Top Terrarium Plants
Terrariums came of age with the Victorians and are enjoying a newfound resurgence, fueled in part by their affordability and the continued interest in all things gardening. "It's something everybody can do," says Tovah Martin, author of The New Terrarium and a lecturer who gives workshops on the subject across the country. "You can do it on a budget, do it with kids, do it with seniors." Here are 12 terrarium plants, along with tips and inspiration, that will make it easy for you to start your own garden in miniature. "I see a lot of temporary terrariums done with succulents and cacti, and those would rot in a matter of a few weeks," Martin says.
Moon Valley Friendship Plant
'Moon Valley' friendship plant provides delicate patterning with deeply textured craters and valleys on two-toned leaves, which are tinted red on the underside. The fast-grower tolerates low light and at its maximum reaches 12 inches tall and wide; it may surprise with delicate pink flowers, too. This plant is a perfect size to enclose in virtually any glass container that's fit for a terrarium, such as cloches or jars. "I've even used butter dishes," Martin says.
Name: Pilea involucrata 'Moon Valley'Size: To 12 inches tall and wide
Variegated Spider Fern
Variegated spider fern seems to glow in a terrarium, thanks to the shine of its glossy leaves. A broad yellow center band on each leaf supplies visual interest for the easy-growing fern, which tolerates low light and enjoys the moist potting mix and high humidity found inside a terrarium. If it outgrows your glass container, you can plant it in shade gardens in Zones 6-9.
strong>Name: Arachnoides simplicior 'Variegata'Size: To 16 inches tall and wide
One of Martin's favorite plants is the star-shape Cryptanthus bivittatus, also called starfish plant, which is a member of the bromeliad family. The straplike leaves nearly glow with iridescent stripes, which range from red to maroon, white, and deep green; the plant also has tiny flowers. The leaf colors of starfish plant change with the intensity of light, and its slow-growing nature -- it reaches only about 6 inches at maturity -- makes it well-suited for a terrarium. When filling your terrarium, follow Martin's lead and use 3/8-inch pebbles, horticultural charcoal, and potting soil. "In addition to the plants, those are the only real ingredients that are essential to a terrarium," Martin says.
Name: Cryptanthus bivittatusSize: To 6 inches tall and wide
Nerve plant is a tropical choice with distinctively patterned leaves in burgundy and green. It thrives under the moist, warm air of a terrarium and will only reach 12 inches when fully mature. To plant a nerve plant inside a terrarium, Martin starts with about a 2-inch layer of pebbles mixed with a tablespoon of charcoal; the latter acts as filtration to keep everything "sweet" for terrarium plants.
Name: Fittonia verschaffeltii var. argyroneuraSize: To 12 inches tall and wide
Its foliage has little color variation, but the textural ripples or wrinkles on the leaves of Peperomia caperata 'Variegata' provide welcome contrast to terrarium plants that may be patterned with color. The plant stays 6 inches tall and likes the low but regular light and moist conditions under the glass of a terrarium. Divide it for a friend -- or another terrarium -- by taking a leaf cutting. Ensure success for your terrarium by layering in 2 to 3 inches of potting soil, Martin says, and insert plants into that. Martin avoids landscape fabric between the layers. "I try to create something more like nature and less like control," she says.
Name: Peperomia caperata 'Variegata'Size: To 6 inches tall and wide
Even though Selaginella kraussiana 'Aurea', or golden clubmoss, stays compact in height -- just up to 6 inches -- it likes to spread. In fact, it can reach 2 feet across, so keep it trimmed inside a terrarium. The light green foliage works wonders to brighten darker-color plants. Keep the soil moist but not wet. In warmer Zones, it also can be used in shade gardens as a groundcover.
Name: Selaginella kraussiana 'Aurea'Size: To 6 inches tall and 2 feet wide
Tiny variegation dots the small, silvery-blue, rounded leaves of Pilea glauca 'Aquamarine', a terrarium plant that loves high humidity and low light. Use its low-growing, densely matted, creeping pattern as a good base for other plants in your terrarium, or take it outside in warm weather for hanging pots or containers as an edger. It stays small -- only 12 inches tall -- making it easy to tuck in terrariums.
Name: Pilea glauca 'Aquamarine'Size: To 12 inches tall and wide
Interested in an air plant terrarium? Hardy only in Zones 9-11, Tillandsia stricta, or air plant, is an interesting choice for a terrarium. Stunning, funnellike blue, purple, or pink flowers top its slender, pale green leaves, making the plant a natural terrarium choice for both color and texture. "Variegation and chartreuse foliage really stand out," Martin says. Other good textural plants include ferns and mosses.
Name: Tillandsia strictaSize: To 8 inches tall and wide
Tiny Acorus gramineus 'Minimus Aureus' rewards under a terrarium with grassy, striking golden foliage. "It's amazing how little maintenance terrariums require," Martin says. "They're so apropos for people that work in an office cubicle. They won't take a big chunk of time. Usually for weeks on end, I don't water mine." She does, however, open up her terrariums every so often to air them out, making sure there is still condensation on the glass. If there isn't, Martin waters very lightly.
Name: Acorus gramineus 'Minimus Aureus'Size: To 14 inches tall and 6 inches wide
Black Mondo Grass
Black mondo grass, familiar to gardeners in Zones 6-9, sends up shoots of strappy leaves that turn from green to black, with delicate flowers appearing in spring. At maturity it reaches 15 inches tall so it works best for larger terrarium containers. Martin keeps this and other terrarium plants healthy by never misting them. "It's so humid in there, they don't need misting," Martin says. She also doesn't fertilize in order to keep the plants small. When planting terrariums, she makes sure to firmly put the plants in the soil. "You have to plant in terrariums like you plant in a garden," she says.
Name: Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens'Size: To 15 inches tall and 12 inches wide
One of the bigger terrarium-suitable plants is the graceful arching fern Asplenium bulbiferum, which can reach 2 feet tall and 4 feet wide so needs to be regularly cut back. The diffused light inside a terrarium is perfect for this plant, also known as mother fern, as well as shade lovers, including Fittonia, creeping fig, dwarf coleus, and dwarf orchids.
Name: Asplenium bulbiferumSize: To 2 feet tall and 4 feet wide
Its lovely burgundy-red vertical stalks and flowers lend Saxifraga stolonifera the nickname strawberry begonia. While the plant rapidly matures, it only reaches a height of 8 inches. Even when the wispy flowers aren't in bloom, the heart-shape foliage offers a two-tone pattern of green and deep red. To propagate for containers or other terrariums, simply snip off one of the runners. If well-tended, the plant will last a long time, as do many other terrarium bloomers. "I have many terrariums that are at least five years old," Martin says.
Name: Saxifraga stoloniferaSize: To 8 inches tall and 6 inches wide
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