind for the future.

Catch you later. 

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  1. I wanted to try it for a long time, looks amazing.

  2. Its easy Kay.
    Though I must warn you its also very addictive!