A terrarium is a little piece of the Earth trapped in a container. It contains its own soil, plants, air, food, and water. Once it is sealed, it may live for many years without any additional food, air, or water. This is possible because nature recycles these things automatically.
Let's test this out!
1. A container. You can use an old pickle jar or a clear plastic candy jar with a tight fitting lid. Whatever you use, be sure it is very clean inside. The container must be clear so light can reach the plants.
2. Potting soil. This can be commercial potting mix or good garden soil. (Soil from outdoors may contain weeds, insects, or disease that may damage your terrarium planting later.)
3. Plants! You can start with little cuttings of plants such as Wandering Jew, Artillery Fern, Peperomia, Aluminum Plant, Strawberry Begonia, or others with small leaves and growth to fit the container you have picked. Many plant nurseries sell special plants for use in terrariums. Be sure to pick plants that need the same conditions to grow. For instance, do not put cactus in with ferns.
4. Decorations? You may want to add special decorations to your finished terrarium. This can be colored stones, shells, ceramic animals or plastic dinosaurs.
The air is trapped in the terrarium when you seal the opening. The plants will use the carbon dioxide and light during the day to produce oxygen and food through Photosynthesis. Then at night they use oxygen and produce carbon dioxide. The water you add to the soil when you build the terrarium is also trapped inside. The plants take up the water through the roots, pump it up the stems to the leaves, and then water evaporates from the leaves. The evaporated water condenses along the top of your container and drips back down into the soil! This is just like the rain cycle!
1. Be sure your terrarium container is very clean and dry. Then add the soil or potting mix to fill about 1/4 of the container. Be careful not to get the dust from the mix on the sides of the container. You can use a funnel made of paper for deep containers to help place the soil.
HINT: Some people like to put charcoal or colored gravel in the bottom under the soil. This provides a little drainage and helps keep the soil from staying waterlogged.
2. Plant your plants! If you are using cuttings (a piece of plant that does not have roots yet), make a small hole with a wire or pencil and insert the cutting where you want it to grow. If you are using plants that you purchased from the nursery, set them into the soil at about the same level as they were in the pot they were growing in. Firm the soil against the plants with your fingers.
3. Use a clean sponge or wet paper towel to carefully water around the plants until the soil is slightly moistened. DO NOT OVERWATER! Too much water is the most common cause of death in a terrarium. You can always add more water later if needed.
HINT: You can also use this step to wash any soil particles off of the container sides.
4. Finished! Add any decorations to your tiny landscape and put the lid in place. Place the terrarium where it can receive indirect sunlight. DO NOT PUT YOUR TERRARIUM IN DIRECT SUN! Too much sun can make the temperature build up rapidly inside the container and cook your new little world!
HINT: Some water should condense on the inside walls of the container and drip down into the soil again. If this does not happen, add a little more water. If you can not see inside the container because there is too much condensation, take the lid off for a few hours and let some of the moisture evaporate. This may take some experimenting.
Once the terrarium is balanced, it will last for years. Some terrariums have been sealed for more than 25 years.
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