HOW TO MAKE A TERRARIUM

Each one of us is always in search of a hobby that is unique to our tastes, our passion, our affinity, and our preference. Some people go into arts and craft, pet and animal-rearing, and some others opt for plant-rearing. Each hobby offers a unique experience and a unique journey that the hobbyists can relate to.

 

However, there is one unique hobby that I think can combine several of those in one experience. And that is the art of making—TERRARIUMS. Yes, that is correct. Because one complete terrarium set-up has the following elements: plants, microfauna, hardscape, and other items that you can add to personalise your set-up. It is safe to say that it can already include arts and crafts, animal-rearing, and definitely plant-rearing.

 

But what is a terrarium by the way? Terrarium actually means “an enclosed earth” that was coined from terra which means earth in Latin, and arium which was adopted from aquarium for the enclosure portion. The first terrarium was created and accidentally discovered by Dr. Nathaniel Ward when he dropped a pupa of a moth into a sealed glass jar and found that after a while, the soil base started to grow fern and grass. That’s why the first design of the glass enclosure was named after him, The Warden Glass.

 

 

By strict definition, a terrarium should be closed or else it should not be considered a terrarium by definition. However, modern set-ups accepted that an open terrarium can also be considered a type of terrarium. Personally, I can say that an open terrarium is almost similar to a dish garden with a slight difference depending on the percentage of opening the set-up has. The smaller the opening is, the closer it is to an open-terrarium. Must say that if the opening is at 50% and above or that the exposure of the set-up is almost 100% then it must be categorised as a dish garden.

What Are The Materials?

 

The basic and most essential materials are:

  1. Enclosure – it could be made of glass, and acrylic, a plastic container, or any bottle (new or repurposed) with a clear panel. (INSERT PICTURE OF GLASS)
  2. Substrate – this is the soil part of the terrarium where plants and other flora components are rooted.
  3. False Bottom/Reservoir – this is the base of the set-up which is composed of either gravel, sand, rocks, pebbles, or even thick mesh or sponge which the water inside the set-up drains to and gets recycled by the natural water cycle of the enclosure.
  4. Charcoal and/or Mesh – this serves as the filtration material of the terrarium and it separates the substrate from the false bottom or the reservoir.
  5. Hardscape – these are the stones, rocks, dried driftwood, bamboo, bark, figurines, etc. This is the decorative part of the terrarium that gives the terrarium the aesthetics.
  6. Plants and Other Flora – these are the main attraction of the terrarium and is its major component. Any tropical plants that loves high humidity and high moisture is highly recommended for terrariums.
  7. Most hobbyists prefer the miniature plants, mosses, ferns, and endemic plants especially if they lean towards a native terrarium set-up.
  8. Animals/Fauna – basically, to complete the bioactive environment in an enclosure, the microfauna is a major requirement. However, for hobbyists with allergies or are squeamish, you can opt to skip on this one if you are not comfortable.

Steps


  1. Clean your chosen enclosure inside and out. Tip: for glass enclosures, you can use either cotton/paper towel dipped in alcohol to remove glass stains and maximise the viewing experience by having a clearer glass enclosure.
  2. Start with the False Bottom or Reservoir. You can use either small rocks, pebbles, gravel, or riversand. There are other terrarium artists that use microfibre or sponge as false bottom especially if the clearance is very small and narrow and only a thin layer can be mounted. The false bottom is oftentimes referred as the filtration system, however, the actual function of the false bottom is as a reservoir of clean water that rotates inside the enclosure especially for the closed terrarium.
  3. Add the Filtration Layer. This is the part where you will put the mesh, if you have one, as this is optional. If you skip the mesh, you can directly add the charcoal. Any type of charcoal can be used. Though my personal preference is the coconut shell charcoal as these are easy to crush, powderize, and it is flat which is easy to manipulate and space-saving due to its flat surface structure. The filtration layer should fully cover the space intended for it to prevent the substrate from leaking to the false bottom or the reservoir.
  4. Add the Substrate Layer. This is the soil part where the plants and hardscapes will be mounted and rooted. You can use any mixture or combination of substrate, whichever is available and appropriate to your enclosure of the plants you chose. However, the general rule is that, for the substrate, you can opt for a rather nutrient-deficient or with slow-nutrient-release subtrate. This is to control the growth of your plants and lessen the maintenance of pruning the plants preventing overcrowding. 


 Here are some mixture suggestions for the substrate:


a. Soil-less Mixture – you can use either coco peat, coco husks, dried leaves, powdered or crushed charcoal, sand, wood shavings

b. Highly-organic Mixture – you can use loam, vermicast, organic fertiliser components in the mixture

c. Garden Soil Mixture – you can use the regular garden soil, coco peat, coco husk,     crushed/powderized charcoal, sand, dried bark, etc.

d. Soil-less Organic Mixture – you can use the decomposed organic materials from the forest bed and transfer it on your enclosures

The substrate mixture is endless and you can use any material of your choosing based on what is available in your area or could also be based on your preference or as to what do you know is best for your plants and microfauna.

5. Add the Landscape. This is the fun part and the best part in creating a terrarium.  This is the part where you can mix and match the plants you have chosen for your terrarium. What happened to me most of the time however is, mostly my first choice of plants always change or are being added depending on how will they actually look in the actual terrarium. But believe me, this is normal and also exciting as you get to create and recreate you design time and again in the course of completing your landscape. You can mix any plant, hardscape, and additional materials however way it fits your taste and your design.

6. Add the Microfauna. This is also the other fun part. The most recommended microfauna for the terrariums are of course the “Clean-up Crew” or your detrivores. The most basic and the most tolerable and negligible that you can almost not notice are the— Springtails. Adding the springtails completes your bioactive terrarium enclosure. These clean-up crew will be responsible in keeping your terrarium of moulds and other hitchhikers, or their colonization. The microfauna will also provide the carbon dioxide requirement of the plants inside the terrarium to complete the life cycle of your bioactive set-up. Other options for microfauna include: isopods, earthworms, other worms, centipedes, millipedes, snails, etc.

7. Once all of the materials had been added, clean up the terrarium and the sides and panels. You can use a clean cloth, paper towel, tissue paper, or cotton to wipe the excess soil, etc. and once you have cleaned up the excess materials and debris, you can go ahead and mist the terrarium. Moisture is a very significant component of your terrarium. It is important to keep it a an appropriate level. One trick to know if your level of moisture is enough, there is a condensation on the walls of the terrarium that is usually heavy during dawn and dusk. If by chance, you overwatered your terrarium, you need not fret as you can just open the cover to let the excess water evaporate.

8. For the last step— ENJOY!!! This is also the most important step. Creating terrariums is a wonderful experience that you can enjoy by yourself or you can share with the members of your family as well. Aside from the fun and relaxation experience, this is also a great bonding session for you and the people around you. Therefore it is important to take your time in creating your terrarium and savor every moment of it.

Reminders

Here are additional information you may need to keep in mind in creating and maintaining your terrarium

  • Place your terrarium in an area with indirect morning or afternoon sun, or even the whole day, as long as it is only an indirect sunlight. Putting it directly on the direct sunlight will burn your terrarium as the light passing through the clear enclosure, especially glass creates a magnifying glass effect that can burn the plants and microfauna inside the terrarium.
  • Should you have no place for an indirect sunlight, you can use a lampshade or any lamp to provide the light needed by your plants for photosynthesis. The acceptable light exposure is about 4-8 hours daily. Or you can follow the 12/12 rule: 12 hours lighted and 12 hours rest. This is to give your plants a cycle for growth and rest. Exposure to light also delays and prevents mould growth and infestation. As time goes by, you can assess also whether there is enough or insufficient light provided to your terrarium. Other hallmarks to watch out for would be the behaviour of your plants. Losing color, rotting, molds infestation and growth would indicate insufficient light. So it is imperative that you also observe the behaviour of your terrarium.
  • Check also the moisture and the humidity inside the terrarium. Condensation or the moisture on the walls and panels are expected and forms heavily during dusk and dawn. If the condensation does not disappear throughout the day, it may indicate a heavy water component inside the terrarium. Opening the lid for an hour or two would be enough to solve this concern. On the other hand, not seeing a condensation or seeing the drying up of the topmost layer indicates lack of water. Misting would be the most convenient resolution.
  • The general rule for misting is, mist only when you open the terrarium. So as long as you keep the terrarium close (for closed terrariums), the initial water you added would be sufficient to sustain the ecosystem inside. For open terrariums, it is relative to check the moisture level so as to prevent the plants from drying.
  • Should the plants inside overcrowd the enclosure or causes overgrowth, you can always prune it anytime. Pruning also helps the plant grow new buds and seedlings along the way creating new experience.
  • Should you see unwanted hitchhikers, or other animals or insects you think should not be present, you can just manually remove them to control their growth and to eventually eliminate them. However, should the problem be too much, it would be too late to control them so the recommendation would be to re-do your terrarium or change your substrate. You can also use natural or organic pesticides such as neem oil, dishwashing soap on water, etc.

Finally, the entirety of creating a terrarium creates a unique experience and journey. Each experience and journey is unique and different. Should your first creation or the succeeding ones not thrive, it is but normal as each component used are always unique. The more you create, the better you become so just continue creating your next terrariums. One day soon, you will find the most appropriate technique for you which you can also share later on to other aspiring terrarium artists and hobbyists out there.

I therefore wish you all the best on your first of your many more terrariums!

For more tips and guide, check out the videos on my YouTube Channel: TerraPlantae PH 

Froilan Aloro