Terrariums do so much more than encapsulate our plants within the confines of a vessel. They capture a feeling. They capture a sense of wonder that a simple potted plant just can’t do. We can create entire worlds within a terrarium, and even ecosystems. They become a place that we can escape into for a mindful moment and use to amplify our passion for playing.
In this blog, terrarium guru Patricia of Doodle Bird Terrariums and Maria from Bloom & Grow Radio break down the differences and similarities of terrariums, paludariums, and vivariums to equip you with the knowledge you need to set your first one up!
What’s the Difference Between Terrariums, Vivariums, and Paludariums?
In the plant community, a terrarium usually refers to a small glass jar or fishbowl that has only plants inside. It’s not going to house any type of pet.
A vivarium, on the other hand, contains pets like frogs or lizards, but has plants too. It’s also typically much bigger than a terrarium.
A paludarium is a type of vivarium that’s usually an even larger enclosure. It incorporates both terrestrial and aquatic elements into it, so it’s like having an aquarium and a terrarium in one. It often houses animals like fish, lizards, or frogs in the top portion.
Benefits and Common Problems of Growing in a Terrarium
One of the benefits to a terrarium is being able to grow diverse plants that you might not have otherwise been able to, as they create a microclimate of higher humidity. Most miniature terrarium plants need very high humidity, which likely doesn’t exist in your home or garden!
Another benefit of terrariums is that they can be portable. If you’re traveling a lot and miss your plants, you can simply place them in a jar and take them with you.
A common problem in terrariums though, is mold growth. The warm, humid environment creates perfect conditions for mold to take over and eat away at your plants. You can prevent mold growth by avoiding biodegradable items in your terrarium like sticks, leaves, and pine cones. Adding little creatures like springtails and isopods (aka rolly pollies) that feed on decomposing materials can also significantly reduce mold growth.
How to Choose the Best Terrarium Plants
When choosing which plants you want in your terrarium, opt for smaller varieties of plants to avoid requiring you to keep sizing up your vessel.
Take advantage of the high humidity terrarium conditions and choose humidity-loving plants. Look for plants in the terrarium or fairy garden section at your local nursery for options.
Small and miniature orchids work really well in terrariums, growing only an inch or two high with pretty flowers. Peperomia Ripple (Peperomia caperata) grows well in a bigger jar and loves the terrarium environment.
Asparagus ferns (Asparagus aethiopicus), the little tree plant (Biophytum sensitivum), jewel orchids (Ludisia discolor), and creeping figs (Ficus pumila) are also great plant options for terrariums.
How to Set Up a Terrarium
- Aquarium tongs
- Spray bottle
- Small glass container
- Drainage layer: Espoma’s Horticultural Charcoal
- Soil: Espoma’s peat moss or coco coir base mixed with Espoma’s perlite or Espoma Potting Mix
Step 1: Make a list of plants you want in your terrarium. Do a quick search of conditions they prefer, including light, temperature, and moisture.
Step 2: For a humid-loving plant, choose a jar with a lid to maintain humidity. For a plant that needs to dry out a bit, opt for an open jar. You can find great jars secondhand at thrift stores or estate sales, but affordable glass jars are also available at home goods and craft stores.
Step 3: Layer your materials in your glass jar with horticultural charcoal, soil, and plants. Use aquarium tongs to place your plants in the soil and scissors to trim excess plant material.
Step 4: Water your terrarium using distilled water. Use a spray bottle for moss and if you have rooted plants, pour a small amount of water onto the soil.
Step 5: Add your bioactive creatures like springtails or isopods and place your lid on top for humidity-loving plants. (This is optional.)
Step 6: Put your completed jar in bright, indirect light and enjoy your new terrarium!
For a more in-depth look at building terrariums, vivariums, and paludariums, check out Patricia Buzo’s book, A Family Guide to Terrariums.
About Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast
Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast helps people care for plants successfully and cultivate more joy in their lives. Host Maria Failla, a former plant killer turned happy plant lady, interviews experts on various aspects of plant care, and encourages listeners to not only care for plants, but learn to care for themselves along the way.
About Our Interviewee
Patricia Buzo founded Doodle Bird Terrariums in 2008 out of her love of plants and creating unique works people would treasure. Each terrarium she creates is handcrafted using the highest grade plants and supplies, utilizing special tricks to carefully package these fragile vessels so they arrive safely.
Now, over 10 years later, she has authored the book A Family Guide to Terrariums, inspired many on her Instagram account, and has been featured in The New York Times.