Monday, June 3, 2013

DIY Terrarium

You know how they say succulents are impossible to kill? It's a lie.

About two months ago, on an impromptu trip to Home Depot to price out several big ticket items for the house, I convinced a begrudged husband to let me bring home a small assortment of succulents to go in some DIY chalkboard pots (a revamp of a sweet wedding gift that just didn't jive with my decor taste). He was skeptical at my ability to keep them alive, despite my well documented track record of keeping him and several animals from perishing.

After the initial "that's $10 I'll never see again," he agreed and I happily brought a small assortment home with me and carefully repotted them. Very proud of one of my first Martha Moments, I went to bed.

Now before you say Pat was right, there's more to this story.

That first night, I did not realize the allure of small water-balloon shaped leaves. I placed my new little friends on an accent table, which, unbeknownst to me, was well within the cat's reach. I woke up to find potting soil and little succulent guts everywhere. I attempted to save them and while several held on for a few days, there was only one survivor. One very boring survivor.

Due to my very fast failure as a plant parent and some pure laziness, I left him like this for the better part of two months, in a succulent graveyard. I've come to call him Charity Plant, because he's a complete charity case. Every time I went to water him, it made me a little sad and eventually I realized this little guy needed new friends.

In an effort to make my next attempt more cat-resistant I decided a terrarium was a good fit. And considering I already had a hurricane glass and river rocks, the total price of this project appeared to be just the cost of the new plants, a very affordable $6.

What you need:
  • Glass container
  • River rocks or sand (allegedly sand is better for desert plants like succulents, but not nearly as pretty)
  • Potting soil
  • Plants
Now, I've heard that if you do a closed-top terrarium, you need to add some activated charcoal between the river rocks and soil to prevent mildew. Since I'm doing an open-topped hurricane glass I decided to save my money.

First, add the river rocks or sand. This provides drainage at the bottom so the soil doesn't stay too moist for plants that love arid weather. I originally added about 1 1/2 inches, but it pushed the plants to high in the glass for my tastes. I took out several stones from the center, leaving extra around the edge creating a concave surface. 

I filled the center with potting soil and placed the root ball of the largest plant in the center. I let the river rocks show a little higher at the sides so you see more pretty stones and less dirt. I then placed a thin layer of soil to hide the large root ball.

Here's where my plan went astray: I pull the middle sized plant from it's pot and it had hella scary roots. You can only see the big pieces in the pic, but it looked like dozens of little snakes in the soil.

No way that's going in a terrarium with glass sides. It looks like claws that want to cut all the other plants. And Charity Plant has been through enough. I instantly knew the one big plant and Charity Plant couldn't fill the terrarium by themselves, but I went ahead and put them together to get an idea of what types of new plants to get. Pretty sad, right?

Since nearly everything would make charity look diminutive, I decided several small plants would be good with the one large plant being a focal.

After a quick trip to Lowe's and Boone/me getting approached and verbally berated by some lady who could not believe my audacity to bring a dog to the pet-friendly garden section of a home improvement store ("it's not PetSmart, you know") I came home with a few smaller succulents to help Charity Plant not look so sad. And yes, I checked the root balls at the store to make sure there were no unexpected surprises. Total cost including new plants and fresh potting soil: $18.

Then all that was left was to put the new plants in place and finishing it off with another layer of potting soil which I gently pressed down to make sure the plants were adequately supported, but not smothered. A little compressed air got most of the loose dirt off the leaves. Here's a look at the finished product:

You can barely even see Charity, he's on the left side behind some glare. Even though this project is technically inspired by him, I'm kinda happy his boring-ness is hidden by the other more interesting plants. He's like the nerd who inexplicably is friends with all the cool kids.

Boone wanted to show off the new, hopefully cat-proof home of my succulents.

And in a moment of blog honesty (blognesty?), here's the mess I made on the balcony to create my terrarium:

Addendum: Root Rot is a thing. I retract what I said about not using activated charcoal. Use it. For your plant's sake, use it.

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