Buy or Build a Terrarium
by: Michael O'Brien
Like buying a house, buying a terrarium can boil down to a basic choice. The choices are whether to build your own or buy a unit that is already complete. Regardless of which way you decide to go, the experience can prove to be rewarding and a source of satisfaction for years to come.
As with building a home, building a terrarium is not a project for the novice. Creating a proper habitat for living plants from scratch requires a body of knowledge that takes a good bit of time to accumulate. Like a house, selecting the proper building materials for a terrarium is a crucial decision. The selection of materials is largely dependent on what you intend the terrarium to do.
Most home terrariums are used to create a microenvironment for certain types of plants. Others are used to house not only plants but, as in the case of a riparium, are used to create a home for various types small land creatures such as frogs and lizards. Ripariums can be much more complicated to establish and maintain the average plant terrarium. If plants are what you fancy then there are simple designs for the person who is adept at paying attention to the details.
One of the critical things to keep in mind is that terrariums must be moisture resistant. Even a terrarium that will be used to support desert plants must be constructed of materials that are somewhat impervious to constant contact with moist soils. The traditional plant terrarium must be able to withstand moist conditions from the top and, most importantly, to the bottom.
Terrariums are much like mini hothouses. The moisture in the soil acts very much like the moisture found in earth soils, oceans, rivers and lakes. During the earth water cycle, moisture evaporates, rises into the atmosphere and returns the surface in the form of precipitation like rain or snow. The water cycle in a terrarium is very similar and can be seen in several ways. In a properly constructed terrarium, moisture will condensate on the inner surfaces and run back down to the soil.
Most terrarium designs use glass, clear plastic or both, combined with a wood, plastic or metal framework. In one of the critical first steps in establishing a terrarium, the inside surfaces of the container must be thoroughly cleaned. The thorough cleaning helps to reduce the chance that adverse bacteria can develop and strain or even kill off the plants inside.
Wood surfaces inside the terrarium can become a breeding group for bacteria and should be avoided unless the bottom of the terrarium is lined with some study plastic. Try to stick with materials like glass and plastic for the interior that can be easily cleaned.
There is no end to the types of shapes and sizes a terrarium can take. That oddball brandy snifter in the kitchen cupboard can make a really nice desktop plant environment. So can that old fish bowl in the garage. Do not overlook that old aquarium tank that at the yard sale since it would make a fine enclosure. Aquarium tanks can make a really nice terrarium for several reasons and an aquarium tank with a top lid and light will do nicely.
Some species of terrarium plants may need to have more light than can be provided by ordinary room light. There are full spectrum light bulbs available that can be used to supplement ambient room light. Lighting can also add a different look to the plant display providing a variance in the color of certain plants.
It is very important to remember that not all terrariums are created equal. There are some terrariums, known as riparuims that are especially designed and built to house small land creatures like frogs. Some folks make the mistake of trying to use a plant terrarium to keep small land creatures and the results can be sadly predictable with the creature escaping into the room or not being able to survive in environment for which it was not intended. So make sure to choose carefully when making your decision.
For those folks who want the beauty but none of the work, the marketplace is full of terrariums that are already established and ready to enjoy. Many nurseries and garden centers offer these prefabricated models. Some sellers of ready made terrariums will let you select appropriate plantings and will help you arrange them in the proper location for optimum growth.
When buying a preassembled terrarium, be sure to look at the construction. Getting your new indoor hothouse home and finding out that it is prone to leak will definitely put a damper on the experience.
About the Author
Michael O'Brien is a writer for many popular websites.