I’ve been experimenting with terrarium for over 4 years now. Failed many time but never gave up, consulted orchid experts, university professors and even visited the Bio-dome in Singapore to further this art and share it with the world. I’ve never stop improving this art, I’m still a student of nature and continue to learn and better my terrarium.
The first thing you need to know is forget everything you have read on the internet about terrariums and start fresh. Most have been planted for short term effect and do not live for long. Terrariums are not something you plant in a jar and shut then expect it to grow. It’s take a whole lot more maintenance than that. There are the odd occasion where plants don’t mind the stagnate air, normally they not pretty and not something you want to keep. Terrariums require careful planning, care and maintenance, but once you’ve mastered the cycle it becomes easier. The key is to replicate the living environment of where your plant was from. It’s important to read up on the your plants you are introducing and make sure they group well together.
Deciding on the landscape you want will determine the plants you use and the type of landscape will depict where it sits, how much water and sun it will receive. Glass with large or many openings will be better suited for desert terrariums as it allows for evaporation. Each have group carry it’s own characteristic so you need to treat them differently.
You need to mimic the plants natural environment, spend some time in the environment or reading up about it will make a biggest difference.
NH = South | SH = North – Full Sun
Desert terrariums need wide opening to ensure humidity is kept at a minimum, otherwise the succulents will liquify. The terrarium should recieve full sun or at least 5 hours a day. The glass should never be sealed. Watering once every 1~2 week.
NH = East | SH = West – Half Sun
Woodland terrariums need smaller openings to ensure humidity doesn’t completely escape. Watering happens every second or third day but gauge it cause your altitude could affect this. You need to give at least 3~6 hours of sunlight. Read up on moss that can tolerate sunlight for this group here.
NH = North | SH = South – Window Light
Orchids are tricky, in the wild they receive water from dew in the morning, then short rain once or twice throughout the day, plenty of air-movement as they generally live off the ground and enjoy a warmer or cooler climate read up on your to understand it’s living environment. They grow on tree branches and trunks so they are very well shaded from the sun. Do your best to mimic their environment.
Planting is best part, be creative and take your time in perfecting details. I find it helps to have a few picture of the landscape to work from. Follow the diagram above to help you plant the terrarium. Don’t cramp everything in, ensure you leave enough space for the plants to breath, the golden rule to planting is use the 30:70 ratio, 30% matter 70% air. This ratio maintains the perfect balance of humidity and air-movement.
Water all plants and soil before you place them in your terrarium. A layer of pebbles at the bottom of the container will assist with drainage of the soil. Activated charcoal filters the water during condensation and evaporation, providing a healthy environment for plants to thrive in.
Some plants prefer to be planted in a certain month of year and the same with Orchid, be aware of this.
For fun, using a vase or jar is fine but if you want to grow a long living terrarium you will need to carefully pick out a glass that is suitable. Firstly is ventilation, the plants need to breath, like a child locked in a car. You will suffocate them. Secondly, drainage. If there is no drainage, chemicals will build up overtime and ruin the root & soil. Thirdly ventilation, ensure there is holes in the side of the glass and on top to allow air to enter and exit.
Different altitude have different property of air. At sea level we have higher humidity and richer oxygen, as you go higher, humidity lowers and so does temperature. Take note of your altitude, most of my guides are written for sea level, if you live higher up, you need to compensate as higher altitude have lower temperature and dryer climates.
Earth worms, they keep your soil nourished and dig trenches to allow for roots to grow. Fungi or Mushrooms are the only plants that have an ability to recycle and in an enclosed environment this is very important. Introducing mushroom is a must. Mycorrhiza, a very interesting fungus that assist the plants root in receiving more nutrient and increase absorption of water and minerals. Read up more about this here. If you find a mushroom (flower of the fungi) in your terrarium you have successfully grown a healthy terrarium.
Read up on the each plant and figure how much light each plant should receive. Each window that faces a different cardinal direction will give you a different amount of light. Here is a link to better help you understand the concept. Please note that cardinal direction for optimal sunlight change depending on which hemisphere you are in. Take note that enclosed terrarium sitting in direct sunlight heat up 10x faster then open glass so beware you don’t cook anything.
Air-movement is important, without fresh air these plants will plunge into a spiral downhill. Openings in the terrarium are important but just openings is not enough if they are sitting at home. Place them close to an open window or in more extreme cases, install a miniature fan.
Air-movement also fight off mould as this will be a common problem in terrariums. If your terrarium is growing mould you know its because of high humidity and no air-movement.
Do you know what’s in your tap water? Probably not but there are traces of salts and minerals and some even have chlorine in them. Bonsai & Succulents are quite tolerant of tap water but it isn’t ideal. Orchids come next and moss will not tolerate it at all. Try harvest rain water as they contain natural acidity in them which is great for orchids and moss. If you can’t distilled water or bottled water will do.
Which window you choose to position your terrarium will determine how much sun the terrarium will received. This has a direct influence on the humidity of the terrarium.
Take note that the cardinal direction is different depending on which hemisphere you are on, if you are on the Northern hemisphere then the sun will face the south side. Use my illustration above to find the right amount of sun suitable for your terrarium.
Looking after your terrarium requires patience and a careful eye. A desert terrarium you can be carefree but woodland and tropical terrariums require daily monitoring. Mist daily to keep the moss wet and watering the landscape once a week.
Mould is a common problem to look out for and will need to be removed. Let the terrarium dry and watch your watering level. They thrive on moisture and stagnate air, if you have healthy air-movement they shouldn’t come back.
Moss sometime requires replacing when air-movement isn’t optimal. If you see a patch going brown, replace them with a fresh patch. You can find moss in shaded parks where there is flowing water.
Lastly if your terrarium expires, empty the glass and start again, it’s a fun and rejuvenating process. Feel free to contact me if you have questions.