GARDENING IN IOWA

Create a terrarium using what you may already have at home

Need some garden therapy? Create a terrarium. (Veronica Lorson Fowler)
Need some garden therapy? Create a terrarium. (Veronica Lorson Fowler)
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If between the pandemic and the Iowa winter you’re going a little stir-crazy, here’s a bit of garden therapy to try: A terrarium. All you need is a clear container of some sort — with or without a lid — and a plant or two with similar growing needs and potting soil.

Terrariums are fascinating, beautiful semi-enclosed microclimates. In cold, drafty Iowa homes, they’re a great, sheltered spot from chilly blasts of air that can damage plants. Also, modern furnaces dry out the air in our homes and terrariums can provide welcome humidity.

Start With A Container

A terrarium container doesn’t have to be fancy, though some can sell for hundreds of dollars. The containers can be small, no bigger than a softball, or waist high. You choose. Get creative and find one from around the house, or hunt for something inexpensive at a store that you can repurpose as a terrarium container. Thrift stores are an excellent source. You also can splurge and buy a terrarium kit that has everything you need.

Here are some suggestions to get the creative juices flowing:

• A glass cookie-type jar with lid

• An old aquarium or goldfish bowl

• A bell jar — a glass dome often for outdoor use

• A gallon pickle or similar jar of plastic or glass

• Canning jars

• A large brandy shifter or other elegant drinking glass

• A glass flower vase

• An empty candle jar

• A glass lantern designed for candles

• A glass-topped cake stand

• A glass or clear plastic coffee pot or cold beverage pitcher

• A large 2-liter pop bottle, cut in half

While most terrariums stand on a countertop or table, you can hang them from string, wire or a macrame or twine hanger.

Then Pick Your Plants

Once you’ve chosen the container, choose the plants. The main rule is to select plants with similar cultural needs. For example, group sun-, drought-loving succulents or cactuses together. Or go only for plants that need ample moisture and humidity.

You also can choose a theme. “Fairy gardens” accented with tiny buildings and sculptures are popular. Or repurpose some of your kid’s favorite small figurines as accents tucked in among the plants.

Many better-stocked garden centers and greenhouses now have entire sections dedicated to fairy gardens or terrarium gardens, though nearly any houseplant can be adapted to terrarium use.

Choose plants that will fit easily into the container. That might just be one, or it might be several together. If your container has a narrow neck, like a glass jug, choose flexible plants that can be gently pushed through with chopsticks or long dowels.

Get Planting

Most terrarium plants will thrive in ordinary potting soil, though succulents do even better with sand or a purchased soil blend made especially for their needs.

If you want, include a layer of fine gravel on the bottom to promote drainage away from the plant roots so they’re less likely to rot.

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Also, some terrarium growers swear by a layer activated charcoal in their terrarium, to control the musty odor that can develop. But it’s far better to prevent this by watering carefully and removing any lid regularly to encourage good air circulation.

If you’re using drought-loving plants, consider topping the soil with a layer of fine gravel mulch. It’s decorative and helps promotes surface drainage.

Conversely, if you are planting moisture-loving plants, top the soil with bits of green dried sheet moss, soaked for a moment in water to revive it. It is attractive and provides excellent humidity.

Be cautious on where you place your terrarium, especially if it has a lid. A terrarium with a closed lid in a sunny spot can overheat the plants and kill them. Place most terrariums in filtered light and water sparingly.

If your terrarium does have a closed lid, open it for an hour or two every day or two. All houseplants need at least a little fresh air circulation.

Veronica Lorson Fowler is co-publisher of The Iowa Gardener website at theiowagardener.com.

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