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Katie Elzer
Photographs by Katie Elzer

I have enjoyed making and caring for terrariums since I was a little girl. When approached by Cool Springs Press to write a book on miniature gardens--including terrariums--I jumped at the chance! 

There's just something special about tabletop-sized gardens, and terrariums and aeriums in particular. I like planting in unusual containers and scout the glassware sections of home stores, flea markets, and consignment shops. Because of the move away from the 70's aquarium terrarium look and toward more sophisticated designs, terrariums are becoming an almost de-facto part of indoor decor. You can now find containers made specifically for planting terrariums and aeriums. I'm in love with Roost recycled glass hanging terrarium containers. That's what I used to create the "Underwater Aerium" in my book.

What are terrariums and aeriums?

Terrariums and aeriums are container plantings created in clear glass containers. I generally think of terrariums as container plantings that have plants growing in soil and aeriums as arrangements of air plants. Both incorporate living plants, but only terrariums have "earth" (terra) in them. 

Clear glass works the best, in terms of containers, so that all spectrums of light reach the plants. 

Terrariums can be open or closed, but the tall walls or relatively enclosed space of the container helps elevate the humidity around the plants and cuts down on watering time and care. Whether the terrarium is open or closed depends on the types of plants in the container. 

Are you ready to plant? Here are some tips on how to keep your aeriums and terrariums looking good. 

Terrarium and Aerium Tips

  • Plant like with like. Don't mix succulents with ferns and low-light plants with high-light plants. Everything might do OK for a time, but you'll have to replant pretty fast. 
  • Consider size while planting. Unless you have a fairly large container, you need to start with small plants. One-inch pots are best. 
  • Use sterilized soil when planting. Don't dig up soil or grab moss from your yard. The fungi and bacteria in the soil generally find an enclosed terrarium to be quite a hospitable environment and can swiftly turn you miniature world to mush.
  • Careful on the watering. The biggest problem with terrariums and miniature gardens is overwatering. It is easy to overwhelm plants growing in such small containers. I always keep a close watch on terrariums right after planting. If they're too wet (rotting and turning yellow), I'll leave the lid off. If they're too dry, (plants are drooping, wilting) I'll add a touch more water. Aeriums with air plants have the opposite problem. Spray them with water twice a week. Many people don't water their aeriums enough. 
  • Provide light. I think that sometimes people forget that terrariums and aeriums are planted with living plants and they need light in order to grow. For enclosed terrariums, light is especially important, because the plants need to photosynthesize in order to keep the water cycle going (which allows them to go months, if not years, without watering).
  • Get out the scissors. I've noticed that the plants in my terrariums grow slower than plants, say, outside, but they do occasionally need a trim. Particularly the more aggressive ones. 
  • If air plants start looking crispy, take them out and soak them. 

Take these tips and start planting! For more project ideas check out "Miniature Gardens: Design and create miniature fairy gardens, dish gardens, terrariums, and more--indoors and out".

Posted March 2014

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