• How long will a terrarium live?
  • A lot of variables affect any living thing, but with proper care, a terrarium should live and grow for many years.  Most of them will change in appearance as the plants grow and are trimmed, some may dominate and if you are not careful, even crowd out another less vigorous neighbor.  Although the jungle look is cool, it is important to keep the plants trained to the space; if they get too crowded, they will begin to suffer from lack of air circulation.  It is easier to keep them trained small than try to take them back down after they get BIG.  I have terries that are as much as four years old that are still just abiding on my countertop – since I sell them, it’s hard for me to keep them for long without someone begging me to let it go…

  • I’ve made terrariums before but they never live very long. Why do Green Mansions live for years?
  • I’ve devoted a lot of time to learning the science behind making a microcosm that will hum along with very little outside intervention beyond wiping the schmutz off the glass and trimming the more boisterous growers as needed.

  • Where do you get the plants for terrariums?
  • Well, YOU can get them from ME.  Sometimes you might find suitable plants at a big box store, if you get there the first or second day after delivery, and know what to look for.  Most of the local nurseries deal only in outdoor plants or “cast iron” larger tropical houseplants.  Most of what works for terries requires such a humid environment that they are too much trouble for a busy retailer to keep up with.  Eventually I’ll post some photos and info about good plants for terries, but not yet…

    I’m always looking for new plant sources – most of my travel includes trips to local greenhouses and gardens, and I have many online friends around the country who share cuttings and etc. from their terrariums and vivariums.  I grow my own plants as much as possible, mostly on shelves under plastic domes under lights, including the mosses and ferns that sprout from them that are perfect for training to stay small in glass homes.  I hope to have a greenhouse in the next year or so to really expand my collection.

  • So what should I do different to make it work?
  • Well, the BEST thing to do would be to come to one of my workshops for hands on learning, and leave with a Green Mansion to be your new little friend.  Otherwise, take a look at the directions for planting and maintaining terrariums here:

    Start with a layer of pebbles, marble chips, or lava rock. Rinse well to remove dust; it’s ok to put in wet. You can also use glass marbles, etc. But not metal or anything that decays. You want the layer to at least cover the surface. You want the substrate to fill about a third of the container.

    Then sprinkle liberally with activated carbon; not a solid layer, but be generous. Use activated carbon specific to horticultural or aquarium use. This helps keep the substrate “sweet,” it absorbs odors and helps inhibit fungus, etc.

    Third layer, long fiber sphagnum moss for horticulture use. Don’t buy it in a floral department, it will have been treated for use in decor. Soak the moss, pulling the clumps apart, and make sure it saturates all the way through, with no dry spots. Squeeze lightly but do not wring it dry, you want t to avoid having water draining down into the bottom gravel if possible. Layer the moss to totally cover the gravel and form a barrier to the soil mix.

    It is essential that you use the proper substrate for drainage, water retention, and nutrition.  Many people get the right ingredients, then don’t realize that the sphagnum moss and soil mix have to be soaking wet before you put into the container – you can’t wet them properly after they are layered and planted.

    Finally, add your soil mix. I make a mix with coco fibre, peat moss, sand, mushroom compost, topsoil, and whatever else looks good when I’m mixing.  Don’t use anything with food added, especially something like Miracle Gro, or anything that has ground wood pulp in it.  Although it does help to put some well chopped pine bark chips to help deter molds and fungus. Be sure to soak it well first, you can’t water it after you put it in the container.

    The basic rule of thumb for proportion is to have 1/3 substrate, 1/3 plant, and 1/3 open space.

    Add plants!

    I don’t recommend, and these instructions are not for, planting with succulents.  I love succulents, but they are not suitable for terrariums – in fact, if you have to have succulents in a glass container, the proper name is desertarium…

    My Green Mansions are miniature rainforests and stream beds, always kept covered with a clear glass top, and are moist hotbeds of life that would rot a sweet little succulent in a few days.  Sad face.

    Ok, there’s more to it than that, but you get the idea. I have workshops often, so if you want to learn more, sign up to come build a little world at my Green Mansion and leave with a head full of the art and science behind successful terrariums.  I also sell kits with all the substrate ingredients and a great soil mix – check in the store (if it’s ready, it’s a work in progress…) or shoot me a message to let me know the container size, etc.

    Hope you have a great time and enjoy your new little friend. Contact me if you have any questions.


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