A Basic Guide to Terrariums
WHAT IS A TERRARIUM?
A terrarium is a transparent container, tightly ﬁtted with an adjustable glass cover, in which plants are grown
in earth instead of water. It is known also as a fernery, Wardian case, bottle garden, crystal garden, and glass
garden. Terrariums may be bought in any number of sizes and shapes, or made at home by ﬁtting pieces, of
glass, cut to the proper size, to a planting pan. The edges may be bound together with silk adhesive binding.
Glass aquariums, ﬁsh globes, cracker and candy jars – in fact, just about any glass receptacle with a tight-
ﬁtting top – can be used.
The tight cover is to prevent the loss of interior humidity, as the terrarium actually answers the purpose of a
miniature greenhouse. The uses of terrariums are many: house decorations, centerpieces, table gardens, as
well as nature study and scientiﬁc observation for the professional gardener.
BUILDING YOUR TERRARIUM
The size of the case you use for your terrarium will limit the choice of the materials, but of more importance
are the requirements of the plants. You can produce natural scenes that may be copied from the woods,
using stones for large boulders, a lichen-covered stick for a log, and a seedling evergreen for a tree. Colorful
eﬀects are obtained by the addition of bits of tree-growing fungi, twigs with incrusted growing plants, and
low-growing ﬂowering plants to force into bloom. Artiﬁcial furnishings should be used with discretion.
Sand and large pebbles may be used instead of moss as the drainage layer, with a little charcoal for
sweetening. Above this, spread an inch or more of topsoil.
Tropical plants with their wealth of color and love of heat and moisture are ideally suited to terrarium
culture. Some satisfactory kinds include: Saintpaulia, small- leaved begonias, Dracaena sanderiana, creeping
ﬁg, selaginella, various ferns and small-leaved ferns such as the maidenhair and Pellaea viridis. Other plants
that may be used include: dwarf ivy, young plants of boxwood, variegated-leaf forms of euonymus Primula,
and more. In all cases select small or young plants, as they are better proportions for an attractive terrarium.
THE CARE OF YOUR TERRARIUM
Terrariums may be kept in cooler rooms or sun-porches, requiring very little care. Watering must be done in
moderation, perhaps once in ten days unless the rooms are excessively hot. No water must be left standing
around the roots or the soil will become sour and soggy. If mold appears, increase the ventilation and it will
disappear. If the lid ﬁts very tightly, and the terrarium is given plenty of water, it may be left for a number of
weeks without attention, as the moisture will condense on the cool glass and drip back into the garden.
Reprinted from Taylor’s Encyclopedia of Gardening, by Norman Taylor, HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY, Boston, Fourth Edition,
copyright renewed 1976 by Margaretta Stevenson Taylor.
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