Ladies Night: DIY Terrariums - Part I

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It's that time of year again; when the holiday season is behind us and hibernating from the winter weather is starting to get really old.

Why not plan a ladies craft night and make terrariums? These miniature nature scenes are fun to make and can work with any home décor style.

Popularized by 1827 by Dr. Nathaniel Ward, an English doctor who had a passion for botany, the terrarium was discovered quite by accident. Dr. Ward, was living in London and was determined to grow a fern garden in his backyard. However, the plants kept dying. He believed that the pollutants and fumes from the city's factories were causing his ferns to die. Ward, who had a ferocious appetite for knowledge, was also studying moths and caterpillars. Taking soil from his unsuccessful fern garden, Ward created a covered table-top, glass habitat for his specimen so that he could observe and document his findings.

During his study Ward noticed that seedlings had begun to sprout in the jar's soil. Among the sprouting plants was a fern; and, unlike the ferns in his garden, it was healthy. He deduced that plants could grow in London's city limits if they could be protected from the polluted air. Ward went on the construct miniature greenhouses (which he called fern cases) that became wildly popular due to their minimal space and care requirements. These small glass enclosures were referred to as Wardian Cases, and even though the term is still in used today, most people refer to them as terrariums.

Down and Dirty Ladies Night:Craft Night

Making terrariums is a great ladies night activity because even those with little or no artistic talent will go home with a beautiful, decorative object.

You'll need to decide whether you are providing the supplies needed or you will ask that your guests bring their own. (Or, you can provide some, but have guests bring their own vessel and/or plants)

Here is what you will need to create your terrarium:

  • A clear glass jar, vase, bowl, glass, or other interesting glass container you may have. Thrift stores are a great source for inexpensive and usual varieties. Remember, it's important that the glass be clear so that your plants get enough sunlight. Beginners should choose a wider opening, as positioning plants through smaller openings require tools and practice.
  • Small rocks, decorative stones, shells or pebbles for drainage. Grab some from your garden or check your local craft store for interesting and colorful elements.
  • Activated charcoal. This can be found in either a garden center or pet supply store. This is critical in closed terrariums to help filter out the chemicals.
  • Potting soil appropriate for your plants. Regular potting soil will work for all plants with the exception of succulents and cacti; which will need soil formulated for their drainage needs.
  • Moss . Sphagnum moss for drainage and (optional) decorative moss for the top. Although adding decorative moss is optional, incorporating it into your design will help keep your soil moist in between watering.
  • Figurines, sticks or decorative items (optional). Adding figurines is a great way to create your very own tiny world. You will find that model train gardensuppliers carry figurines in every imaginable or pose, occupation, hobby or activity. Search HO Scale figurines and let your imagination soar.
  • A scoop, spoon or shovel.
  • Various plants. Look for plants that are small and generally slow growing. Most garden center these days have special sections that have been stocked with terrarium friendly specimens. Note: Group ferns and tropical plants together and cacti and succulents together, as they have different soil and watering needs. 
  • Spray bottle or mister.
  • Rain X. (optional) Used to help water droplets from forming on the inside of the glass and obstructing the view.

Closed or Open Air Terrarium?

You'll need to decide if yours' will be an open (no lid or cover) or closed terrarium. While closed terrariums retain humidity and require less watering, they have a greater risk of disease because of the higher humidity.

The first thing you should do is thoroughly clean your container. Wash it with hot, soapy water and rinse it thoroughly. If you use a glass cleaner, it will need to air out for several days. Your container must be completely dry before planting.

Let's Get Dirty!terrarium garden

Start by adding your drainage layer of stones, pebbles or  shells. Layer these from large to small. This layer should completely cover the bottom of your container.

Next, add you charcoal later. Charcoal is especially important in closed terrariums, which prevent the natural escape of chemicals. Add a thin layer of sphagnum moss to prevent your soil from falling down into the drainage pebbles.

Add the growing medium next. If it is dry, mist it lightly with your spray bottle to help prevent it from sticking to the sides of your container when you are filling it. It should stick together when squeezed, but should not drip water. For most containers, 1½ inches should provide enough volume for your plants to thrive.

Adding plants

Before adding the plants, make sure they will fit comfortably. You can do this by arranging them on the table in an area that is about the size of the container to. Your plants should not rest heavily on the outside of the container, as they will collect water and be susceptible to rotting.

First, gentle remove the plants from their pots and expose the roots by removing the planting soil. If your plants were extremely pot bound, trim off some of the roots. Remove any leaves that are yellowed or damaged.

Before inserting the plants, dig small holes in your growing medium with a stick. (chopsticks work beautifully for this) Gently arrange your plants one-by -one in the container. After each plant has been placed in the hole, fill it in with soil and gentle tamp down to hold it in place. After the plants have been positioned, add your gravel, moss and any accessories you may be using.

After planting

You'll need to mist the plants to wash off any soil that that has stuck to leaves or sides of the container during the planting . Don't cover the terrarium the first day or two, but continue to mist it to help it settle in. After that and when it is completely dry, your terrarium can be covered.

Check back tomorrow for Part II of this post to see how you maintain your newly built terrarium!