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Fun With Terrariums!

Posted March 9, 2014

Looking for a cool and unusual gift this spring? Have you considered a terrarium? I always thought of these as kind of fuddy-duddy things, until I started checking out some of the amazing and innovative approaches to the terrarium on Hometalk, where, it turns out, you can teach an old terrarium new tricks. Whether you want to make a classic, formal one for a grandparent or something funky and fresh for a hip friend who's too cool for school, you can totally create a work of living, breathing art for someone to enjoy.

The terrarium represents a microcosm, a tiny world you can fill with a variety of plants along with rocks, tiny sculptures, and more. One great thing about the tiny environment is that you can control it, which is one reason people have historically grown orchids and other delicate flowers in terrariums. It's easier to manage temperature and humidity levels inside a small tank than it is across a whole room or greenhouse, so if you're thinking of making a very special floral gift to someone, a terrarium is definitely something to consider.

You can grow plants in a soil base (typically with layers of charcoal, soil, stones, and moss). But you can also grow in a soil-free terrarium with plant species that don't need soil to thrive, opening up the possibilities of growing on a rock or sand substrate. Branch out a little more and try aquatic plants in a water terrarium (don't worry, you don't need a Cincinnati plumber to build one)! Experiment with different containers, shapes, and sizes, like flowing plants in mounted glass sconces or sealed terraria for tropical plants.

Here's the great thing about making a terrarium: it's a low cost, easy project. You can assemble one for less than $10 unless you're using special plants or a pricey container (check thrift stores, garage sales, and free tables for great containers, by the way), and it doesn't take too long. If you're growing a basic traditional style, start with a layer of charcoal, followed by pebbles, soil, and moss. Seat your plants in the soil and then add any decor that appeals to you.

The enclosed environment helps to keep the soil moist, though your plants may need misting now and then. Fertilizer is recommended every six months or so, depending on the plant species. If you're making a terrarium for someone who isn't very plant savvy, write up some clear, easily followed directions to make it easy for her to take care of things.

Succulents make a great choice for terrariums, because they thrive in a variety of environments and they can take some abuse. Ferns are classic, of course. Any species suited to bonsai can handle a terrarium too, although you'd better be ready to train it. These plants are just the tip of the iceberg, though -- and you can also go big with the help of a handyman if you want to build a giant tank for some of your favorite plants. (You can even mix and match styles with an aquatic terrarium nestled inside a bigger dry one!)

Need some inspiration? Check out these terrarium posts on Hometalk, which include tons of plants, styles, and tutorials. You'll be boggled by the options. I know I was...

Katie Marks writes for

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