Thursday, December 8, 2011

DIY Upcycled Terrariums.

I've long defended our awkward ratio of houseplants to house with the argument that the greenery helps us all survive Minnesota's version of winter.  Which I think is actually probably true.  Aside from us just being happier having plants around us, indoor gardens can help to purify the otherwise stale air we breath all winter, when the doors and windows shut against the cold also keep out the fresh air. 

My finished jar terrarium, featuring some kind of fern, two or three mosses, a found antler and my favorite tiny blue bowl.

But of course my real concern is whether or not it's something I want to look at.  And lately, I'm in love with looking at terrariums.  There are probably a trillion possibilities of awesomeness, and they're super easy to put together and maintain.  (None of mine have died yet!)

I loosely followed guidelines in this book, but you can also visit your local garden store (some offer classes or terrarium kits), or find much more detailed step-by-step instructions here:

Teardrop terrarium with moss and the most adorable vintage squirrel miniatures my genius husb spotted at the thrift store.

Read about my process after the jump, plus more pictures!  (Thanks to the studly T.C. Worley, ace photographer for lending a hand with some of the photos.)

 What You'll Need:

Glass container (almost any size and type of glass container you can fit your plants into will work.  it can be lidded or open, and even a glass cake dome can be used, placed over a smaller planter.)
Small rocks, like pea gravel, charcoal, or lava rocks
Potting soil
Plants (mosses and ferns are great candidates; herbs, cacti, and succulents are not...see the links above for more information on plant selection.)
 Miniatures or other found items to inhabit finished terrarium

Other tools:
Tweezers or chopticks for planting in narrow-mouthed containers

Some terrarium ingredients: (from bottom right) moss, lava rocks, fern, and soil.  Oh, and also me doing the planting.


Maybe the most fun part of the process was finding all the parts I wanted to use.  At my favorite thrift store I found a large open-mouthed glass jar with a spigot (which I replaced with a cork from a wine bottle) and a smaller teardrop glass.  Other good choices include glass bottles, globes, fish bowls, or vases.  Really basically anything glass (clear plastic is fine too); even tinted glass will work for shade plants if it's not too dark.  And somewhere on the interwebs I once saw a terrarium made inside the glass housing of an antique chandelier--amazing.  At the same place we also found the vintage squirrel miniatures I used for one of the terrariums.  I collected things over the space of a few weeks before deciding I was ready to plant.


More mosses.  (For the most part, I have no idea what varieties of anything I used...bad with names.)

After I had all the hardware choices made, we made a trip to a garden store where I got really distracted by all the amazing succulents before finding an adorable fern and some dry sheet moss which we re-hydrated at home before planting.  I also found the other supplies I needed here: soil and small lava rocks.  (And also, OK, fine, I got this elvin thyme that was so cute it would make you cry, but this was before I realized herbs were on the out list, even herbs that made you cry with cuteness.  I learned this by killing the elvin thyme so hard it turned completely black and rotted.  Lesson: don't bend the rules for tiny sweet things that make you cry because it does not feel good when you eventually kill them.)

At home, I lined the bottom of each glass container with a layer of rocks to help with drainage.  Terrariums are supposed to be humid environments, but not soup.  If you're only planning on planting moss, you don't even really need any soil.  Just layer the moss over the rocks and wet thoroughly.  The teardrop terrarium I made this way.  For plants with more of a root system, add a layer of dirt.  For the dirt-to-rock-to-glass ratio, I kept the level pretty low so most of the visual is glass and greenery.  

Planting the fern.  (Awesome apron by my awesome sister.)

Since I was planting both moss and a fern, I tucked the fern's roots into the soil before adding the moss.  Depending on the size and shape of your container, it's probably best to plant biggest to smallest.  I had a few gaps in the soil even after planting all the moss, which I just filled in with extra lava rocks.  Both of my containers were open and easy to plant in, but my sister, who was also planting with me that day, planted a few in some really narrow bottles.  I scoffed at her bottle choice at first, but using a funnel to layer the rocks and soil, and a chopstick to press the plant's roots into the soil, she was not only able to make a really killer terrarium, but also make me look like a fool for doubting.  There's another lesson there, but we don't need to talk about that one any more.  

It's super fun to find inhabitants for your terrarium worlds.  Thrift or antique stores are good places to start looking; you can find tons of miniatures at hobby stores too.  I love using found objects or anything that has some kind of history.  My dudes, who are 8 and 10 years of age, got in on the project too and used tiny green army men for inhabitants.  Of course, non-plant inhabitants are totally optional; I just sort of think, you know, why wouldn't you?  

Vintage squirrel miniatures inhabit the mossy teardrop terrarium.

Pixie Cup Lichen makes pretty good cover for an army man.

So far, my terrariums have been really easy to maintain.  (Excepting, of course, the tragic incident of the elvin thyme, which was less of care issue and more a blinded-by-cuteness disaster.) Because of their glass housing, they hold moisture really well.  So while it's important to make sure yours stays well-watered, this probably will not mean having to water super often.  The size and shape of your container will determine how humid it generally stays, as well as where you keep it.  Both of mine are kind of near heat vents in the house, so the one without a lid tends to dry faster than it would otherwise.  Again, the link above, as well as many, many other places on the internet, can give you more detailed information on terrarium care if you're uncertain. 

Yay!  Now you have a terrarium and winter isn't making you sad anymore! 

Terrariums:  Totally awesome.

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