How To: Art in the Age Bottle Terrariums
Terrarium making can be a rewarding and educational experience. Here we will explore making one from an empty ROOT bottle. The results serve as interesting “green” conversation pieces, bringing life to indoor spaces.
While terrarium making may seem intimidating at first, it is actually quite easy. The primary consideration is your selection of plant life, and the environment created inside the bottle. Some experimentation will most likely be necessary here, so do not despair if your first terrarium does not thrive as expected. Part of the experience is observing what combinations work best for your individual conditions – like light exposure, soil properties, drainage and moisture levels – and then making adjustments to discover what works best.
Please also consider the environment and local laws pertaining to wildlife conservation or property rights when harvesting plant life for your terrariums. While it may be tempting to harvest mature mosses or ferns from state parks or other wooded areas, not only may it be illegal, but the delicate ecosystems required to sustain them are not easily recreated in a bottle.
Some of the best terrarium friendly plant specimens are found in neglected spaces, like the pillow moss growing in the cracks in the sidewalk. If the plants are hardy enough to grow in harsh conditions, they will likely thrive in a well cared for terrarium.
• ROOT bottle (clean and dry)
• Activated charcoal pellets (aquarium pet stores carry these)
• Small stones, rocks or gravel (small enough to pass through the neck of the bottle)
• Potting soil (or best soil type specific to your select plant species)
• Spanish Moss (or Sphagnum Moss)
• Paper funnel (cut from sturdy paper)
• A “stick” (bent wire coat hanger or other tool to manipulate materials once inside the bottle)
• Paper towel
• Rubber bands
• Spray water bottle
Guide to making a ROOT bottle terrarium:
1. Clean your bottle and stopper with hot soapy water, rinse thoroughly and let dry. The labels will peel off more easily when they are slightly damp, and the adhesive has been warmed by filling the bottle with hot water.
2. Add a layer of small stones, gravel, crushed brick, or similar clean, dry rocks to the bottom of the bottle. This becomes your drainage, which allows the soil to dry naturally while avoiding rot and decomposition.
3. Add a thin layer of Sphagnum Moss or Spanish Moss on top of the rocks (optional). This serves asan extra filter, keeping the next layer of soil from falling down into the crevices of the rock layer, which would diminish drainage.
4. Add a thin layer of activated charcoal pellets (optional). These serve to purify the water as it passes through the drainage, which helps prevent fungus, cyanobacteria and algae buildup. You may wish to make a paper funnel at this point to help get these and other granular materials into the bottle more easily.
5. Add a layer of soil. The amount and type of soil best suited for your plants is highly variable. If you’ve harvested plants from a specific area, the soil it grew in can also be harvested. Be aware that you may introduce other life (insects, worms, fungi or other rogue plants) by taking soil from nature, which may or may not be desired.
6. Carefully add your plants. This is tricky, as you have to account for the narrow opening of the bottle. Some tricks are to separate your moss into “strips” just wide enough to pass through the bottle neck. If your plant samples are clinging to dirt, it helps to spray them with water to form a mud clump that you can shape. Once inside the bottle, use your stick to maneuver the plants into your desired arrangement.
7. Clean up. This part takes time and patience, but is the key to a nice presentation. You’ve likely made a mess at this point and have mud and other material on the inside of the glass. Use your stick and a bit of paper towel held on with a rubber band to create a makeshift swab. If you used a wire hanger, it can easily be bent into a shape that can reach different areas inside the bottle. Carefully wipe down all the debris, making sure not to upset your plant arrangement, until you are happy with the result.
8. Water your plants. A spray bottle, or pipette can help direct a metered dose of moisture to your newly formed terrarium. Although each terrarium will have specific moisture needs, be careful to not over water and exceed your drainage capacity. Sealing the bottle with the stopper will create a build up of moisture, and removing it will promote evaporation. Even without a stopper the shape of the ROOT bottle will always trap some moisture via condensation, resulting in a simulated hydrologic cycle.
You’ve now built a terrarium! While admiring your end result, you may want to take a photograph of it in it’s beginning stage. Then experiment with sunlight and moisture levels over time to best determine what makes your terrarium thrive. Track its growth, and watch for changes in its environment that could signal trouble, like fungi or algae. If you see those, experiment with higher sunlight levels, and remove the stopper if it was in place. Most people underestimate how much light a terrarium requires, so make sure yours gets enough.
Have fun, experiment, and enjoy your reused ROOT bottle terrarium! If you have further questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.