Sunday, July 13, 2014

Terrariums & Miniature Garden Wishing Bottles

Terrariums are captivating. Whether its an air plant placed artfully inside a sand and shell-filled, seaglass jar, or a  jam packed glass orb with layers of greenery to compel you into the hidden secret garden...there is no denying the magic. I have always loved terrariums. The best part is, if you do it practically takes care of itself! Now THAT is a plant world anyone can love, eh?! 

When I laid eyes on some teensy weensy terrarium bottles (on Pinterest, my guilty pleasure), I knew I had to try making them for myself. I already had the bottles from my many adventures in jewelry-making and craft supply hoarding, and the rest was a piece of cake!  You can find miniature bottles at any craft store or online for very reasonable prices. Start by getting some quality soil, pebbles/stones, and some tiny plants that willl thrive in a moist environment.

Once I started thinking about constructing the tiny terrariums, I realized that I had a voracious terrarium appetite, and needed a large one in my home, perhaps even a few! As long as I was planning on purchasing plants, it made sense to use them all up (most came in packs of 8 seedling plants together for $2.49 or were larger pots that I separated into individual plantings, such as the Irish Moss and the Elvin Thyme, my fav!!). 

I purchased some giant glass jars from Walmart for $9.44, and smaller ones for $7.44 (what a bargain!). Organic soil from Miracle Gro was my choice for the tiny bottle terrarium bases, using no rocks for drainage since there is virtually no extra space. For the large terrariums, I first placed a 1-1/2"- 2" layer of small pebble rocks, for water drainage. I found the rocks at the .99 cent Only store, and used two bags per large terrarium, and one bag for the smaller jar. 

Next I added a 1" layer of activated charcoal pieces to assist with purifying the water as it  recirculates through the natural evaporation/re-watering process within the terrarium. I purchased the charcoal at my local Green Thumb Garden Center for $5.98 per bag (I purchased two bags, thinking I'd need them, but man oh man, that stuff multiplies, and I still have half a bag left after making three big terrariums!!). You can also find charcoal in the pet fish area of pet supply stores because its the same stuff used in fish tanks.

For the next layer, you can add 1" of sphagnum moss, which will help keep the soil from filtering down into the rocks, however, I didn't feel I'd have adequate room inside my terrarium, so I skipped this step...after seeing the soil trickling its way down into the drainage rocks, I think I would make room for the moss next time!

The soil comes next...I put a 4" layer of organic potting soil (I just like a chemical-free environment, even if I am not eating it, I am potentially breathing it in!). Then using my hands or spoons, I made slight indentations for the plants. I planned on one in the center area, three around the edges, with Irish moss in between each of the outer plants. I then added additional soil around each seedling plant to make sure it was firmly packed into place. 

The Irish Moss went in next; it has a dense root system and is easily separated into clumps, which I just pressed into the soil already in the jar. There was no need to add aditional soil around the Irish Moss. The key, just as in any full size garden planting, be sure to press the soil firmly around the plant so no air pockets remain, as that is not good for the roots.

Once all the plants are in place, water lightly, a small amount at a time, trying to give each plant a gentle drink, but don't over water! You will see water gathering in the rocks at the base, and you don't want more then about 1/2" of water to end up in the bottom.

After you water the plants in, take a soft cloth or paper towel and wipe down the sides of the jar, removing all dirt particles and creating a clean viewing area. For the first day you can leave the lid off the jar to allow excess moisture to evaporte. Then put the lid on the jar (My large terrarium glass jars  do not have a completely tight seal, though on my mini terrariums, the cork stopper does create a tight seal which works very far!)

When constructing the miniature terrariums, fill the jar approximately 1/4 with moistened soil and pack down tightly with a cotton-swab or the blunt end of a wooden skewer or chopstick.

Once you have chosen your tiny plants you will need to separate them into seedlings that will fit into the small bottle. You might need to trim the height if it is too tall. (In the photo below, Elvin Thyme is on the left, and a tiny clump of Irish moss is on the right).

Using tweezers, carefully plant your seedlings into the tiny bottle. Add extra dirt particles if necessary, or rearrange the dirt inside the bottle to cover the roots as best you can. Water with a drop or two, and if too much fills the bottle, blow in it to get some out, then leave bottle open for a day or two until the excess water evaporates. Place the cork to seal the bottle while there is still moisture enough to nourish the plant inside.


You now have a beautiful miniature garden environment to admire, with very little attention to keep it alive. It requires medium to low light, but NO DIRECT SUN because it can get very hot inside the terrarium and possibly burn your plants as well, just like a magnifying glass. It is better to err on the side of too little water, than too much. When you have a small reservoir of water in the drainage rocks, it will circulate by evaporating up onto the glass jar lid and sides, then dribble down into the plants, keeping them nourished. 

As plants become too large for the container, it may be required to replace them, or trim them. Be sure to pick plants that like a low light and moist enviroment, such as: Irish Moss, African Violets, Ferns, Babys Tears, and others your garden experts can recommend. My personal addition and experimentation (which seem to be working well so far) is: Elvin Thyme, with teeny leaves and purple flowers with  bright (not direct) light. 

You can see that the plants are growing marvelously already, and they have only been living in their new home for a few days.

Careful planning of plant placement makes for a cozy little environment that can easily be embellished with miniature accessories to enhance the wonderment. If you are like me, and love to create imaginary worlds, this is a great way to do it! Just remember that any embellishments you place in the terrarium, need to be water safe because it will get very steamy and moist inside!