Home Connections: Bringing the Forest Inside with Terrariums

by Melissa Harding


The winter is a hard time to be a plant person, especially a gardener. No one wants to putter around in the yard when the wind chill is below zero and, no matter how beautiful a fresh snowfall is, it is hard to plant flowers in a frozen ground. One way to cure the winter blues and feel more connected to nature is through the use of houseplants. Houseplants are beautiful and make a house feel homey; additionally, caring for houseplants can reduce stress and the plants themselves earn their keep by cleaning toxins out of the ambient air. Houseplants are a real winner and the winter is a great time to invest in some new ones! One of the ways that we get our students excited about houseplants in the winter is by planting terrariums. Children love to take home plants; planting a beautiful terrarium garden is a great way to combine the fun of taking home a plant with learning about tropical ecosystems, the water cycle and clean air plants.

Terrariums are not only on trend, but are a great way to give kids the experience of having their own greenhouses. Typically a terrarium is a closed ecosystem, with the water recycling itself over and over again. However, not every terrarium has to have a lid; in fact, sometimes it is better to leave the lid off if you are planting anything that would easily die from overwatering.  Plant selection is important in this regard. Some of our favorite plants to put in a terrarium with children are: mosses, spider plants, Pothos, and Philodendron. Make sure that the plants you choose are short enough to fit in your container, as it will look a little silly if it is not all the way inside the glass. Remember that after you add soil, there is significantly less space for your plant. If you want to mix it up, try some succulent plants in a lid-less “desert” terrarium.

Any clear glass container will make a great terrarium; finding jars that are uniquely shaped or particularly beautiful is fun, but a spaghetti sauce jar works just fine as well. This is also a chance to repurpose a recyclable item and give it new life, rather than purchasing something new. The same goes for plants; try taking a cutting or two from your favorite houseplants and propagating them within the terrarium, as the moist environment is great for root growth. Pothos and Philodendron are especially great plants for propagation.

To make your own terrarium, you will need:
Glass jar (lid optional)
Activated charcoal (available in pet stores near the aquarium section)
Potting soil
Small stones or gravel
Other decorative objects (optional).

1. Fill an inch of the bottom of a clean jar with charcoal.
2. Layer some small stones over the charcoal, followed by a layer of potting soil; this is necessary to assure proper drainage.
3. Plant your plants.
4. Give them a small drink of water. (Remember, the water that you add will remain in the terrarium until you open the lid, so just add a little.)
5. Add any decorative objects you wish and close the lid.

This is a great time to get creative – anything that will not decay in a wet environment is perfect for adding to a terrarium; plastic animals are a favorite of ours. You can also get creative by decorating the lid or the jar itself, taking care not to block too much of the light.

Terrariums are easy to make from materials that you already have. No activated charcoal, no problem! Feel free to improvise and have fun with your project. The goal is to have some fun with plants and create something that will inspire you and make you feel connected to nature for the cold months to come!

To read more about how nature, including plants, can make us happier, check out this post.

If you are interested in creating a fancy terrarium, check out Terrarium Ideas and Inspiration at By Stephanie Lynn. Very pretty!

Photos by Science Education and Research staff.

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