I thought a DIY terrarium would be a great kids eco craft, even for preschoolers. Today I took my preschooler to the local nursery and they had tons of cute, little plants perfect for our terrarium. Finding the perfect container was another story. We ended up choosing Hypoestes (Polka Dot) and three ferns, including Baby’s Tears and my daughter is so excited to put them all together! We do herbs at home and she really loves watching the herbs grow. I cover the potted herbs in an old egg carton with plastic wrap and she loves learning about each one and how the eco-system effect of the plastic cover helps the plants grow. Every day we have been looking at their progress and it will be fun when they get big enough to actually use and take seeds from and she can see the full cycle.
Terrariums are actually really easy and a great gardening idea for novices or someone with a low-light location like a cubicle or shaded home. I am not a science person but I think it’s so cool how everything in the ecosystem works together to produce what is needed for everything in it to survive. I would like to do a terrarium using cacti next time, with the charcoal filter and rocks on the bottom of the container.
The ecosystem inside your container is very similar to that in the real world. There is water accumulated in the soil and in the pebbles and sunlight will cause this water to evaporate and form droplets along the sides and top of the container. These drops will grow larger and then fall back into the soil. This is a circular process that will continue as long as there is water and sunlight and this rhythm will bring a constant supply of moisture and nutrients to your plants. And if you have put activated charcoal in your terrarium it acts as a filter. As the water passes through the charcoal all the impurities are trapped so the water is more pure for the next cycle. (http://www.stormthecastle.com/terrarium/terrariums-for-kids.htm)
I found some small glass bowls at the dollar store but then I remembered I had this old plastic playdoh barrel in storage that would be perfect for this. It has a screw-top lid and would be big enough to fit our hands in to put in the components – I wanted my daughter to be able to do some of the work! I found these great, concise instructions over at ApartmentTherapy.com for easy DIY Terrariums. As you can see, as soon as I potted the plants, the eco-system took effect! I do have marbles on the bottom, as I couldn’t find my small rocks. I think I will take out some of the soil so the plants won’t be up so high!
What You Will Need
- A glass container or other clear vessel with a large enough opening for placing plants inside
- Small stones for drainage (gravel, pebbles, broken pottery, or river rocks work well)
- Crushed charcoal
- Sand (different varieties optional)
- Fun landscaping accessories!
- A funnel and chopsticks (helpful tools for incorporating and maneuvering the different elements into containers with small openings)
Before You Begin
- Whether you choose to have an opened or closed terrarium, keep in mind that all plants should have the same environmental needs (i.e. succulents vs. cacti). If you want to grow sun-loving plants, an open container will work just fine. Plants that thrive in high levels of humidity should be placed in a closed container.
- Be sure you have selected soil appropriate to your desired plants.
- Choose slow-growing plants as to avoid overcrowding.
- Clean container throughly to prevent bacteria from growing.
- Begin by placing drainage at the bottom of the container.
- Add a thin layer of crushed charcoal to help keep the soil fresh.
- Incorporate different kinds of sand on top of the charcoal for a layered effect.
- Add soil, making sure to create a hole large enough for the roots of each plant. Remember that creating uneven layers of sand and soil can look great, but pay close attention to the levels around the edges, as this is what you will see from outside the terrarium. Note: Steps 2 thru 4 should equal about one-third the height of your selected container.
- Place plants into the soil, largest to smallest and lightly pack the soil. Do not overplant. Consider the negative space for other landscaping opportunities like dried flowers, groundcover, moss, geodes and/or small figurines.
- Landscape! You are the designer.
- Water 1-2 times per week, watering only the live plants and avoiding mosses and dried flowers. For an open terrarium, the soil should always remain barely moist, never bone dry.
- Closed terrariums should almost never need watering.
- Prune back dead foliage or overgrown plants as needed to prevent rotting.
- Terrariums thrive in natural, indirect light. Avoid placing in direct sunlight or other hot areas as you can actually cook the plants or burn foliate that is touching the edges of the vessel.
- Mist your terrarium daily to provide ample humidity.
- Low-light terrariums: Ferns, mosses, baby’s tears, fittonia peperomia, sanseveria, schefflera
- High-light terrariums (open containers): Cacti, succulents including jade, aloe, borro’s tail, earth stars, echeveria, haworthia, sedum
Which plants would be your favorite(s) for a counter-top terrarium? Would you ever want to make a large one for reptiles?