CONSTRUCTING AND MAINTAINING A DISH GARDEN OR TERRARIUM

By The Old House Web

CONSTRUCTING AND MAINTAINING A DISH GARDEN OR TERRARIUM


A terrarium or dish garden is a collection of plants grown in a single container, one which is usually either completely or mostly enclosed. These gardens are an excellent place to grow plants which require a high degree of humidity. Dish gardens serve the same function, but differ in that the container is usually open.

Gardens grown in a dish or terrarium are of a temporary nature and are not intended to last forever. Most of the plants in the container will eventually grow too large, requiring a transplant into their own container. Also, it is not uncommon for one or more of the plants to die, spoiling the aesthetic effect of the planting. The growth of the plants within the garden can be prolonged by careful planting and maintenance procedures, but these will not become permanent gardens.

Containers designed for use as a terrarium or dish garden may be purchased in stores and garden centers, or can be created from a variety of household items. The containers must be large enough to hold a minimum of three inches of soil and should be roomy enough to hold three to five plants without excessive crowding. Drainage may be provided through the use of a 1 to 1 1/2 inch layer of coarse sand or pebbles, which are placed in the container bottom. The addition of charcoal will help to keep the soil from developing an unpleasant odor.

The soil used in the planting of these containers should be porous but low in fertility, as the function of the container is in in the maintenance of the plants within, not their growth. The faster the plants grow, the sooner transplanting becomes necessary. A good soil mixture is one part commercial potting soil to one part sand or perlite to one part peat moss or vermiculite. The soil should be sterilized for terrarium use, as high humidity will encourage the growth of any fungi or other organisms in the soil. The soil to be sterilized should be moistened and placed in a roaster oven bag, then baked for one-half hour at 200 degree F.

Correct selection of the plants to be incorporated into the garden is vital to its longevity. Small plants of varieties that do not grow quickly are the best choice; however, all of the plants should have the same cultural requirements. This ensures optimal growth, as all plants will share the same lighting and water requirements. Plants of assorted growth habits create a natural landscape, and the garden may be structured from the viewers point of view. If the garden is to be viewed from all sides, a large plant can be placed in the middle, with shorter plants between it and the container wall; if viewed only from one side, the tallest plant may be placed near the back of the container. Plants with variegated or unusually colored foliage should be limited, as too many unusual plants cause aesthetic "business". Vining plants are rarely appropriate for a terrarium unless they start very small.

Viewer attention to the garden may be drawn by a focal point, such as a small stone or twig. If statuary is to be used, it should be in scale with the planting.

No special tools are needed for planting a dish garden or an open mouthed terrarium. Narrow-mouthed terrariums require special tools to get the plant down into the terrarium and into the right spot, most of these can be supplanted by common household items. For example; a kitchen funnel is helpful in directing soil to one particular area, while a long slender rod such as a chopstick will help dig holes and move plant material around. Because a great deal of dexterity is required to plant a narrow-mouthed container, beginning gardeners are recommended to start with either an open mouthed terrarium or a dish garden.

The arrangement of the plants within the terrarium should be determined before planting commences. The gardener can trace the shape of the container onto a piece of paper and arrange the potted plants to test possible arrangements. Before planting, the bottom of the container should be lined with the the drainage material, which is them covered with several inches of slightly moistened soil. Holes large enough to encompass the rootballs of the plants should be dug from the soil. After removing the plants from their containers, set them in place while gently firming the soil around the rootballs. Do not crowd the plants or place them directly against the sides of the container. After planting, the soil should be moistened, yet not as so it becomes soggy. Soil particles adhering to the leaves or to the walls of the container may be removed with a gentle spray of water. The lid should then be placed on the enclosed terrarium; which should be checked frequently for the appearance of condensation. If there are large water drops on the glass, the container should be left open for some time. It may be necessary to keep the lid slightly askew to allow for some air circulation.

A completely enclosed terrarium requires little or no watering. The addition of water is only necessary if no condensation accumulates on the glass. If water is indeed needed, it should be added a small amount at a time. If no condensation has appeared by the next day, more water may be added. If excessive condensation occurs on the top, it may be left off until it dries. A dish garden or open terrarium should be watered as is a regular houseplant. The weight of the container will betray the need for water - its needs may be determined merely by lifting it up! When in doubt, water less, but watch carefully so that plants do not wilt.

The rate of growth is dependent upon the amount of light received: the less light received, the slower the growth. It is best to place terrarium planters in a location with the minimal amount of light that the plants in the dish garden will tolerate. With too much light, the temperatures in a completely enclosed terrarium may build up to toxic level; steaming the plants and allowing for algae growth on the glass of the container.

Container gardens are not usually fertilized, except in those cases where the soil mix consists entirely of such artificial soils as vermiculite and perlite. As these soil mixes contain no nutrients, additional fertilizer must be added to maintain natural plant growth. Long-lasting containers may also require some fertilizing, such as those consisting cacti collections. When fertilizing terrariums and dish gardens, it is best to use a very weak concentration of fertilizer. The plants should be carefully monitored, in watch for yellowing leaves which indicate a need for more nutrients.

The following plants are suitable for growth in a terrarium or dish garden:

African Violet - Container: Closed and open terrarium and dish garden. Light: Filtered light. Watering: Evenly moist and drench, dry out, drench.

Wild Violets - Container: Closed and open terrarium and dish garden. Light: Bright light, filtered light, and shade. Watering: Evenly moist and drench, dry out, drench.

Chinese Evergreen - Container: Open terrarium and dish garden. Light: Filtered light and shade. Watering: none.

Zebra Plant (Aphelandra) - Container: Open terrarium and dish garden. Light: Filtered light and shade. Watering: Evenly moist.

Norfolk Island Pine - Container: Open terrarium and dish garden. Light: Filtered light. Watering: Evenly moist.

Parlor Palm - Container: Open terrarium and dish garden. Light: Bright light, filtered light, and shade. Watering: Evenly moist and drench, dry out, drench.

Dracaena - Container: Open terrarium and dish garden. Light: Bright light and filtered light. Watering: drench, dry out, drench.

English Ivy - Container: Open terrarium and dish garden. Light: Bright light, filtered light, and shade. Watering: Evenly moist and drench, dry out, drench.

Peperomia - Container: Open terrarium and dish garden. Light: Filtered light. Watering: Drench, dry out, drench.

Aluminum Plant - Container: Open terrarium and dish garden. Light: Filtered light. Watering: Evenly moist.

Creeping Charlie (Pilea) - Container: Open terrarium and dish garden. Light: Filtered light. Watering: Evenly moist.

Artillery Plant - Container: Open terrarium and dish garden. Light: filtered light. Watering: Evenly moist.

Flame Violet (Episcia) - Container: Closed terrarium and open terrarium. Light: Filtered light. Watering: Evenly moist.

Fittonia - Container: Closed and open terrarium. Light: Filtered light. Watering: Evenly moist.

Baby's Tears (Heixine) - Containers: Closed and open terrarium. Light: Filtered light. Watering: Evenly moist.

Prayer Plant - Container: Closed and open terrarium. Light: Filtered light and shade. Watering: Evenly moist.

Sensitive Plant - Container: Closed and open terrarium. Light: Filtered light. Watering: Evenly moist.

Miniature Gloxinia - Container: Closed and open terrarium. Light: Filtered light. Watering: Evenly moist.

Snake Plant - Container: Open terrarium and dish garden. Light: Bright light, filtered light, and shade. Watering: Evenly moist; drench, dry out, drench; and dry. Arrowhead (Syngonium) - Container: Open terrarium and dish garden. Light: Filtered light. Watering: Evenly moist.

Cacti, Succulants - Container: Open terrarium and dish garden. Light: Bright light and filtered light. Watering: dry.

Star Plant (Cryptanthus) - Containers: Open terrarium and dish garden. Light: Bright light and filtered light. Watering: Drench, dry out, drench and dry.

Rosary Vine - Container: Dish garden. Light: Bright light. Watering: Drench, dry out, drench and dry.

Philodendron - Container: Dish garden. Light: Filtered light. Watering: Evenly moist.

Swedish Ivy (Plectranthus) - Container: Dish Garden. Light: Filtered light. Watering: Evenly moist.

Asparagus Fern - Container: Dish garden. Light: Bright and filtered light. Watering: Evenly moist.

Euonymus - Container: Dish garden. Light: Bright and filtered light and shade. Watering: Drench, dry out, drench.

Fatshedera - Container: Dish garden. Light: Filtered light. Watering: Drench, dry out, drench.

Wax Plant (Hoya) - Container: Dish garden. Light: Bright and filtered light. Watering: Drench, dry out, drench and dry.

Aechmea - Container: Dish garden. Light: Bright and filtered light. Watering: Dry.

Vase Plant (Billbergia) - Container: Dish garden. Light: Bright and filtered light. Watering: Dry.

SOURCE:

"Constructing and Maintaining a Dish Garden or Terrarium" by Nancy J. Butler

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