5Ws+1H: What It's About: Terrariums teach lessons, offer beauty

May 7—Home terrariums can teach valuable lessons about life and environments, as well as provide a decorative touch to a windowsill.

Sherry Clark, Cherokee County OSU Cooperative Extension Office agriculture educator, said an English physician, Nathaniel Ward, developed the precursor to the terrarium in 1829.

"He discovered he could germinate spores of a desirable fern with a closed glass jar," Clark said, as read from an OSU Extension fact sheet. "He designed, it says, a Wardian case — a glass top box resembling a small greenhouse that was used to transport plants collected in distant countries back to the British Isles."

Since terrariums keep plants contained, Clark said the idea for home decor quickly followed suit.

Terrariums are often kept in clear, colorless glass containers. Clark said plastic and colored glass should be avoided, since it will limit the light quality and quantity. Terrariums often have lids attached, which can be improvised with cling wrap. The lid should be kept closed as much as possible to ensure the plants survive and thrive.

Clark said rock, sand, and charcoal should also be avoided for drainage. Potting soil is the preferred media for terrariums, Clark said, as garden soil is too heavy, and does not allow for proper aeration or capillary movement for water.

"Most potting soils have been pasteurized and that means they've killed out the weeds, insects, and disease-causing organisms so they should be ready [to use], and they already have a starter fertilizer, so you wouldn't need to add fertilizer when you plant it," Clark said.

Clark said infrequent watering is best for established terrariums.

Various plants can be incorporated into a terrarium, and the main ones should be tolerant of high humidity and low to medium light; they should also be slow-growing. Clark said succulents are not good terrarium plants because of the humidity. Some plants that thrive in terrariums are ferns, prayer plants, mosses, and Venus flytraps.

The plant should be placed in a brightly lit window, but not in direct light. Too much light can cause the environment to become too humid. The terrarium's rain cycle will take a few weeks to be established, and excess humidity might have to be slightly vented.

Clark said it's not unusual for the sides to be fogged for the first few days.