Refreshing the Terrariums

This afternoon I spent some time refreshing the terrariums. They were about six months overdue, because I've kind of had other things on my mind for the last six months.

Anyway, they were all gross and needed work, so today was the day.

Then a friend called while I was in the middle of this epic event and asked what I was up to, so of course I said I was refreshing the terrariums, and she asked if that was a euphemism. Then she laughed and said, "right, it's you. Not a euphemism."

Then I realized I needed to post about it.

Big terrarium before

I try to refresh the terrariums every six months or so, because that's about the amount of time it takes for them to get overgrown and develop an algae problem. You can hardly see the fern in this terrarium because the sides of the container are covered in green slime.

Refreshing is really just part of terrarium ownership. The point of it is to get the container clean so you can see through it, to remove algae that is probably all over everything, to feed the plants, to make sure they have enough water, to prune, to replace too-large plants, to replace dead plants, and so on. Basically, terrariums don't run forever looking the same. Unless they're all dead, and if that's what you want, go for it.

Container scrubbed

My first step is to remove the plants and ornaments, and give the container a thorough scrub. Then a 30-minute soak full of a 10% bleach solution to kill algae spores. I used to scrub them with soap, and while it's not any kind of problem for the plants like it would be for a fish tank, it doesn't help with the algae. And the soap doesn't make the container easier to clean, but it does make it hard to handle and requires a lot of rinsing, so I don't do that any more.

(Yes, the kitchen is a mess. When my friend called I'd gotten through most of the work already so there was dirt on pretty much every surface. Noel is at a conference and I am DESTROYING THE PLACE.)

Fern pruned

When the container is clean, I deal with the existing plants. I weed out anything that is failing to thrive. I take seedlings and baby plants (the mother ferns are notorious for their baby plants) and pot them separately, maybe put them in a different terrarium. For the big terrarium here I have one large central fern that had dead spots and needed pruning, so I took it to the sink and pulled out all the dead fronds, then loosened the soil at the roots and gave it a thorough soak because it was kind of dry at the center.

If I had done this six months ago when it was due, I would have noticed that this terrarium was a little dry and added more water, and maybe there would not have been so many dead spots, and I could have also pruned the fern down substantially. But I didn't and I didn't, so the fern needs to stay larger for now.

Fern and new lower story plants planted

I sometimes like to add "understory" plants, and I had some extra ones from another terrarium, so I put those in here, then planted the fern. You can do it the other way, big central plant first, but you get dirt everywhere. I try not to do too much rinsing after planting the plants, because the terrarium is a delicate balance and too much water is bad. Worse than too little.


The hardest part about this particular terrarium is that the lid has a hollow ball, so sometimes it is a pain to clean. Algae will grow up into the lids so those need to be cleaned as well, or they get cloudy and gross.

The very last thing I do is add the ornaments. I have a few of them and I move them from terrarium to terrarium, sometimes making little scenes.

The lower-story plants

This terrarium has a ceramic baby arm sticking out of the soil. If those Cotula squalida I planted take off, it will be particularly striking, I think.

Another terrarium

This is another terrarium. For this one I replaced an overgrown mother fern with a baby, and planted the Cotula squalida around the outside. Mother ferns seem to grow like mad in these terrariums, so soon this will look a little more size differentiated.

I have about seven terrariums now, mostly because they are the only way for me to have house plants with three enthusiastic cats. As it is, Dash got into the plants while I was working and ate a bunch of ferns, then barfed them up in the dining room, so you can see the containers are necessary. And terrariums totally fit with the Victorian house thing, so I can feel period authentic as well as kind of geeky.

posted by ayse on 11/11/13