Try This: How to Make a Terrarium

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Lidded terrariums trap humidity, so choose plants that thrive in humid air such as ferns, tropical houseplants and mosses.
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Green up your desktop or any bare corner with this simple terrarium.

Easy to make and maintain, terrariums are perfect for brown thumbs, but garden enthusiasts will also enjoy creating these miniature landscape designs. Transform empty bottles into happy DIY terrarium homes (see “Bottle Remodel” further along in this article), or scour your kitchen cabinets, recycling bins and local thrift stores for clear glass containers with wide mouths. Once you’ve selected your container, fill it with small, slow-growing plants. Opt for one striking specimen, or select an odd number of plants with similar needs in a variety of shapes and colors. If you want to grow your terrarium in a lidded container, choose plants that prefer humidity.

How to Make a Terrarium

Tools & Materials 

• Newspapers
• Cut bottle (see instructions in “Bottle Remodel”) or another glass vessel (see suggestions below)
• Pea gravel or pebbles
• Activated charcoal (available where aquariums are sold)
• Sphagnum moss or Spanish moss
• Premixed terrarium soil or high-quality potting soil mixed with builders’ sand and humus (2 parts potting soil to 1 part each sand and humus)
• Small, slow-growing plants such as air plants, miniature ferns, succulents or moss (choose plants in 2- to 4-inch pots with similar light and moisture needs; ask a local nursery for suggestions)
• Spray mister filled with water
• Tapered cork stopper if using moss or other plants that require a humid environment (multiple sizes available at brewing supply stores or at Jelinek Cork Group)

1. Cover your work surface with a layer of newspaper and set your glass container in the center. Add 1/2 inch of pea gravel or pebbles for drainage.

2. Top the gravel or pebbles with a thin layer of charcoal granules to absorb odors, followed by a thin layer of moss, which will act as a barrier and prevent soil from falling into the gravel or pebbles.

3. Top the moss with 1/2 to 1 inch of soil (or more if you’re using a tall glass container and tall plants).

Add Terrarium Plants 

1. Carefully place the plants into the soil, creating a small hole for the roots and lightly tamping the soil around each plant.

2. Spritz the inside of the glass with a mister to remove extra soil.

3. Add cork top if you’re using plants that like humidity. Take it off to let air circulate whenever you see condensation build up on the inside of the glass.

4. Place the terrarium out of direct sunlight. Now comes the hard part: Leave the terrarium alone. It’s a self-contained system and will do better if not disturbed. Water once a month (or as needed when soil is dry to the touch) with a spray bottle.

Reprinted with permission from Weekend Handmade by Kelly Wilkinson. 

Bottle Remodel

When cut with a simple hobby kit, glass wine or sparkling water bottles become charming bottle terrarium containers, drinking glasses or candleholders.

Bottle-Cutting Tools & Materials 

• Glass container, such as a wine or sparkling water bottle
• Newspapers
• Protective eyewear
• Glass bottle-cutting kit (available at craft stores or at Ephrem’s Bottle Works)

1. Wash the glass bottle and let it dry. Cover your work surface with newspapers to catch shards of glass. Put on protective eyewear.

2. Cut the glass bottle about 5 inches above the base, following hobby kit instructions. Most kits use a tool to score the glass, heating and cooling to crack the glass, then a powder to polish the cut edge.

3. When finished with the cutting and polishing, carefully discard the newspapers. Recycle remaining large glass pieces.

For more bottle-cutting how-to, go to “Green Your Life: Bottle Cutting 101.”

Natural Habitat

Make your terrarium a masterpiece with these techniques and tips.

• Choose clear glass so you can admire the contents and terrarium plants can get light. Good options include pickle, mason and apothecary jars; glass cloches on top of cake stands; brandy snifters; fishbowls; and vases.

• Big containers are easier to work with. Temperatures inside are more moderate, and air flow is better. If you forget to water your plants or they get overheated, large terrariums are more forgiving.

• Lidded terrariums trap humidity, so choose plants that thrive in humid air such as ferns, tropical houseplants and mosses. Keep lidded terrariums out of direct sunlight—even 15 minutes can be lethal.

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