Northern Michigan Style Terrarium: Garden in a Jar

A Northern Michigan style terrarium is an easy way to bring your garden inside, year round.

1. Select a container. Terrariums don’t have to be confined to an old goldfish bowl or aquarium – instead, you can add flair by picking a decorative jar or bottle. Large kitchen canisters, mason jars and water jugs all fit the bill. Choose clear glass or plastic to allow plenty of light. A wide mouth for easy planting and a lid to retain moisture in your mini ecosystem will help.

2. Assemble the rest of your supplies: a container, coarse clean gravel, activated charcoal (the kind used for aquarium filters), sphagnum moss, sterile potting soil and a selection of plants. A fork, teaspoon and chopsticks make handy tools.

3. Wash and rinse your container with a mild bleach solution or run it through your dishwasher to make sure it’s good and clean.

4. Layer gravel in the bottom quarter of the jar. Top with 1/2 inch of charcoal and a light layer of damp sphagnum. These will provide drainage, filtering against stagnation and a barrier to keep soil from plugging up the layers below. Then add several inches of sterile potting soil. Contour it for a “landscaped” look.

5. Choose plants that favor similar growing conditions when it comes to moisture and light. Slow-growing or miniature varieties are most suitable. You’ll create the most interest with varying heights and textures. Bog plants such as sundew and Venus fly trap as well as mini peperomia, begonias and sansevieria all lend themselves to terrariums.

6. Create appropriate planting holes. The root ball can be left just as it comes out of the nursery pot. Remember, you want these plants to remain dwarfed, much like a bonsai. Settle the plants in.

7. When all is arranged, mist lightly to clean stray dirt off plants and jar sides. Excess water will encourage fungus and disease growth. The garden will become a closed system once you put the lid on. Now place in good light, but not directly in the sun. Enjoy!

Stella Otto is the nationally recognized author of The Backyard Orchardist and The Backyard Berry Book.[email protected]

This article was first published in January 2008, and was updated for the web February 2008.

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