Is this terrarium viable?

GardenCameraNut(9, 7)April 30, 2013

Hello! I'm a first-time poster here. My daughter won an 8" round covered glass terrarium, and is thrilled to pieces with her prize. (She's also very proud that her 'prize' reflects her initiative to use a volume equation to estimate the number of items in a large jar instead of guessing. Woo!)

Mom here has never been too interested terrariums before; I guess creating a humid environment seems redundant as we live in Florida. But I am an experienced gardener. I look in this charcoal-and-marble-bottomed wonder she was lovingly handed at an earth day event, and things appear more and more amiss.

First, the mix of plants seems incompatible to me. I see what appears to be a leggy begonia, an equally leggy portacula, aloe vera, pink polka-dot plant, and a grass growing from a corm. Will these plants actually live together in a terrarium or is this a hot mess?

Next, I was concerned that nearly all the plants have soft, brown shriveled brown areas on their leaves that looked almost like a wilt. I pinched them off just now. If it is a wilt, fungus, or other weirdness how do you deal with it in this biosphere setup?

Finally, how should this smell? When I lifted the lid it smelled mustier than expected, to point of slightly soured. Is that normal, especially with just charcoal and glass in the bottom? (btw I have no idea what kind of water has been used)

This is sitting smack-dab in a place of great honor, the middle of the breakfast room table. It gets filtered indirect sunlight at least 10 hours.

I chuckled when I saw a heading about a fifty-something year old terrarium. Our sweet, glass-ensconced centerpiece is looking somewhat questionable to me after about that many hours.

What are your thoughts? Will this work? I'm sure my daughter would like to keep it intact (if possible). Any suggestions? Thank you!

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paul_(z5 MI)

Well the good news is that you have some plant experience. The bad news is that you are quite correct ... this arrangement is indeed a "hot mess".

Unfortunately I don't have the time quite at this moment to go into the lengthy details. Until I or someone else does, perhaps you find it useful to start with the FAQ for this forum and then -- using this forum's search engine -- to seek out threads that may have useful info. There really is a great deal of info to be found here.

Some addition info that may prove useful for those who would offer advice ...
1) How big is the container?
2) What kind(s) of plants would your daughter most be interested in growing?
3) Will you be able to get either rain water, distilled water, or RO water for watering the terr?

(And congrats to your daughter on winning her prize!)

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 10:39PM
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paul_(z5 MI)

I personally am very skeptical of the claims made as to the "53yr-old" terr. There is the tendency to accept anything found on the internet as "true", but that is neither here nor there with regards to your post.

Is the terr your daughter won also 8" tall or is that just the width?

None of those plants will survive in an enclosed terr long term. Few plants, for that matter, will do well in the stagnant conditions of a sealed terr. Molds/fungi, however, will have an absolute "field day" under such conditions. The smaller the container, the more true this will be.

Does your daughter currently have any interest in gardening? A small terr like that will not be maintenance free. If she currently does like gardening, this will fit in with that interest. If she does not, then perhaps this terr will provide a "spark" to jumpstart an interest in gardening.

The majority of plants people generally use in terrs will -- if happy with the conditions -- quickly outgrow the space. This will then necessitate pruning from time to time. And because some plants send out 'runners' or because of 'volunteer' plants springing up from whatever media is used, occasional weeding will, in all likelihood, be needed. Nothing terribly laborious, but just a heads up on some maintenance aspects to be aware of. This is also something worth keeping in mind when choosing plants.

Should be done sparingly (more frequent watering will be needed should you and your daughter decide to leave the top off of the terr -- which would be my recommendation, btw). Remember that it is always better to err on the side of caution and use too little water than to use too much -- you can always add more water if needed, but removing excess water is virtually impossible from a practical point of view.

Only use rainwater, distilled water, or RO water. Tap water tends to contain too many minerals and other contaminants (like the fluoride many municipalities add to the water supply) which can quickly build up to lethal levels in the confines of a terr.

Bright indirect light is best though your kitchen table area will likely be far too dim from a plant's standpoint to be a "permanent" home. Avoid direct hot sun unless you wish to "cook" the terr's contents (and it doesn't take long for lethal temps to be reached -- especially in a sealed terr).

Choose plants that will stay tiny. Even most of those will require pruning/weeding every so often but will be less of a headache than larger plants.

Personally, I would advise you and your daughter to avoid cacti/succulents when you pick out the plants to use. Simply put, they do not make good long term terr plants. In providing for their high light requirements, one is likely to fry them. One overwatering mistake is all it takes to kill them off in most cases.

For cheap plant sources, you can check at your local big box store, but keep in mind that the plants will not likely be truly tiny growers. Things like polka dot plants (Hypoestes) or fittonia are common at the BBSs but will quickly out grow a terr. (They do offer the advantages though of being very cheap, easily obtained, and grow pretty fast.)

Ferns typically with completely overrun and outgrow such a small terr in no time.

Ivies, IME, are MAJOR spidermite magnets, and in an enclosed terr are highly subject to powdery mildew. I would not recommend using them.

There are a number of sources for mini plants -- unfortunately most are not truly mini enough for a terr that size. (In some cases they are sold while teeny but will get far too large over time.)

Black Jungle Terrarium Supply and Josh's Frogs are probably two of the best known suppliers of terr plants. They can easily be found online by Googling. Again, be forewarned that most of the plants they offer will not stay mini in comparison to a terr as small as your daughter's.

You might want to keep your eyes open in your search for plants for Epipremnum Pincushion or African Violet Blue Twinkle or Pink Twinkle. (The Twinkles will eventually try to take over a small terr like yours but they are easy enough to cut back.) The AVs mentioned aren't too terribly hard to find but the Epip. will likely be another story. I haven't seen it offered on any professional site. The link at the bottom of the page will take you to a page from my album. These are plants I sell from time to time. Most would be far too large for your daughter's terr, but you can see both photos of Pincushion and Blue Twinkle to see what they are like.

Don't use any of the garbage that has "fertilizer added". In the confines of a terr, one is likely to run into issues of mineral buildup.

A "light", "airy" mix with a lot of large particulates like perlite would be a wise choice. The media should be lightly moist before added to the terr. (When the moisten media is squeezed in your hand as you make a fist, no water should come dripping out. If it does then it is likely too wet.)

Don't bother with putting gravel or such in the bottom for a "drainage layer". The usefulness of such is a bunch of hokum in the majority of set-ups.

Media should occupy about 1/3-1/2 of a container that size. (I know, unfortunately, that does not leave you with much 'headroom' to play with.)

Hope this was helpful.

Here is a link that might be useful: a couple plants

    Bookmark   May 10, 2013 at 3:10PM
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