Winter Project: How to Make a Plant Terrarium

Reader Contribution by Jessy Rushing
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Jessy Rushing is a Texas gardener who fell in love with herbs after tripping into a rosemary shrub one day. The scent on her clothes cheered her up all afternoon. Her curiosity was aroused and since then her herb gardening has been part investigation, part experimentation and most importantly, part delight.

When I was a young wife in the 1970s, you couldn’t swing a macramé plant holder without hitting a terrarium. Times have changed, but when winter comes the urge to garden doesn’t disappear. The weather is too raw and cold to play with my plants outside; most of them are sleeping anyway. What’s a gardener to do? Terrariums!

A simple terrarium can allow you to continue gardening through the winter months.
Photo by Jessy Rushing

The supplies for a simple terrarium are few and easily attainable. You’ll need:

• A glass container, with or without a lid. I got this one at The Container Store, but I’ve also found great ones at garage and estate sales, Target or Hobby Lobby. My container is 9 inches in diameter and about 12 inches in height. I probably could have added another plant, but I couldn’t resist adding fairy garden furnishings instead.

• Enough tiny pebbles to cover 1 to 2 inches of your container for drainage.

• Activated carbon. Available in different sized boxes at pet stores in the fish department. You’ll need to cover the pebbles to about 1/2 inch.

• A water-permeable barrier to keep the soil from drifting to the pebbles. If you have some landscape cloth, that’s fine, but I usually stretch out a knee-high stocking then cut it up the side. Don’t worry if it doesn’t cover all the charcoal around the edges.

• Good quality organic potting soil from a garden center. I don’t like to skimp on this step. A terrarium is a mini-ecosystem and my plant relies on good soil to thrive.

• Your plant(s), depending on the size of your container. I used thyme ‘Creeping Mother’ (Thymus serpyllum), but any small, low growing plant will do. If your plant starts to grow too tall or bushy, a few good snips will keep it small. Another reason to use herbs in the terrarium? Trim your plants to cook something warm and cozy. 

If your container isn’t large enough to stick your hand in, insert your carbon and soil with a funnel made from semi-stiff cardboard–the inserts that come in packaged shirts are perfect. A funnel will prevent carbon dust and soil from splashing up the sides of your container. A long teaspoon will dig a hole for the plant; you can use tongs to place it in your container. Attach an empty thread spool to one end of a wooded skewer with a rubber band and use this to tamp down the soil around the plant.

Use a funnel to deposit carbon and soil into your terrarium container.
Photo by Jessy Rushing

I always make a little hill for the plant to stand on. It gets more soil for its roots and the water has more soil to absorb it. Once I’ve inserted my plant I tamp the soil with the flat top of a wooden meat tenderizer mallet. Then the fun begins! I like to make my terrariums into wee fairy homes with all the comforts a hard working fairy could want. You could also use interesting rocks or small twigs to landscape your indoor garden. 

You may want to decorate your terrarium with fun fairy furniture.
Photo by Jessy Rushing

Once your terrarium is complete, water the plant and surrounding area. But not too heavily, especially if your terrarium has a lid. I used a 3-ounce bathroom paper cup and filled it up twice. It’s better to underwater than overwater. Beads of water running down the sides is normal in a closed container. After a few days, if condensation completely clouds the container, you’ll know you’ve added too much water. Remove the lid and let the garden dry out for a day or two.

 Place your terrarium in indirect light. A bright, sunny window might be too intense, but if there are sheer curtains, it should be fine. Mine is on a table by a south facing window with open blinds.
 Experiment with the spaces in your home and you’ll soon learn what your terrarium likes. Now, about those macramé plant hangers . . .

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