The best part of building a terrarium is enjoying it for years to come. If assembled correctly, a terrarium requires little ongoing maintenance. However, don’t let your hard work go to waste by not properly caring for your plants.
Proper light is key to keeping succulents healthy. Even those that prefer only indirect light want a lot of it.
North-facing windows usually don’t provide enough sun: southern exposures that offer long bright hours are much better. East- and west-facing windows can suit lower-light succulents.
Even if you’re keeping succulents that tolerate direct sun pay attention to the terrarium’s interior temperature. Mini-succulents are usually more tender than mature plants, and even heat-lovers can burn if their leaves are against hot glass.
Note how the sun’s position changes with the season; a suitable spot can become too bright or shady. Watch for legginess or loss of color that indicates inadequate light.
Give the terrarium a quarter-turn every two weeks so the plants don’t become lopsided.
Here are tips to water correctly:
- Instead of watering on a schedule, check the soil.
- Moderation is critical for terrarium watering: think in teaspoons, not cups.
- Water the plant’s base and avoid getting its body wet. Many growers use an eyedropper or a spray bottle with a coarse stream instead of a watering can.
- Water less (or not at all) during the dormant season.
Cleaning An Open Terrarium
Regularly dust the leaves with a paper towel or tissue. Remove debris-covered stones and other hardscape to rinse them off. Let them air dry before replacing.
Keep the glass clean so the light shines through without obstruction. Commercial chemicals are fine for the outside, but wipe the interior with distilled water. Wrap a chopstick or other tool with a paper towel to clean in tight crevices and beneath foliage.
How Do Closed Terrariums Work?
One of the fascinations of a terrarium is seeing how nature creates and sustains a living microcosm.
The soil within the terrarium supports healthy microbial processes that nourish living plants. Moisture from evaporation and plant transpiration recirculate as condensed “rain” droplets that keep the soil moist.
Photosynthesis powers a dynamic cycle that keeps the air healthy. The terrarium’s plants use light to produce oxygen which is consumed at night; carbon dioxide is consumed during the day through photosynthesis and produced through the dark hours by plant respiration. It’s quite amazing!
A terrarium’s established ecosystem absorbs small changes to stay in an overall healthy balance. Yet, though nature takes care of most of the issues in a terrarium, its ecology isn’t complete. It needs light and an occasional helping hand.
Closed Terrarium Light Requirements
Most terrariums require high light, but keep them out of direct sun: You don’t want to create a sauna. Watch out for seasonal changes that can make the light too dim or too intense; move the terrarium as necessary.
Plant legginess indicates the light is too low. Give the terrarium a brighter location or add a grow light.
If the light comes from only one direction, rotate the terrarium occasionally to keep plant growth balanced. Artificial illumination is convenient, but you’ll need to shift an angled source from time to time.
How To Water A Closed Terrarium
A completely enclosed terrarium requires little or no watering, but if in doubt always water less. If the soil is completely dry and the leaves are wilting this is a sign that the terrarium is too dry and needs watering. NEVER pour water into your terrarium. Use a dsropper to water plants directly or a spray bottle.
A closed terrarium recirculates water in a process similar to natural rainfall. Moisture condenses into water drops that continually fall back into the soil. Once your terrarium is balanced, you should see droplets form near the top of the container: the glass will be clear otherwise.
The humidity of a closed terrarium makes the plants vulnerable to moisture-related issues, so be vigilant. It’s best to catch problems early because they can ruin the system. If you see a problem developing:
- Ventilate the terrarium until the soil dries to its proper level.
- Discard decayed or decomposing vegetation. Double check for puffy stems that signal underlying root rot.
- Remove mold-covered stones or other fixtures and rinse off before replacing.
- Don’t re-water the soil until the areas of decay are well dried.
- Also, remember to water less in the dormant season.
How you water is important, too. If you have a small, thickly planted terrarium, one method is to water the soil surface sparingly and tilt the container so that it spreads throughout the medium. Look at the soil saturation through the glass to make sure the moisture is evenly distributed.
Cleaning A Closed Terrarium
To keep your terrarium looking great and ensure light shines through, regularly clean the glass. The outside can be wiped with commercial window cleaner, but be sure to use non-toxic products on the interior sides. You don’t want to poison your captive environment.