Orchid terrarium tutorial

Recently someone in our garden club asked about how you put together a terrarium. Since our house cleaner also recently knocked over and broke the small terrarium we had (sitting on an overly-tippy end table), I took that opportunity to pick up what I’d really wanted all along — a taller, free-standing terrarium, big enough to house full-size orchids (24″ high interior).

A trip to Trader Joe’s for cheap orchids, and some potting soil, little plants, pebbles, and moss from the garden store, and I was ready to go. There’s very little to instruct, really, but here goes, in case it’s helpful:

a) I started with a layer of pebbles in the bottom for drainage, followed by a layer of soil.

b) I added the orchids next, and this bit, I’m not sure I did right, but since I know orchids prefer their roots to stay mostly dry, I left them potted in their little plastic pots filled with orchid bark, and just nestled those in the soil.

c) Then I tucked in some little terrarium-type plants around them. Your nursery can advise you on what’s well suited to this, but just keep in mind that what you’re recreating is essentially a moist, jungly environment. Terrariums are related to Wardian cases, which were used to bring tropical plants back from the tropics to England, keeping them alive on the long voyage. So I wouldn’t use a terrarium for succulents!

d) I added a layer of moss, which serves the dual function of looking nice and also retaining moisture in the soil.

e) That’s it! Put the lid on, and you have a moist, mostly self-contained environment. It should need water rarely. My understanding is that usually terrarium plants want plenty of indirect light (not blasted with sun) — imagine that you’re under the tree cover of a tropical jungle. So I put mine by a window that’s near an overhanging porch roof.

Now, the next step is that eventually, these orchids will lose all their flowers (though it’ll take a few months; I try to pick orchids that are mostly buds, with just a few blooms, so the show is sure to last a long time). In theory, one can then take care of them appropriately so that they’ll come back, year after year. I haven’t actually done that yet, but I have friends that do it regularly, and swear it isn’t hard.

When these are done, I’m hoping to try that, and I’m also hoping to replace one of them with a more interesting variety, since they’re all, I think, pretty standard phalaeonopsis (or moth) orchids, and there are so many more cool varieties out there. I’m looking forward to eventually experimenting with other types.



A few people have asked about the earlier photo of the paperwhites, whether they continued to work in those individual vases (hyacinth glasses, picked up over the years from Trader Joe’s in the spring). Mostly yes, with a little help.

As you can see, I couldn’t find one of my copper stakes (I think it’s buried in the basement), so that second one is leaning perilously. They’re all leaning a bit, but that’s mostly because I was a little slow in staking them, and they’d starting to curve — if I’d gotten them early, I think they’d have stayed very straight. They definitely need staking as they get taller.

The others have been staked (pushing through the bulb, but not all the way, so as not to pierce the bottom and encourage rot). Once staked, they do fine, though they’re a bit top-heavy when they get really tall, so I also added a little bit of museum wax to the bulb / glass around the rim, to help hold them steady.

I get the copper stakes online, and they’ve held up very well for many years now. I use them for amaryllis too: https://smile.amazon.com/BRECKS-Deluxe-Amaryl…/…/ref=sr_1_5…