Terrariums add variety, depth, and beauty to your plant collection. You can easily make one at home out of an upcycled container. Creating an upcycled jar terrarium is also a fun and educational project to do with your kids.
Using materials that you already have on hand in a new way is upcycling. By using a large jar that has already served a purpose you extend its usefulness. Even if the jar’s eventual destination is a recycling facility, reusing it and extending its useful life is better for the environment than discarding it.
Terrariums are small, indoor, enclosed gardens that create a moist habitat with a different environment than your home. This means you can keep plants that would not usually thrive in your bioregion or the temperature that you keep your house. These plant containers need minimal care and upkeep because the moisture stays within the habitat much longer than a normal potted houseplant.
Terrariums are usually created with a clear container and have a lid. Some terrariums don’t have a lid but just a very small opening or they may use a container with tinted glass — but these options are not encouraged for first-time terrarium keepers. Terrariums generally should not be kept in a very warm or sunny location as they already create a greenhouse effect.
- Used jar (2 quarts or bigger): For your jar, the bigger the better. In this tutorial, we used a pretzel jar. An oversized pickle jar (2 quarts or bigger) works well.
- Soil: Add a just bit of compost to your potting soil if you have it.
- Rocks: Place small rocks or pebbles at the bottom of your terrarium to act as a water storage area.
- Used pantyhose (or moss, or other thin fabric): The pantyhose create a barrier between the rocks and the soil to make sure the voids between the rocks stay clear and don’t fill with soil. Cut your pantyhose with your scissors to size, layering where needed to cover all of the soil. You could also use a thick layer of moss or another thin, upcycled fabric if you don’t have pantyhose. Normal paper or newspaper will break down, so it won’t work as a barrier.
- Plant: It’s a good idea to bring your jar with you to the plant store to be sure your new plant friend will fit in your terrarium. Choose a plant that likes to stay moist and won’t outgrow your enclosed habitat quickly. Succulents will not work well. A few colorful plants that like terrariums include polka dot plant, prayer plant, ripple peperomia, nerve plant, and wandering jew. Green foliage varieties that are happy in a terrarium include moon valley friendship plant, creeping fig, arrowhead plant, golden clubmoss, baby tears, and many kinds of ferns including spider fern, button fern, and artillery fern. Ask at your garden store for additional recommendations. For this tutorial, we used a prayer plant.
- Newspaper (optional): If you are working inside, you may want to lay some newspapers down for easy (compostable!) cleanup.
- Glass cleaner and rag
Setting Up Your Upcycled Jar Terrarium
Step 1: Prepare the jar
Clean out all food residue, remove labels, and wash out your jar well with soap and water.
Add some holes to the jar lid. If you don’t have a drill, you can hammer a nail into either a metal or plastic lid to make the holes. For the plastic pretzel jar lid, we used a cordless drill to make five holes.
Step 2: Layer in the rocks, barrier, and soil
Add pebbles and rocks to the bottom of your jar. Start with a layer of small pebbles and then add a layer of larger ones on top until you have a depth of one to two inches. Place a layer of pantyhose, moss, or other fabric over the rocks. Be sure to cover them entirely. Shovel in your potting soil and compost mixture.
Step 3: Add the plant
Dig a hole and plant your terrarium resident. It’s a good idea to snip off any leaves that aren’t at their peak as you won’t have easy access to the plant in the future. You may also need to give it a trim so it fits well in its new environment. Planting it may get tricky because you can’t get your hands inside the terrarium. You’ll want to use the narrowest trowel you own or a spoon with a long handle.
Step 4: Tidy up and water the plant
Clean off your jar, dusting any dirt off the sides. Don’t use glass cleaner on the inside of the jar; use it on the outside of the jar only.
Water your plant and put on the lid.
Enjoy Your Upcycled Jar Terrarium
Keep an eye out for mold or wilting leaves and clean these up quickly. You may need to add more holes to your lid or change the location of the planter.
This prayer plant will thrive within an enclosure and be safe from chomping cats!
All images courtesy of Maureen Wise
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