Terrarium

December ushers in the beautiful season of ice and snow. This is also the season when tradition invites us to find the green in nature and bring it indoors.

One of my favorite ways to do that as a child was to make a terrarium, or a miniature forest in a jar. Your child’s terrarium can be housed in something as elegant as a fish bowl or as ordinary as a jar.

The bigger the better! Do you have an empty aquarium? The next step is to gather materials from the forest.

By December, only a few forest plants will still be green. Seeking out good candidates for a terrarium is a fun way to get your child to notice small plants that are often overlooked. Even when it’s snowy, you are likely to find evergreen plants on exposed ledges or sunny slopes. 

Partridgeberry and wintergreen are among the small, evergreen, forest plants that are abundant in our area. They both have attractive, leathery leaves, red berries and thrive in the low-light and high-moisture conditions of an indoor terrarium. You might also find small evergreen ferns that will fit in your container.

Mosses are ideal plants for terrariums. Take your time and see if you can find a few different kinds of moss. Lichen also adds interesting colors and textures to these miniature worlds.

Sticks, stones and fungi are among the many treasures that can be included. Gather some soil from the forest floor, enough to be 2-to-3 inches deep in your container.

Finally, collect enough pebbles to form a drainage layer on the bottom. It’s time for assembly.

Layer the pebbles and soil, and then have your child select her favorite treasures to arrange in the terrarium. Because moisture is high in a terrarium and the small evergreen plants tend to have shallow roots, you don’t need to worry much about careful planting, just try to get soil covering most of the roots. Moss and lichens can just rest on the soil surface.

You will need to experiment a little with how well to ventilate your little garden. If you leave a top on the container, condensation will form on the inside surface. If the top is completely open, the terrarium will need to be watered. A few holes poked in the top might be the solution.

Now your family can enjoy a little forest right through the winter, and develop an appreciation for the beauty of small things. Oh, and of course, terrariums make wonderful holiday gifts that your child will take joy in creating.

Happy December!