Thursday, June 11, 2015

How to Make a Terrarium Last

I want to be honest with you about how long you can expect your terrarium to last and thrive.  Many blogs show fast and easy terrarium crafts in tiny glass vessels and bubbles, but they rarely show you what a tiny terrarium will look like after three months.  Probably dried out or moldy.  Tiny terrariums are cute if you think of them as a cut flower arrangement.  But part of the thrill of building terrariums is chasing the lasting terrarium, which sometimes means restarting, trying new combinations of plants, soil, and containers - until the ecosystem clicks and then plants thrive.  My longest-lasting terrarium was built in a wine jug and lasted about three years.  It looked a lot like the photo above from Note the deep moss roots, and appearance of algae type stuff in the bottom layers of the soil. This is what a slice of the outdoors looks like under glass!

Secrets to a Long-Lasting Terrarium

  1. Use a large enough glass container. A general equation seems to be, the larger the container, the better the chance the terrarium has to thrive.
  2. Use an adequate amount of soil. If plants are to grow, they will need some space.
  3. Use healthy plants and moss that have been inspected for insects and washed if needed. Select plants that have similar light and water requirements (e.g. woodsy ferns with moss, succulents with cacti.) See 19 of the most popular terrarium plants.
  4. Keep up with terrarium maintenance! This includes managing water and temperature levels (e.g. water occasionally and don't leave it in full sun all day).  You might need to put a lid on your terrarium occasionally to help keep water in the system.  You might need to remove dead leaves or scrub the sides of the container of algae fuzz.
  5. If all else fails, try again. Don't be afraid to restart your terrarium if mold takes over, plants die, or insects infest.  Shake it all out, scrub out the container with water and a bit of bleach, and try again when it is dry.  Fresh plants and soil!
How long has your healthiest terrarium lasted? 53 years?

53 year old terrarium

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Is Moss Magic?

Goblins' Gold (Photograph: Matt Goff)
Oh the attraction of simple moss.  A vibrant green patch, a soft carpet on the forest floor or alongside a creek.  Many terrarium builders seek moss for their projects as its diminutive scale suits terrarium life quite well.  But the world's fascination with moss runs much deeper than just crafting.  Moss has associations with magic, with fairies gardens, with damp and shady glens.  Botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer explores the abstract side of moss in her book Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses.  Her affection for common moss is apparent, but her scientific knowledge of bryology allows her to share stories of some of the world's most spectacular and unusual moss.  Kimmerer describes Schistostega pennata, known as Goblins’ Gold, a unique moss that subsists in a rare habitat where the undersides of rocks along a lake receive reflected light. 
"The shimmering presence of Schistostega is created entirely by the weft of nearly invisible threads crisscrossing the surface of the moist soil. It glows in the dark, or rather it glitters in the half light of places which scarcely feel the sun.... Rain on the outside, fire on the inside. I feel a kinship with this being whose cold light is so different from my own. It asks very little from the world and yet glitters in response."
Read more about this singular book at Brain Pickings.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Living Walls Create Landscapes Indoors

Photo: Ema Peter, Design: Gustavson
Wylie Architects, from The Globe and Mail
Green walls or living walls are an indoor gardener's largest scale project.  The idea of water seeping down walls might be enough to scare you off the idea, but if you are willing to put in a bit more money or effort, you too could arrange a vertical landscape in your dwelling. 

The multi-story living wall design at Lululemon Athletica in Canada contains over 2,000 individual plants, designed by Vancouver design firm Green over Grey.  Employees that work in the building cherish this bit of green to get them through long grey winters. “On one of those dark, rainy, typical Vancouver days … it feels refreshing to come in here” says Lululemon’s Karen O’Connor.  Large scale living walls such as this need a built in feeding and watering system behind the wall.

If built-in infrastructure sounds beyond your pocketbook, there are plenty of modular living plant arrangements that can be displayed on a wall.  Another Vancouver company, ByNature, offers its ModuloGreen living walls, which are soil-based and come with compact automatic irrigation systems.

Read more about compact living wall arrangements at The Globe and Mail.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Which to Use: Craft Moss or Living Moss?

Craft moss above, real moss below.
Photo by Janit Calvo,
The Mini Garden Guru
Moss is a central supply for many popular gardening crafts, including terrariums, fairy gardens, kokedama and more. When do you need to use living moss for your craft and when will craft moss work? The simple answer is: use living moss in projects with real soil and real plants, keep craft moss for "dry" projects, such as a short-term terrarium, a project with fake plants, or no soil.

Living moss is green and vibrant, with fibrous roots visible when you pull apart the pieces of moss. You might find living moss in your yard, the forest or at a garden supplier. You may choose to wash your moss of critters and rocks if you harvest it from your yard. Use living moss alongside other living plants, in displays you want to last and grow.  Examples are fairy gardens and terrariums with living plants. Note that living moss will not thrive in a succulent terrarium with sandy soil.  Moss prefers richer soil and humid conditions.

Craft moss is also known as preserved moss, reindeer moss, and any other dried thing that you might find in a plastic bag at a craft store. It has a brittle touch like a dried sponge, and may have artificial green color applied. It also sometimes appears in fluffy, cloud shaped tufts. Craft moss will not revive with water and soil, but is more likely to become musty and rotten over time. Craft moss is excellent for "one time use" terrarium projects, like wedding centerpieces or displays. Craft moss may also be used in a faux terrarium that contains artificial plants or no soil.

Sphagnum moss is a garden supply product, formed of the long fibrous strands of plant material.  It is often used or to line hanging wire baskets, or kokedama balls.  I also recommend using sphagnum moss to form a filter layer between your terrarium soil layer and gravel layer, to prevent soil mixing down into the bottom of your terrarium.  Sphagnum moss is not to be confused with peat moss, the short fibered, acidic mulch used as soil amendment in container gardening.

Read more about identifying the difference between real moss and craft moss at the Miniature Gardener.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Easy Easter Decor: Wheatgrass in Mason Jar Terrarium

Spring greenery is a natural decoration for Easter, especially lovely green grass.  Bring the spring greenery indoors by sowing some wheatgrass seeds in mason jars! It's all the fun of watching a chia pet grow without the annoying chia-part of the chia pet and will make a precious Easter tablescape....

Photo by Yolanda at Monkey See - Monkey Do.