The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

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Terrariums – a perfect indoor garden

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Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

Temperature downswings and snow upswings mark the perfect time to undertake indoor garden projects. Recently UI Extension staff, master gardeners and Veterans Affairs (VA) staff presented a hands-on workshop for veterans at the VA Medical Facility in Danville on the perfect indoor garden - a terrarium.

Terrariums are designed to be miniature land ecosystems, minus the animals. Terrariums may be sealed, partially open or completely open.

Containers can be just about anything, as long as it's clear and clean. A terrarium is a great reuse for a leaky fish tank. A quick dig through the recycle bin or trip to the thrift store will yield a bounty of possibilities. Keep in mind containers with small openings are more challenging to plant. Large plastic peanut butter jars are great first terrariums for kids. We used two liter pop bottles with tops partially cut off for our veteran's terrarium project.

Plant selection depends on the type of container. Closed containers should include humidity-loving plants such as ferns and mosses. Select plants with naturally small leaves to keep in scale with your miniature landscape. Additional choices include: Tillandsia (air plant), bromeliad, nerve plant, artillery plant, pepperomia, clubmoss, creeping fig, dwarf coleus and small versions of orchids and African violets. Realize some plants will grow too well and eventually need pruning or replacement.

One of my first terrariums, a gift from my brother, was made from a lab beaker. It contained a contented strawberry begonia with its delicate red petioles and fuzzy leaves emblazoned with silver veins. Strawberry begonias send out runners capped off with tiny plant clones. The baby plantlets can be cut off and placed in more terrariums. One terrarium always leads to another.

If your theme is a dessert or beach, use terrariums with large openings for dry-loving succulent plants such as miniature jades, hen-and-chicks or cactus.

Once you have your container and plants, it's time to build your terrarium.

Since terrariums do not have drainage holes, an area for drainage has to be created. In the bottom of the container add about one to three inches of aquarium or pea gravel. On top of this layer add one half inches of horticultural charcoal.

To keep the soil from mixing with the charcoal, place a thin layer of sphagnum or sheet moss over the charcoal. Next add slightly moist container potting mix so there is at least two to three inch layer of soil. The soil mix should feel moist, but not dripping wet.

To plant the terrarium use a stick, dowel, or long handled spoon to make a hole in the soil. Once you drop the plant in the hole a little maneuvering will be needed to cover the roots with soil. Continue adding plants as space allows.

Now for the fun part, landscaping your terrarium. Add sand, rock, moss covered sticks or seashells from your favorite vacation, toy cars, action figures or tiny figurines, whatever has meaning for you. One of the veterans placed a small rooster in his terrarium to remind him of his boyhood home on the farm.

Place terrarium in a high light area, but never in direct sun. Don't overindulge when watering. Use a mist bottle to gently add water. If water condensation appears on the container, no water is needed. If it appears too wet, remove lid if possible. It's easier to add water and next to impossible to get rid of water, especially in closed containers.

Try a terrarium for a winter garden project for the whole family.

Vermilion County Master Gardener Garden Day Saturday, March 14, 2015 from 8 a.m.- 4 p.m. at CrossRoads Christian Church 3613 N. Vermilion, Danville, IL.

Learn about new plants from the new plant director of Monrovia Nursery, get your garden questions answered by Master Gardeners and enjoy great food and plenty of shopping. Register today. Tickets sold out last year. Call our UI Extension office in Danville at 217-442-8615 for more information.

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