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Little Laboratories terrariums introduced


Little Laboratories terrariums introduced

Kathryn Swayze


little laboratories

Š2013 by Kathryn Swayze & The MassFart Press All rights reserved. No images or text from this book may be reproduced without explicit written permission from the author. Printed and bound in Boston, Massachusetts.


For Mary & Gerald


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Contents

introduCtion 3 4 7 8

Gardening What is a Terrarium? History Variations preparation 13 14 16 18

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The Container Shopping List The Plants Ethics of Wild Plants


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assembLy 23 25 26 29 30

The Foundation Tropical Terrariums Desert Terrariums Tillandsia Terrariums Now What? maintenanCe 35 36 39 40

General Care Watering Patrolling for Problems Before You Go

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Gardening Terrariums have something to offer for every person and every space.

It just so happens, I married into a gardening family. My sister-in-law, Kirstin, made the New York Times for her guerrilla-style gardening projects in abandoned plots around Brooklyn. My mother-in-law, Marie, is a retired Episcopalian priest who tends to an orderly little garden that makes me think of a monastery whenever I see it. And on Marie’s nightstand is a large terrarium encased in a heavyweight glass bottle. You wouldn’t think so to look at it, but that terrarium is over forty years old. When Kirstin and Marie learned that I would be assembling terrariums for this book during our Thanksgiving visit, the two of them just about fell over themselves with glee. Suddenly, I was the one with the gardening project. Marie helped me locate garden centers that specialize in exotic plants, but for the most part, admired the projects from afar. She graciously let me cover her heirloom dining room table with dirt, plant scraps, and various other earthy terrarium shrapnel. Kirstin’s presence as an experienced gardener was informative, but not in the way I expected. It turns out that she has exactly zero experience with terrariums, so she couldn’t speak much to soil-to-gravel ratios or any of those other things that my terrarium research was urging me to consider. For her, the gardening process is simply a series of playful experiments to “see what happens.” During our family’s Thanksgiving dinner, she waved some bird feet at me from across the table, marveling at how marvelous they would look in the terrarium, like little avian zombies crawling out of the earth. Her sense of humor is contagious.

While I handled my plants gingerly, terrified that they would fall apart on the spot, Kirstin gamely tore off chunks of the moss she had gone to collect in the yard and shoved it into a tiny bottle. She found another plant and shoved it in as well, prodding it in with the handle of a little spoon. When she was finished, she handed it back to me with an amiable shrug and declared, “The plants will probably die…or, hey, maybe not!” Not since I lost my grandparents, who were passionate gardeners themselves, have I been exposed to such a passion for gardening. After all, living in a small urban apartment with a nosy landlord means that options are limited. Thanks to Pinterest and blogs like Apartment Therapy, Oh Joy! and Design Sponge, I’ve been tempted into trying my hand at terrariums for a while now. As Kirstin already knows, gardening is simply a form of play. Terrariums can be small enough to wear as a necklace, or as large as an aquarium. Some are quaint, filled with ferns, reminiscent of the Victorians. Others are passionately sleek and modern, sometimes worthy of being in a museum exhibition, such as the work of Paula Hayes. Terrariums have something to offer for every personality, space, budget — regardless of what your gardening background is like.

My mother-in-law’s nightstand, topped by a terrarium that has survived for four decades.

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What is a Terrarium? Terrariums come in all kinds of shapes and sizes.

If you have a foggy idea of a terrarium, it is about time to update that definition. Gone are the stodgy terrariums of your childhood. Terrariums of today have taken on a new, sparkling persona that fits comfortably into modern life. Now, they are sleek, they are sophisticated, and they are current. These new terrariums make it possible for anyone — gardeners and novices alike — to have a green thumb. Dive deep into your elementary-school science class memories, and the image you may recall when you think of a school terrarium is probably a sawed-off, green soda bottle packed with pebbles, dirt, and grass. You might also have seen an aquarium in the classroom, hosting a menagerie of local plants. They seemed to truck along admirably despite the fact that the janitor completely ignored them throughout Christmas break. This may have been your early brush with terrariums. Terrariums are almost always made of glass, clear plastic, or acrylic. Terrariums can be dome-shaped cloches with a knob for lifting; they can be shaped like a green-house, or something more elaborate. A terrarium can be a glass vase with a plant tucked inside it, or it might be a Mason jar with a patch of moss inside it. A terrarium might be the cold frame where you keep your tomato plants in the spring. Some terrariums have spent their former lives holding goldfish, others are wide-mouthed glass bowls meant to serve grapes. They can be candy jars or lidded cheese plates, beakers or test tubes given a second career. Everything is open to interpretation, and the glass you have at home might be begging to be recycled into a terrarium.

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With plants tucked inside, terrariums become tiny biospheres, providing an atmosphere of elevated humidity. If a terrarium is a sealed case, it acts as a closed ecological system, with an ongoing cycle of moisture evaporating from the soil and the natural ingredients inside. The moisture wicks up through the soil and eventually produces condensation within, continually moistening the soil and atmosphere. The plants survive by photosynthesizing and creating oxygen just as they would function in the great outdoors, as nature intended. Not all terrariums are sealed, and they don’t all cloud up with moisture. But even a glass vase with an open mouth elevates the humidity levels slightly, helping plants to survive in homes that might not be conducive for nurturing nature. If you tuck a plant into anything glass or plastic and enclosed, and it will glean similar benefits. This goes far beyond that simple closed transparent globe that you might remember from childhood. The possibilities are vast. Before planting your terrarium, become familiar with the main ingredients: the case, the plants, the foundation (or substrate), and the drainage material. Each of the three types of terrariums requires different types of the abovementioned materials. But first, a little history.

A mosaic plant , also known as fittonia verschaffeltii, housed in an antique glass milk bottle.


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History Without terrariums, the Brits wouldn’t be the tea drinkers they are today.

Like many inventions, terrariums were created by accident. Known to Victorians as “Wardian cases,” these portable mini-greenhouses had a profound impact on gardening and trade in the second half of the 19th century. The practice of keeping plants under bell-shaped glass jars for exhibition has been around as early as 500 bc. But it wasn’t until Dr. Nathaniel Ward (1791 – 1868), a London physician and avid naturalist, gave up on his dying fern rockery and turned his attention to moth life cycles that he stumbled on the idea. In 1827, Ward noted that the sealed jar with a bit of earth and a moth chrysalis had begun to sprout plant life. Noting how the plants flourished, as well as the way water circulated from top to bottom of the jar, depending on the time of day, he realized that his outdoor ferns had failed because of industrialized London’s heavily polluted air. In contrast, the plants in the jar were protected, and only withered as soon as he exposed them to air outside of the jar. Ward was keenly aware of the problems faced by botanists in bringing back live specimens from far off places. By 1833, Ward had experimented enough with glass cases that he placed his encased plants on a ship bound for Australia. Protected from the salty air and harsh winds, these plants survived the months-long voyage overseas, arriving at their destination in perfect condition. Traders and botanists followed his lead, multiplying the number of tropical plants being brought into Britain. The Wardian cases had an tremendous impact on the world’s economy. Traders from Britain’s East India Company used them to smuggle tea

and rubber plants out of China and into India, thus breaking China’s monopolies on those products. Tea prices in Britain plummeted, more people started drinking tea, and it fast became Britain’s staple drink. The terrarium also became fashionable in the homes of Victorians. Growing middle class prosperity meant that more women were staying home to show wealth and status. Meanwhile, Victorians were crazy about self-improvement projects; with ample time on their hands, these women became involved in all sorts of endeavors. In addition to working on cut paper, knitting, and sewing, these women collected ferns. With the proliferation of Wardian cases, people were able to protect fern samples they collected and keep them inside their homes. The plants in Victorian homes benefitted from Wardian-style terrariums; the glass protected them from the drafty houses of the time. Today, our indoor plants face other challenges. Air conditioning and heating systems dry out our air, starving plants of moisture. Terrariums make it easy for people to keep plants (even those of us with the blackest of thumbs). In their attractive, decorative containers, they exist in environments that require very little care. Closed terrariums retain enough humidity that they actually thrive on neglect.

Peperomia make excellent terrarium plants.

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Variations Terrariums allow you to go beyond plants-in-a-pot.

Not all terrariums are meant to last, nor are they meant to contain living objects. Some terrariums are composed like flower arrangements, good for just a brief stint of glory. If the goal is merely to exhibit something in a cloche or terrarium for a temporary interlude — say, for the duration of a summer’s picnic, or perhaps, an evening’s event — terrariums become something that you can simply throw together. Terrariums can be brief experiments, or odes to the seasons. They can be filled with fantasy sequences of gnomes and other miniatures, or they can house dried flowers. Although the classical idea of a terrarium is a vessel that houses a living plant, in practice they contain and be anything. Terrariums, at their most bare-bones, are a kind of three-dimensional frame. When your intention with a terrarium is to use it as a decorative motif in your home or office, it all comes down to what you want to show off. Have a black thumb? Try ornamental mosses that have been preserved and do not need watering. Prefer to show of found objects from your travels abroad? Showcase them alongside — or independent — of plants. Simply putting something behind glass transforms it from an

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everyday object into a bona fide showpiece for your living room or dining room table. Consider the placement of your terrarium. If tabletop space is scarce in your home, you may want a terrarium that hangs from the ceiling, or somewhere on a wall. Think about placement on book shelves or suspended from unexpected locations like little chandeliers. Objects like recycled wall sconces, retired light bulbs, hanging glass bird feeders, and liberated glass globes from ceiling fixtures are great containers for these projects (know that almost any glass can be carefully drilled, just be sure to do so under a very light stream of water with a special glass drill bit.) The very ambitious should check out the work of terrarium artist Paula Hayes. For two decades, Ms.Hayes has melded her varied interests into a unique terrarium-based projects that straddle the realms of art, design, landscape design, domestic and garden products, and artist books.


plants too big for the cute container you found? Try throwing in evergreen materials for a dry terrarium.

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This coffee pot, previously relegated to basement storage, found a second life as a terrarium vessel.

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The Container The container determines the plants; the plants determine the container.

With the terrarium container, the possibilities are endless; you can re-purpose an old glass bottle or buy a vase specifically designed to hold your terrarium. However, there are three big things to weigh when choosing the perfect vessel. The first question to ask yourself is whether you will be assembling a tropical terrarium, a desert terrarium, or a tillandsia terrarium. Tropical terrariums

A mostly closed environment, such as a bell jar or a cloche, tends to work well for vegetation that prefers a lot of humidity. The size of the opening should be small when compared to the overall shape of the vessel. So when using a vessel that is 6 inches in diameter to make a tropical terrarium, the opening should be about 1 inch in diameter. This smaller opening allows more humidity inside the terrarium, creating the environment in which moss and other tropical plants thrive. Even completely enclosed vessels (an apothecary jar, for example) makes an excellent container for moss and most humidity-loving tropical plants. Desert terrariums

More open containers maintain the arid environment preferred by desert plants. Using a more closed vessel is perfectly acceptable for this type of terrarium as long as the watering routine is changed accordingly. The mostly closed vessels tend to require far less water as there is not as much water loss to evaporation. However, getting a cactus into a bottle with a small hole can prove challenging even for the most adventurous terrarium artist.

TILLANDSIA TERRARIUMS

For air plants, it’s important to use a vessel that retains some humidity but also provides good airflow. Too much humidity will cause the plant to rot. Select a container that has a larger opening than the tropical terrarium but is not completely open. For example, a vessel with a 6-inch diameter and a 2-inch opening would work well for Tillandsia plants. size

Will your terrarium be serving as a centerpiece for the dining table or a small desktop decoration? Choosing the right size container can be tricky. Keep in mind that the larger the glass, the larger the price tag and the more plants you’ll need to fill it. If you want larger plants, a larger vessel is appropriate for you. If you want to use moss, perhaps a smaller container will work well. When deciding on the size of your terrarium, keep in mind the rule of threes: your terrarium will be more visually appealing and the design gods will be pleased with you if your landscape floor (that is the drainage material, soil, and moss) rises to a maximum of one third the height of the overall vessel.

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Shopping List Once you have your plants and their vessels, there are just a few necessary supplies. In addition, please wear gloves and long sleeves when handling sphagnum moss, as it can carry a fungal infection called sporotrichum schenkii, a serious affliction affecting the skin.

Water Canister for misting tropical terrariums

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Tongs/Long Tweezers

Chopstick/Dowel

Long Scissors

Dropper

for adjusting plant positioning

for creating holes to house plant roots

for trimming plants

for watering tillandsia terrariums


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Sand

Decorative Elements

for drainage

ideas to get you started

Charcoal

Decorative Pebbles

for filtering water

one of many possibilities for your terrarium

Pebbles/Gravel

Potting Mix

for drainage

for housing the plants (except tillandsia)

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The Plants The type of plant you have will dictate the care you give it.

Plants and mosses are the heart and soul of the terrarium. As with the vessel, the plants you select will depend entirely on whether you want a tropical, desert or tillandsia terrarium. When adding multiple plants, you also want to make sure that those plants have shared preferences for light, water, and soil. In other words, moss and cacti don’t mix; if the moss is happy, the cacti are inevitably drowning. Regardless of the type of terrarium you are setting up, try to find plant miniatures that start small, stay small, and have small root systems. Installing plants that are diminutive now, but will ultimately get larger, means that you will eventually need to replant your terrarium. With miniatures, there will be no need to worry that the plant will outgrow its home. They also happen to be a lot easier to work with than their larger peers. Where can you find diminutive plants? Often it’s possible to obtain small plugs of plants (this can be a little deceptive — all plants in plugs are small when they start out, but like Great Danes, they can eventually get big). So, when you get a plant in a plug, research the ultimate size if you’re hoping your terrarium will last for the long haul. You should also find plants in pots of 2.5 – 33 inches readily available; they happen to be ideal for planting in a Wardian case or base of a cloche. Tropical terrariums

There is a large variety of tropical and woodland plants that are available for terrarium use. Size, light, and moisture requirements are important to consider when determining which tropical or

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woodland plants are a good fit for your terrarium. Although most of these plants tolerate trimming well, some just prefer to be large while others naturally remain small. Plants like the polka dot plant, mini Fittonia, Cryptanthus, Peperomia prostrata, creeping fig, and Wandering Jew all propagate quickly in the tropical terrarium. Mushrooms also thrive in this environment. For tropical terrariums, avoid plants that hail from arid regions. desert terrariums

Despite preferring dry climates, many cacti and succulents certainly thrive in desert terrariums. Paying special attention to the light and moisture requirements for this type of plant is critical for their long-term survival. A grafted cactus looks lovely in a desert terrarium, adding a pop of bright color, and although its water requirements are similar to that of other succulents, its light requirements tend to be a bit higher. Echeveria, or hens and chicks, is a favorable group of plants for an arid terrarium as it propagates easily and requires very little maintenance. Echeveria reproduces from leaf cuttings: removing a leaf from the side of a plant and allowing it to sit for two weeks in indirect light will produce a new plant with tiny roots at the base of the leaf. This plant can then be added to the terrarium. Cacti that have spines can be a real challenge when planting a terrarium, as they must fit through a limited opening without causing you serious injury. Gloves are a wise investment if you plan to plant this type of terrarium, and place your plants carefully, so as to avoid stabbing yourself as well as hurting the plant.


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moss

Naturally occurring plants from the bromeliad family, Tillandsia (also known as air plants) live on tree branches in Central and South America, as well as southern North America. These plants do prefer a humid environment and, although they do live on the branches of other trees, they are not parasitic. Air plants have no roots and absorb their nutrients and moisture through structures on their leaves called trichomes by catching decaying leaves and water that land on them. Lichen-covered twigs and branches are the preferred roost of air plants inside terrariums. Tillandsia should never be placed directly on the soil or other ground that may remain moist; this will rot the bottom of the plant. If cared for properly, many air plants will reproduce by growing “pups” — miniature versions of the larger plant. Pups form on the sides of the base. Most species of Tillandsia also bloom quite colorfully when cared for properly.

Live mosses mix well with tropical plants; both love high humidity. Moss does not actually have roots, but structures that look like roots called anchors. These anchors help the moss stay fixed to the substrate while its green parts take in moisture through the air. This is why maintaining a high level of humidity is critical to the survival of a tropical terrarium. If you harvest moss to place in your terrarium, there are some things to keep in mind. First, notice the natural habitat of the moss. Did you find it growing on a piece of bark, a rock, or on soil? Your moss will be most successful if it appears in the terrarium as it would in the wild. Moss that grows on soil tends to survive well in a terrarium; moss that grows on rocks or tree bark tends to be less successful. The mosses commonly known as cushion moss and mood moss do well in terrariums, and you can try adding reindeer moss as a decorative element.

Tillandsia

Desert/Arid

Tropical/Forest

Air plants from the bromeliad family.

Jade plants, cacti, and other desert-loving plants.

Such as ferns, moss, and some evergreens.

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ethiCs oF WiLd pLants Think before you go foraging for wild plants in nature.

Many woodland plants, including mosses and wildflowers, are available in containers from nurseries that grow and propagate them specifically to increase the bounty and to sell to the public. Adopting a nursery-propagated wilding and nurturing it under your wing is a truly good deed for the environment. The last thing you want to do is deplete nature, and you definitely won’t be curtailing stores of wildflowers if you buy from a reputable source that propagates its own plants. Even such woodlanders such as partridgeberry and cushion moss, as well as rarities such as pitcher plants, can be acquired from nurseries. It is also difficult to dig up a wildflower and get it to survive in captivity. Because they’re not grown in a contained space, roots of wild plants tend to wander and travel deep into the soil. Pulling up wild plants successfully is tricky for the experts. For the novice, it is nearly impossible. Although terrariums are typically supportive environments for any plant, it is usually much easier and sustainable to go with container plants. If you have the expertise to access nature, please obey all the rules of collecting. Don’t do it if you don’t know the territory. Learn what is endangered or scarce, and what is prolific. Even if a plant is not technically endangered, it may not welcome transplantation. For example, many mosses are extremely slow at growing and have a fragile existence. Cultivated, farmed moss is readily available from the nursery. So pay your neighborhood gardening center a visit! If you feel confident collecting plants that you know for certain are prolific and appear in large colonies, the safest, most conscientious step is to take only a tiny sampling and leave the bulk in place. Obey the same rules that guide any sort of wildflower collection. Leave natural ecosystems with plenty of fodder. Avoid removing any plants that are on the verge of dispersing seeds. And never collect from parks, forests, or nature preserves. Finally, please be sure to stay out your neighbor’s backyard if you do not have their permission!

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For this terrarium, Kirstin sourced moss and another small, unidentified plant from the yard. The moss was plentiful, but Kirstin made sure to only as much as we might need. she also found tiny pine cones and cicada shells to use for decorating the terrariums.


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Tropical

Desert

Tillandsia

Substrate

Substrate

Substrate

Here are three examples of what your substrate should look like, depending on the type of terrarium you’re making.

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Foundation Once you know what makes a plant happy, experiment with how you layer.

The foundation — or substrate — sits at the bottom of the terrarium and refers to layers of gravel and soil that support the plants. Before you start experimenting with your terrarium, pause and consider what your plants will need in their substrate. There is no one-size-fits-all soil option for all types of terrariums. Drainage

Because terrariums have no drainage holes at the bottom of the conainter, this layer is vital to the long-term survival of the plants. The drainage layer essentially prevents root rot, allowing water to pass through the soil instead of collecting around the roots. Materials for the drainage layer must not absorb water and tend to be inorganic. Polished pebbles, gravel, pumice, charcoal, and perlite are all great for the drainage layer. Do not use vermiculite in this capacity, as it absorbs water and would further saturate the terrarium. Perlite is particularly suited to glass containers, as it is a softer and less likely to crack the glass. Terrarium gardeners recommend the addition of activated charcoal within the drainage layer to create a natural filter for terrarium air and assist in drainage. This is particularly important in closed or mostly closed terrariums, as there is no natural air exchange. When charcoal is omitted in these types of terrariums, the risks of mold growth and plant death increase.

and microorganisms that feed the plant, peat that helps to absorb moisture and air, and an inorganic porous element like pebbles or perlite that allows moisture in the soil to drain. If you are planting a desert terrarium, try to get your hands on pre-mixed cactus soil. This mix is designed specifically to aid water in draining rapidly from the soil. Because Tillandsia absorb moisture through the air, it is ideal for them to sit on top of gravel or pebbles; never place them in nor on potting mix. Decoration

The topmost layer consists of optional decorative elements. It can contain shells, colored gravel, miniature garden gnomes, pine cones; whatever you decide to add. start clean

Always start with a clean terrarium, especially when your terrarium or aquarium has been used previously. Wash it thoroughly and disinfect if necessary. Wash out any disinfecting products and air out the terrarium completely for several days before adding new living things. Bleach can harm plant roots if they come in contact with it.

Potting Mix

Most plants and soil-preferring mosses thrive in an all-purpose potting mix easily purchased at your local garden center. These all-purpose mixes contain at least three elements: organic material

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Tropical Terrariums Tropical terrariums typically emulate a mossy forest.

Here are some steps you can follow when setting up a tropical terrarium:

leave plenty of room between neighboring plants if you’re going for a grouped planting.

1. Mix a generous handful of charcoal with your pebbles, laying a bed of the mixture at the bottom of the terrarium. If terrarium’s base is sufficiently deep, lay about an inch or so of this mixture.

6. Remove the plants from their containers by squeezing the container with one hand, and using the other hand to carefully grasp the top leafy section of the entire plant. Remove the plant from the pot with both the soil and root intact.

2. Add a layer of soil. The thickness of the soil layer depends both on the depth of your base and the plants you plan to insert. Generally speaking, if you are working with plants in plugs or 3-inch pots, 2 – 3 inches of soil should suffice. Tamp it down lightly to diminish air pockets and level it. 3. (Optional) If working with plants that have a deeper root ball going into a shallow base, you can lightly shake some of the soil free and tease the roots out horizontally. A trick that’s often used is to slit the root ball down the middle and pull out both halves horizontally, taking care not to damage the roots. 4. (Optional) If adding moss, separate it into sections approximately 2 inches in diameter. Feed the moss into the opening of the container. You might have to feed it green top first in very small openings. Otherwise, fit it through with the green top facing upwards. Scrunching the moss to fit it through the hole is okay and will not damage it. Once the moss is inside, use a chopstick to coax it into the approximate position, ensuring that it is right side up and the anchors are touching the soil. Leave room for decorative elements.

7. (Optional) If separating a small section of the plant from the larger plant, locate a small independent stalk of growth and carefully pull the roots of this stalk from the main plant. Keep some soil clumped with your freshly separated plant. 8. Insert the plants in the pockets, making certain that all the roots (but not the plant stems or crowns) are buried in soil. Exposed roots will eventually dry out, leading to wilted and a weakened plant. 9. Firm the soil around the newly transplanted plants. Do not cement the plant into its bed, but it’s imperative that no air pockets remain around the roots. 10. Water lightly — very lightly. You’re adding moisture to get the ecosystem within started, but avoid muddy, waterlogged soil. 11. Add any ornamental extras that you’d like, such as twigs, stones, leaves — or gnomes! 12. Close your terrarium and watch it grow!

5. Dig little pockets in the soil for inserting the plants. Just like planting a garden, it’s wise to Miniature trees create a moisture-infused forest scene for this tropical terrarium.

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Desert Terrariums Desert terrariums imitate dry, arid climates.

Here are some steps you can follow when setting up a desert terrarium:

the cactus root, because the majority of the soil from the pot should have remained intact around the roots.

1. Gently remove the cactus or succulent from the pot by squeezing the pot around all edges. 4. Lightly water your cacti with approximately 2 teaspoons of water from a medicine dropGrasping the smooth bottom part of the plant, per, aiming for the base of each plant. Repeat pull it from the pot, leaving soil and root this step approximately once monthly or intact. when the soil seems dry. 2. Place the cactus with the remaining soil and root on top of the drainage material. If necessary, gently lean the cactus against the side of the container (you can adjust the position of the cactus later). 3. Add a layer of cactus-friendly potting soil. The thickness of the soil layer depends on the depth of your terrarium base, but a 1-inch minimum thickness should work well. It is not necessary for the soil to rise to the top of

5. Add your choice for colored sand or gravel until the soil and the top of the cactus root are covered. At this point, adjust the position of your plant so it is standing upright. Place decorative objects such as stones, sea glass, or agates on top of the sand. 6. Place the terrarium in bright indirect light and enjoy!

These three plants are commonly known as chin or moon cacti, Gymnocalycium mihanovichii. They lack chlorophyll, which means that they must be grafted onto another cactus to get the nutrients they need for survival.

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Tillandsia Terrariums Tillandsia terrariums are the simplest to set up.

Here are some steps you can follow when setting up a Tillandsia terrarium: 1. Create a drainage layer of approximately 1-inch at the bottom of the vessel using gravel or decorative rocks. The pebbles will allow water to sift through and pool at the bottom, maintaining humidity within the vessel, creating a barrier between the plant and the accumulated water.

4. Use a medicine dropper to place 1 teaspoon of water on the pebbles (never directly on the plant). The water should pool slightly at the bottom of the vessel. When you notice that the water has evaporated, repeat this step. It may be necessary to water anywhere from biweekly to monthly. This terrarium should be kept in bright indirect light.

2. Gently push the Tillandsia plant through the opening of the bulb, bending the leaves gently upward if necessary. Allow the Tillandsia to sit on top of the pebbles, away from any pooled water, which will rot the plant. 3. Place decorative elements, such as preserved reindeer moss, lichen-covered twigs where desired for added color.

Tillandsia plants are epiphytic, meaning that they grow on other plants non-parasitically, deriving its moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, and sometimes from debris accumulating around it. They have no root system.

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noW What? A few simple considerations will allow your plants to flourish.

At last, you have made your terrarium! Now you need to figure out where to place it. The placement of a terrarium is not difficult, but there are a couple things to consider when figuring out where to position it. ligHT

To understand lighting requirements for your terrarium, you must understand that terrariums work a bit like the inside of a car sitting in the sun: the air inside the car becomes much hotter than the air outside the car. The sun’s radiant energy penetrates the glass and has little way of escaping, thereby increasing the temperature on the inside of the vessel. Essentially, it’s a model of the greenhouse effect. This is why it is so important to keep your terrarium out of direct light. When placed in direct light, you’re creating a miniature oven and you will soon discover that your plants have been steamed. Typically, the best placement for a terrarium is near a window, but not directly on the sill (unless that window receives no direct sunlight) or in bright, indirect light. When purchasing your plants from the nursery, pay close attention to the light requirements listed on the pot’s side or its tag. A plant that requires full sun is not an ideal candidate for a terrarium. If using artificial lights, be sure to use lights that are designed for growing plants, obeying and considering all safety precautions. And follow the recommendations for the use of fluorescent lights with plants, positioning the light source sufficiently close to allow the plants to benefit but not burn. Take care when positioning lights beside plastic and acrylic terrariums, as they might melt.

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Every now and then, rotate your terrarium to ensure equal distribution of light. This is especially helpful when light is coming from only one angle. TeMperATure

In a heated room, consider that cloches were originally used to protect plants from a light frost. And they still perform that function, but only to a certain extent. A cloche will not protect a plant from hard frost. When temperatures go down below 30°F, the contents of a terrarium might be in danger of freezing. Not only is that the case outside, but it’s possible indoors or on an unheated porch or breezeway, or in a mudroom as well. Don’t take that risk. You also don’t want to bake the contents of your new terrarium. During the heating season, it is best to keep a terrarium away from an active heat source. Likewise, a window air-conditioning unit can also be a threat to your terrarium. However, central air shouldn’t be a problem.

Avoid giving your tropical/closed terrariums a lot of sunlight, which could cook them to death.


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General Care Keep a close eye on your terrarium in the beginning.

Although terrariums are generally self-sufficient, it might be necessary to step in occasionally to make sure that everything moves along smoothly. Ventilation

Knowing when to introduce air into the aquarium can be tricky. Theoretically, a terrarium should be able to survive for months, even years, without fresh air. But sometimes mold enters. In that instance, it is wise to let a little fresh air rush in (after removing the offending schmutz). If the plants inside are losing leaves, that is a whole other indication that fresh air might be necessary (or that the plants in the terrarium aren’t suited to that environment). When you ventilate your closed terrarium, do it judiciously and briefly. Rather than taking the top off, first open a window or ventilator in the case. Rather than removing the cover completely, set it up on something. Give it a day or a few days to breathe. During that time, remember to water the plants inside — plants housed in a terrarium can make lush, lax growth that suddenly appears to wilt when a closed environment is suddenly exposed to the elements. Then give the terrarium another drink, if necessary, before closing it up again to get the biosphere action happening. Monitoring

When you are enjoying your terrarium, take the chance to make sure that nothing is wilted, that mold is not growing; that all the plants are cohabitating in harmony. If you see trouble brewing, act immediately — a little preventive action can save a situation from flaring out of hand, necessitating the replanting of the whole terrarium.

Mold can spread like a plague. Nip it in the bud; remove it immediately by covering the infestation completely with a moist spare cloth or paper towel to contain any spores. Keep the towel closed until it is away from all plants, and then toss it safely in the garbage. Remove any weakened stems nearby (and the entire plant if necessary); if the mold worsens, you will want to clean and replant the terrarium in its entirety. Maintenance

When plants are happy, they grow. Terrariums can delight plants to the point that they outgrow their quarters and a plant can only survive for so long with its leaves pressing up against glass. When something outgrows a terrarium, transfer it to a larger container. Likewise, it is not wise to let your plants compete against one another in a limited space. When some of those tiny plants grow larger and begin to flex their muscles, vying for space, they will reach the point where somebody has got to leave. When you see this happening, divide or prune back the overgrown plants to make room. Keep your terrariums clean. If you see yellowed or damaged leaves or plant parts, remove them immediately. Any deterioration will court fungal and bacterial infections. The glass should be kept clean as well. Do this because you want a spotless window on your small world, and because the simple act of wiping off any smut or debris from the inside of the glass can help prevent disease and infestations.

Regular maintenance ensuresthat your terrarium stays in good health and that you catch issues early.

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Watering By far, the trickiest part of caring for a terrarium.

The thirst of terrarium plants varies according to the type of terrarium, the weather outside (whether it’s sunny or cloudy, or whatever), the amount of light provided, the type of heat, the temperature, and so forth. These variables affect how often you’ll water your terrariums. Water might not be required at all throughout a dreary autumn. You may go for weeks or months without carrying a watering can. However, in summer, watering once a week might be necessary. For open container terrariums, the plants will probably require occasional water, but less than for plants that aren’t under glass. The frequency of watering always depends on the plants. The large ornamental grasses, for example, are heavy drinkers whenever they grow. Certain aquatic plants just slurp up the moisture, even when grown in glass jars. Other plants will probably only demand water on an infrequent basis. Water should be given when the soil inside starts to feel dry. When in doubt, open the case and feel the soil, inserting a finger to test its moisture content. When planting in sheet moss, this can be difficult to judge, but sheet moss should look sparkling green and appear slightly moist. Never wait until the soil or moss is parched. At that juncture, the growing medium usually fails to take up moisture and water simply runs down the sides of the terrarium to its bottom. The most important factor is to water sparingly, especially if a terrarium has no drainage. A small drink will probably do the job and introduce moisture into the environment. If you’re growing in moss, be particularly cautious — moss holds water; it is only necessary to provide just enough water to moisten the moss around the plant.

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Soggy is never good. And, if you must err, goof on the side of less rather than more water. There usually isn’t any need to add fertilizer to the watering schedule. After all, the goal is to keep the plants diminutive and extra food would beef them up in a counterproductive way. Unless you’re actively trying to grow your plants, skip the fertilizer. If your local climate or home tends to be quite dry or humid, you’ll have to adjust your watering routine accordingly. Here are a few watering suggestions to get you started: Tropical Terrariums

Use a misting bottle and squirt 15 – 17 heavy mists into the vessel, or just enough to ensure that the soil and the moss are always slightly damp to the touch. Repeat this more often at first, and as your it becomes established, water less frequently. Desert Terrariums

Very little water is needed here. Use a medicine dropper to water at the base of each of the plants with about 2 teaspoons of water monthly. tillandsia terrariums

Only a medicine dropper is necessary here. Never apply water directly to the plant or let the plant sit in water, as this will cause it to rot. A small pool of water in the pebbles beneath the plant ensures a high level of humidity.


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From left to right: these are the tools you may find yourself using to water, depending on the size and type of terrarium: a misting bottle, a watering can, a medicine dropper.

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Patrolling for Problems In enclosed environments, problems will multiply rapidly.

Theoretically, a closed terrarium should not be prone to insects. After all, it’s sealed off from the world. If a plant enters paradise with eggs or “wildlife” on its leaves or in its soil then an outbreak can quickly get out of hand. Purchase plants from a reputable source, and check your plants regularly for evidence of insects before putting them inside a terrarium. First, look for the telltale signs of red spider mites (nettings of tiny yellow dots on the underside of the foliage, and fine webs), then check for aphids (succulent little critters that vaguely resemble ants), and look for scale (little brown bumps on the leaves), and examine your plants for anything that resembles an egg case on both the tops and undersides of leaves, as well as stems. If you find an infestation, don’t risk contaminating the whole mini neighborhood. Simply go ahead and discard the entire infected plant. Fungal and bacterial problems pose the biggest problems to terrariums. Unfortunately, they can spread rapidly and knock out an entire plant population in no time. Generally, healthy plants will not fall victim. But just like how the common cold can run rampant in grade school, fungus can also attack previously healthy plants when it

gets started. Prevention is your best weapon. Keep the terrarium clean, don’t crowd the plants, and only grow plants that are groomed to be hosted inside terrariums. One use of a terrarium is as a convalescent unit for ailing plants. If you use your terrarium to heal the sick, segregate those plants. Don’t try to mingle the healthy with the ill. And if you begin to lose the healing battle, discard the plant. And then disinfect the terrarium before using it to host other plants. Never recycle moss, soil, or other organic ingredients from vessel to vessel. Start fresh. And when you’re using household cleaners on the interior of a glass case, rinse and air the case out completely for several days before refilling it.

Bugs are bugs, but these cicadas won’t be a nemesis that you will have to face while maintaining your terrarium!

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beFore you Go Things to remember before embarking on terrarium fun.

perspecTiVe

Terrariums are living, dynamic pieces of art that have been a part of culture for centuries. There is an element of innocence in having your hands in the earth. Working with soil and raising each plant gives us insight into life’s fragility and the great effort necessary to protect and maintain it. The tedious, repetitive nature of building little enclosed ecosystems allows for time and space to ponder the larger ecosystem and the effect that our choices have on it. liFe AND DeATH

Though it may be hard to imagine while making one, terrariums aren’t destined to live forever. Some last for years; others are temporary installations, whether due to attrition, plants outgrowing their allotted spaces, or your own changing sensibilities. Some plants can be a wee technically challenging to switch (unless they are left in their pots), but most elements can be swapped out as the mood strikes. Tiny worlds can be vulnerable places and death happens. It is all a part of life. leT go

When making your terrarium, try a slightly laissez-faire approach: drop things in and see how they land. If you like it, leave it. If you don’t take a brush or chopstick and move it around until it does something you like. It is a bit like planting bulbs in the garden — let things fall out of your hands and just tweak them if you do not like the way they land.

These African Violets ended up wilting in this enclosed container, which trapped too much moist air. Be prepared to play around until you figure out what works best for each plant.

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Credits The terrariums, photography, and design are all my own work. The text is a combination of my own writing and edited content from the following three books:

Aiello, Amy Bryant and Kate Bryant. Terrarium Craft. Portland: Timber Press, 2011. Print. Geiger, Kat. Terrariums Reimagined. Berkeley: Ulysses Press, 2013. Print. Martin, Tovah. The New Terrarium. New York: Clarkson Potter/ Publishers, 2009. Print. supplemental research on the terrarium history:

Azzarito, Amy. “History of Terrariums + Terrarium Roundup.” Design Sponge. Grace Bonney, 2 August 2011. Web. 8 December 2013. <http://www.designsponge.com/2011/08/history-of-terrariums-terrarium-roundup.html>. Gladowski, Ron. “A Little History of Terrariums.” Terrariums. Ron Gladowski, 2012. Web. 8 December 2013. <http://www.terrariums.net/history.html>. Musgrave, Toby. “The Remarkable Case of Dr Ward.” The Telegraph (UK). Telegraph Media Group, 19 January 2002. Web. 8 December 2013. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/3296777/The-remarkable-case-of-Dr-Ward.html>. “The Science and History of Terrarium Gardening.” Herban Jungle. Herban Jungle, 2 March 2012. Web. 8 December 2013. <http:// www.herbanjungle.net/2012/03/02/the-science-and-historyof-terrarium-gardening/>.

on the cover: A close-up look at the unidentified plants inside the 40-year old terrarium belonging to my motherin-law.

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The typefaces used are Dapifer and Omnes. Both are designed by the Darden Studio in Brooklyn, NY. The design of Dapifer sources strokes from William Morris, and Omnes likewise pays homage to the 19th-century grotesques. massacHusetts coLLeGe oF art & desiGn Fall, 2013

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