Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Closed Terrariums Open Doors to Gardening on Smaller Scale

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Closed Terrariums Open Doors to Gardening on Smaller Scale

Article excerpt

In the depths of winter, most gardeners believe their efforts are restricted to armchair activities -- reading books, reviewing catalogs and planning for the spring garden. Not so!

A closed terrarium allows you to continue gardening on a very small scale. You'll be able to shop for plants, get your hands in the dirt and create a beautiful green vignette that will enhance any room in your home or workplace.

The first step is to choose a container. It must be clear glass or plastic with a tight-fitting lid or cover. Colored glass will not let enough light in for the plants to flourish. You may use a container with a narrow opening, but it will be more difficult for you to plant and tend. While there are specifically designed terrarium containers, other options include large glass cookie or candy jars, old fish bowls, fish tanks, half-gallon canning jars, old apothecary jars and lidded brandy sniffers. Choose a container that will blend with the decor of your home or office.

Through every step of the process, be careful not to introduce pests and pathogens into your terrarium, as this humid enclosed environment is a perfect breeding ground. Wash your hands or wear clean gloves while building and maintaining your terrarium. Start with a very clean container. Wash it with soap and hot water. Rinse well in cool water and air dry. If you feel the need to use a commercial glass cleaner, keep the lid removed and wait a few days before your initial planting. This will allow time for all fumes to escape.

You will need a soilless potting mix with relatively low fertility. Garden soil is much too heavy and will compact. Before placing the potting soil in the container, mix in some charcoal. Just a handful or two is all you need, depending on the size of your container. Charcoal will add organic matter and absorb any chemicals or odors. The tiny pores in the charcoal hold water and nutrients and later make them available to the plants.

In the past, people added a layer of rocks or pebbles to the bottom of the container for drainage. This is no longer the thinking. Place enough potting soil in your terrarium to equal the depth of the largest root ball of your chosen plants. This soil should be just damp, not soaking wet.

When it comes to choosing plants, start with the adage that all gardeners know: right plant, right place. Most that work best are either moist woodland or tropical plants. Succulents and cacti do not make good terrarium plants; save those for your open terrarium or dish garden. Choose small slow growers or naturally dwarf plants that will fit into your container with room to spare. Remove any dead or yellowed leaves before planting. Moss, lichen and ferns are natural choices for a terrarium, because of their fondness for moisture and their ability to thrive in dim settings. …

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