People and plants: Terrariums

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With fall settling in and winter quickly approaching, I tend to turn my focus towards the indoor plants. I like the idea of a garden in a jar because I like anything that is low maintenance. If you’ve read my column for very long, you know it’s pretty much my way or the highway when it comes to my indoor plants. Because I have dozens of houseplants, I don’t have the time or patience for any prima donnas.

Terrariums are typically not complicated or demanding. With some planning and practice, even those who claim they lack green thumbs can have success.

The idea of gardening in transparent containers dates back more than 2,500 years ago in Greece. However, modern-day terrariums are credited to a 19th century London physician named N. B. Ward, who was studying a sphinx moth. Dr. Ward had buried the moth in soil inside a closed container. He then noticed some grass and a small fern growing inside. During the next four years, he never removed the cover and never added any water.

There are closed, open and dish terrariums. Each type has its own pros and cons. Some plants will prefer a closed environment, while others will do best in an open system. First, either decide what type of plant you want to grow or decide if you want a closed or open system for your miniature garden.

Regardless if you want an open or closed terrarium, always select dwarf, slow-growing plants or the miniature varieties of larger plants. For an open terrarium, these plants should do well: aeonium, aloe vera, cactus, echeveria, hens and chicks, jade, panda or a pencil plant. Keep in mind that if you were to plant succulents or cacti in a closed environment, they would likely rot and die due to the buildup of humidity and moisture.

Plants that are suitable for either an open or closed terrarium are: African violets, artillery fern, creeping fig, dwarf schefflera, ivy, palms, Rex begonia, spider plant and Venus fly trap.

Containers should be transparent glass or plastic. The plants inside may be low maintenance, but they will still need light, so avoid colored or translucent containers. You can get creative with the containers using items such as aquariums, glass jars, hanging spheres or globes, miniature greenhouses and even brandy snifters.

For more detailed instructions on supplies and assembling your terrarium, I would recommend the Oklahoma State University Extension or Mississippi State University Extension websites.

Arianna Kelley Rawlsky has an M.S. in horticulture and is the director of Bringing People and Plants Together, an organization dedicated to bringing horticulture education and therapy to the community. For more information: or follow us on Facebook.