Big ideas for miniature gardens

Terrariums today are chic. Local experts offer ideas you can try.

When it comes to gardening, more and more people are thinking small. While fairy gardens may have started the trend, the craze has blossomed into terrariums, container gardens and more. We asked local experts for their advice in starting, decorating and maintaining a miniature gardening project.

Getting started

“You can use any kind of container,” said Donna Trent, gifts buyer and events planner at Grandma’s Gardens in Waynesville. “The best part of miniature gardening is using your imagination.”

Wagons large and small, areas at the bases of trees and flowerpots are excellent places to start. Miniature gardens can also be planted in regular garden beds.

Terrariums are making a big comeback, but forget about retro aquariums full of crazy plants. Today’s terrariums are chic and “perfect for people who live in an apartment or don’t have a yard,” Trent said.

Terrariums trap moisture, so it’s important to start them off right. “Start with aquarium gravel for drainage,” advised Sheryl Ingram of Meadowview Growers in New Carlisle. “Put about a half-inch in the bottom of the terrarium and cover that with a thin layer of charcoal.” Charcoal keeps the soil fresh and prevents mold or mildew from building up in the wet environment. After the charcoal comes the soil. “The terrarium should be one-third full with soil, charcoal and gravel,” Ingram said.

“Make sure you have drainage,” Trent advised. “In a completely enclosed terrarium, moisture will build up.” You also want to make sure there’s plenty of drainage in miniature open-container gardens.

What to plant

Plenty of plants are great for miniature gardening, provided you keep an eye on them to avoid out-of-control growing.

“ ‘Nooks and Crannies’ or ‘Stepables’ plants stay small,” Trent said. Both brands are widely available at garden centers. “Ground cover and smaller annuals like alyssum work well, too.”

As far as groundcovers go, “lemon thyme and scotch or irish moss are great,” said Teresa Jones, annuals manager at Meadowview Growers. “There’s also a houseplant called Baby Tears, which can be trimmed and kept small.” For flowering plants, Jones suggested small blooms like violas and Bellis daisies.

When creating a closed terrarium, try thinking tropical. “You need plants that can handle high moisture,” Jones said. “Ferns can really take it because they’re a tropical plant.” You can also use, “any sort of little houseplants,” Ingram said. “I’ve tried using African violets, and they’re doing great. Try ivies, polka dot plants, anything from the houseplant section.”

Stay away from cacti and succulents in a closed environment, though – they like to stay dry. “Plant those in an open container only,” Ingram advised.

Maintaining your project

For miniature outdoor and open-container gardens, care is similar to maintenance for larger gardens. Fairy gardens and other small projects require routine watering. You should also make sure the plants are pruned back to the desired size and receive the proper amount of sunlight.

Closed terrariums, on the other hand, “should almost never need watering,” said Trent. In fact, these environments can suffer from a bit too much water. If that’s the case, “just leave the top open for a couple of hours,” Ingram said. “When you see water running down the sides, that’s way too wet.”

An important thing to consider when planting a terrarium is sunlight. “Avoid placing them in direct sunlight,” Trent said. “You can actually cook the plants that touch the edges of the vessel.”

Themes and accessories

The sky’s the limit when you’re decorating your miniature garden or terrarium. “People used to use dollhouse furniture, but now companies are making miniatures especially for gardens,” Trent said. These miniatures are more durable and built for the garden environment.

“Fairy gardens are popular, but you don’t have to use a fairy. You can change out the accessories and make them seasonal,” suggested Trent. “Try scarecrows and pumpkins for fall and mini-snowmen for the winter.” If there’s a model railroad enthusiast in your house, Trent recommends dressing up the tiny landscape with miniature evergreens.

For terrariums, “consider using moss, geodes and small figures to fill up empty spaces,” Trent said. If you have an open-container terrarium project, a southwest theme can be a fun look. “Scatter sand and plant miniature cacti and succulents,” Trent suggested. “You can dress it up with skull heads, wagons and other desert accessories.”

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