Gardening with Kids in January

Kalanchoe is a great plant to use for terrariums.

Back in a strange and ancient time called the 1970s, terrariums were all the rage. These “far out” containers were filled with a variety of cool plants that were easy to grow. Even though mood rings, puka shell necklaces and Earth shoes have fallen by the wayside, terrariums are still around and gaining popularity.

Baby’s tears are a great blooming plant to use for terrariums.

Making one would be a fun project to do with kids. The plantings could last for years or even decades. A terrarium is just a closed growing environment, usually made of glass where plants can thrive.

Something as simple as a mason jar would work for a small version. Oftentimes fish tanks are converted into terrariums, too. There are plenty of commercial types also available. Check a local nursery or greenhouse, as they’ll have everything you need.

When thinking about where to place your terrarium, just keep it out of direct sun that could fry the plants. The key to making a good terrarium is to fill the container with the right material and plants. First is a layer of river gravel, then a thin layer of charcoal, and then you’re going to add your pre-moistened potting soil.

Cyclamen is a great blooming plant to use in terrariums.

The gravel provides drainage and is about an inch deep. A thin layer of charcoal filters the water in this closed system. To get the planting mix to the right consistency, slowly add water until the mix sticks together but is not dripping.

Tropical plants that enjoy lots of humidity are a good choice. Many are small houseplants like ficus, ferns, ivy, baby’s tears, cyclamen, dieffenbachia and even a Venus fly trap. But succulents like cactus, string of pearls, flowering kalanchoe and even a spoon jade plant commonly called ‘E.T. Fingers’ would be fun for the kids to watch grow. They are all plants that thrive on neglect. With terrariums it all comes down to managing the moisture. For succulents, watering would be less than ferns and other houseplants.

Terrariums are easy and fun to make. They can last for years on the windowsill.

After planting and a light watering, watch for condensation on the glass over the next couple days to make sure the moisture is right in the terrarium. That means things are working the way they should. In 10 days or so, let the container breath by letting some air in. Close it back up; if the condensation returns, things are good. If not, just add a little water.

Terrariums are easy to make and fun to observe. It can get kids interested in gardening and gives us something do over the winter.


Doug Oster is editor of Everybody Gardens, a website operated by 535Media, LLC. Reach him at (412) 965-3278 or See other stories, videos, blogs, tips and more at