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Timeline Through Landscape Design

A blog to guide home gardeners with seasonal landscape improvements.
Photo-1 Finished Fairy-Terrarium
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Fairy Garden Terrariums

Please forgive the lack of recent posts. With the holidays and year-end reports, I am a little behind. With that said, I hope you enjoy learning about one of my favorite hobbies: making fairy garden terrariums!

With the cold weather keeping us from landscaping outdoors, why not bring your creativity and efforts indoors?

If you are itching for some interaction with plants, one option is to plant a terrarium or fairy garden. Constructing a fairy garden terrarium combination gives you an opportunity to make a mini environment that will allow you to do some interior landscaping in the confines of your home.

I tried my hand at creating four enclosed terrariums this winter (Photo 1-shows two). While I have had some success, I have struggled a bit to get the growing conditions just right. Proper care must be considered in order to make these unique environments thrive. Let me share some tips that will help your fairy garden terrarium be a success.

Research has shown that specific plants can survive in an enclosed terrarium with little to no air. These plants include varieties of ferns and mosses. You can learn about more terrarium types and terrarium plants by clicking here.  When I created my four terrariums I used a variety of large glass jars with lids. I kept the lid on all of the time, except when I was monitoring the growth and noticed a problem.

Even with my horticulture experience, I haven't been able to get the humidity and soil moisture level perfect. Typically, I check the terrariums daily to make sure there is no fungal growth along the glass walls, any bad odors, rotted plant parts and leaf drop. Therefore, be sure to monitor your terrarium often to catch these problems early on. If these problems occur, try keeping the lid off for a few days and decreasing the moisture level.  If plants look dry and crumble to the touch, try increasing the moisture level.

Now that you have some general background information, let's begin the fun process of designing and building your fairy garden terrarium.

When creating your terrarium fairy garden follow these steps:

Selecting and Preparing Materials (Photos 2 and 3):

  • First, select your container. The container should be clear, preferably glass and have a large enough opening so that you can maneuver in soil, plants and fairy components. A gallon size jar works well.
  • Second, select your rock substrate. Beginning with a layer of rock will provide minimal, but some drainage when necessary. The rock substrate should be decorative and can be pebbles, marbles or even plastic. Lighter color substrate will provide more contrast to the above soil layer.
  • Speaking of soil, that is your next step. Choose a soil-less potting mix, moisten and mix it with water until it is the consistency of a wrung out sponge.
  • Next select plants based on culture, texture, height and form. As I said before, mosses and ferns work well in a sealed terrarium environment. I have added height by using species of ficus and alocasia with moderate success in the enclosed system. I would suggest planting three taller plants with varying heights and one or two low-growing groundcover plants.
  • Lastly, purchase, find or make fairy garden components. Some items can be purchased, such as the fairies, arbors or stepping stones. Some can be found objects, such as using a common milkweed pod for a hammock or bench. Others can be homemade. For example, an acorn can be used as a bird house if you drill a tiny hole and glue on a string for hanging. I would suggest no more than three fairy garden hardscape components per terrarium.

Building Your Terrarium (Photo 4):

  • Start with your clean glass jar.
  • Next, add about 2" of rock substrate and create some topography.
  • Then add about 2-3" of your moistened soil and also create hills or valleys. At this point the jar should be about 1/3 full.
  • Now, you can install your plants. The plants may need some trimming in order to fit. Start by planting the shorter plants and finish with the taller plants.
  • Next, install your fairy garden components.
  • Lastly, put the top on your terrarium.

Keep these pointers in mind when caring for your new fairy garden terrarium. Be sure to monitor the terrarium for moisture levels, pest and disease (rot). It is best to provide water using a spray bottle. The rock substrate will provide a little drainage, but you do not want to over water because there is no hole for drainage. When I lost plants due to rot, I cheated a bit. I filled in the empty space with colorful preserved reindeer moss (Photo 5). The chartreuse color made the garden pop and although it was not alive, it provided great character and has held up well in the humid conditions.

Position fairy gardens on a low table or shelf where they can be viewed from above. Then sit back and enjoy as you observe this miniature wonderland. You can learn more about fairy garden folklore here.

This hobby is becoming more popular so mini garden elements are easy to find, but can be expensive. To cut costs, start collecting fairy garden components from nature. They create a realistic feel and add character.

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