November 23, 2010

Terrariums- Building The Ultimate Water-Conservation Garden

When I was researching this blog, I found a great deal on-line about growing plants in terrariums ( or terraria ), how to build them, and what to grow in them. Even more information is available about building vivariums, which are terrariums with animals inside, as we see so often with pet frogs or small lizards or other reptiles. The basics of building a terrarium have remained constants for decades. I remember building a terrarium almost 40 years using the classic tradition of multi-level construction, and the plants survived for almost 5 years before I had to disassemble it and replant it to accommodate the plants' growth. Some of the biggest mistakes I see in building long-duration terrariums is that people don't account for plant growth, give the terrarium enough light, or put in enough root drainage.       

an aquarium used as a terrarium 

A vivarium set-up
with Tillandsia bromeliads

an open top globe terrarium
with carnivorous plants

a closed  top terrarium

Calcined Clay

long fiber sphagnum moss

activated charcoal
for the bottom of a terrarium

peat moss

The old style of building a terrarium calls for layering the bottom of the terrarium container with a 2 inch layer of washed activated charcoal, covered with a layer of plastic window screen. On top of the screen, place a 2 or 3 inch thick layer of the planting mix of your choice, but a common mix is equal parts of peat moss, long fiber sphagnum moss, and an inorganic material such as perlite or calcined clay. The material made as Oil-Dri for mechanic uses will work nicely, as does the products made for drying sports fields, such as Rapid-Dry or many of its analogs. A mixture of these 3 ingredients makes a long term mix, suitable for many types of plants, including ferns, gesneriads, begonias, and carnivorous plants. With a fluorescent aquarium light these terrariums can grow many plants successfully that could not be grown as landscape plants. This is also a great way to grow plants that need cooler temperatures than would be seen outdoors.

Many carnivorous plants grow very well in terrariums, as do many of the understory West African and Asian Begonia species. Jewel orchids, rainbow ferns, many mosses, miniature gesneriads and numerous other plants grow well in terrariums. Wet the soil and water in the plants using distilled water to avoid any calcium build up from well water. Rainwater is excellent for terrariums, but often breed algae.  

These little glass gardens can be wonderful additions to an indoor area, adding a nice soft touch of green in an office or home environment. Don't let direct sunlight shine into the terrarium, or you will quickly find out what "the greenhouse effect" really is !  If you wish to use an older term for terrariums, tell your friends that you are constructing a small Wardian Case. Sometimes using an older term gets people to think a bit more..........

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens      


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