How to Make a Self-Sustaining Terrarium
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Baxton.me
5 November 2017

How to Make a Self-Sustaining Terrarium

Homeowners and tenants in Hobart enjoy a pleasantly mild climate for outdoor gardening, but indoor plants can present an annoying problem. Indoor plants are all too easy to love to death – or else we neglect them and have a dead plant on our conscience! In today’s world, low to no maintenance is the way to go, and the self-sustaining terrarium solves this problem while being fun to make and pretty to look at.


Over 40 years in a bottle

In the year 1960, a man called David Latimer created a bottled terrarium – and that terrarium is still going strong after 40 years. Most interestingly of all, he has never watered it in all this time. The team at Hobart Property management was amazed – and though we’re only just about to try this for ourselves, we thought we’d share his secret with our homeowners and tenants in Hobart. Try this little recipe, have some fun, and be sure to tell us what results you got.

Choosing your container

Since you’ll be planting your terrarium in a jar which you’ll later seal, you will need plants that can fit through the neck of the bottle. Mr Latimer’s terrarium has a very narrow neck, so he must have started with very small plants, placing them with chopsticks or a long-handled pair of tweezers. But you can use vessels with wider necks – the main criterion is that you should be able to seal the bottle with a cork or lid when you are finished.

The idea is that the plants will use the water, but will later give off the moisture through their leaves. This condenses on the bottle and voila! You have a mini-rain-forest environment. You can use mason jars, old-fashioned corked bottles, or even a fish tank in which to build your miniature jungle.

Picking your plants

The word “rain forest” should already give you a hint of the type of plants to choose. They will generally be plants that like high humidity. But most indoor plants and ferns will fit the bill with ease. Do make sure that the plants are in good health. The same environment in which they will thrive could also promote the development of any existing problems like fungal rots or even insect infestations.

Your plants should also like shady to low-light conditions. Leaving your terrarium to bake in the sun is a no-no. So, once again, the indoor plants section of your local garden centre will be the best place to start shopping.

Layer up your substrate

Anyone who has grown plants before will know that drainage is important for healthy plants. Since your container is a sealed environment, you’ll provide a drainage reservoir by using a layer of pebbles as the lowest layer of your planting substrate.

Now for the big secret that few people know: use activated charcoal for your next layer. It will help to neutralize any toxins and should help to limit fungal growth. Activated charcoal isn’t the same sort that you use on your BBQ, so get yours from a pet shop or ask your local garden centre if they have some in stock.

You don’t want fine particles of potting soil clogging up the works, so a coffee filter or covering of sphagnum moss serves as your next layer. You’re now ready to add potting soil and plants to the equation.

Plant it up

Most plants will tolerate some root disturbance better than you expect, so if you have to squish up the root balls a little to fit into the space, it shouldn’t be a problem. Make sure the soil is moist but not soggy and if you have to add extra fill, let it be moist and crumbly. Tamp it down with a stick or simply tap the bottle’s bottom on the table to help it settle. Now, it’s time to add a little décor. Pebbles make a good topping, but anything inert will do.

Get the balance right

Once you’ve capped your bottle, you effectively have a closed system, but you still need to get the balance just right. During the first couple of weeks, you might decide to add a little moisture using a spray bottle or else uncap your bottle and let a little moisture evaporate if things look to soggy. According to everything we’ve read, your self-sustaining terrarium will be ready to grow and thrive for years once you’ve got the balance just right.


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The information contained in this article is based on the authors opinion only and is of a general nature which is not indicative of future results or events and does not consider your personal situation or particular needs. Professional advice should always be sought relevant to your circumstances.

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