Now that I have a lot of extra time on my hands, I’ve been able to get to work on some of the projects around my house and garden that I’ve been meaning to work on for a while but never realllllly got around to actually doing because of my limited schedule (i.e. gainful employment). But now that I am on a break, I have all the time in the world to do things like make a terrarium or fix up an old scratched up filing cabinet. So I figured since I am doing these things, I might as well share them with you all in case you ever found yourself wanting to do something similar. So every once in a while when the mood strikes, I’ll share a little side project that I’ve been working on.
So here it goes, my first side project! I’d been seeing terrariums all over the web for the past year and finally decided to try making one myself. I wanted to make a hanging terrarium to place above my desk because that area gets a lot of sunlight and I’d be able to look at it all the time. So I looked around the web and decided to order this 6.5″ globe terrarium because a) it was the best deal I came across and b) I LOVE the style of it. I got my succulents at the Pasadena flea market for an insanely good deal (10 for $8!) and ended up getting more than would fit in my terrarium because of it. I had an old faux-copper planter basket laying around (I tend to buy cute gardening things that I can’t immediately use and then promptly forget about them. I had been using it in my living room to store cat toys and didn’t think to use it for my extra succulents until playing with my cat. Lesson: Always have a cat.)
Succulents are slow-growing plants that, like cacti, do not need frequent watering. In fact, their biggest enemy and most frequent killer is over-watering. They shouldn’t be watered until the soil feels completely dry when you touch it. However, in the summer they will need to be watered more than in the winter; you should slowly begin watering less during October and slowly begin watering more beginning in March. Below is a fairly detailed guide to properly planting succulents, including making a proper soil medium. Let’s get started!
Terrarium or Planter, clean (if using a planter it should have drainage holes in the bottom)
Small & Soft Artist’s Paint Brush (optional, for removing soil particles from succulents’ stems and leaves after transplanting)
First, make sure all your tools are clean, you don’t want any viruses, fungi, or parasites getting into your soil and then your plants after all your hard work. Second, figure out how you want your succulents arranged before you start planting. Don’t be afraid to play with contrasting texture and shapes. For example, don’t place all the similar-shaped succulents next to each other, but spread them out amongst contrasting ones. Have one or a few of your succulents poking out of any terrarium openings, or if you’re using a hanging planter, use the succulent vine String of Pearls (warning, this plant is toxic to animals if ingested) to add a long and sloping element.
Begin soaking the coir brick. Place the brick in a clean bucket and add the amount of water indicated on the brick’s packaging. If they do not indicate an amount, add a cup of water and wait 10 minutes, flip the brick and repeat the process until the brick is 2-3 times larger and appears to be no longer absorbing the water. Break apart the coir with your hands and mix it with the water that’s pooled around it. Empty the coir into the 12″ planter with the drainage holes and rinse the coir for about 30 seconds, letting the water drain out the bottom. This step helps to remove any impurities or chemicals that might be on/in the coir. Take the coir between your hands and squeeze out all of the excess water before placing that handful back into the bucket. Repeat this process with the amount of coir necessary for your container.
In the bucket, mix 2 parts coir with 2 parts sand and 1 part perlite. This is the soil that the succulents/cacti will grow in. The sand helps with drainage, as does the perlite. The perlite also helps prevents soil compaction, which promotes faster and easier root growth for plants. Coir is made from the husks of coconuts and will be able to store vitamins and moisture for your plants. It is better to use than peat moss because coir is virus and fungus-free and doesn’t have the detrimental environmental effects that peat-mining does. Set your bucket of soil mix aside.
Place an even 1-2 inch layer of pebbles in the bottom of your planter or terrarium. With the terrarium, keep in mind your terrarium’s height and the root depth and plant height of the succulents you are transplanting when placing the pebbles in the terrarium (you don’t want to accidentally put in 3 inches of pebbles only to find that the 2 inches of soil and 1 inch of headspace aren’t enough to fit your succulents).
Sprinkle the soil mixture into the planter about 2/3rds of the level of where you want the final soil line to be. Now you can begin transplanting. keeping the succulent in the container it came in, dig a hole in the soil slightly bigger than the succulent, setting the succulent (still in its original container) in the hole to make sure it will fit. There should be at least 1/2 inch of soil between the bottom of the hole and the pebbles. Gently squeeze the sides of the succulents’ current container to loosen its grip. Check the bottom to see if any roots are coming out of the drainage holes, if so loosen their entanglement with the holes. Place your dominant hand over the succulents current container, with the base of the succulent right between your thumb and forefinger, and turn it upside down. Use your other hand to very gently shake the container ever so slightly while pulling up on the container. The container should come free of the plant.
Place the succulent root-side down in the hole you’d made for it and pack the soil gently but firmly around it so that there aren’t any empty spaces around the roots. Repeat this process until you have transplanted all of your succulents. If during the transplanting process you realize that one of your succulents is too tall for your terrarium, see if you can place it right under the terrarium’s opening so that it can grow out of it like I did with my “mini-jade” succulent. Once all the succulents have been transplanted, sprinkle more soil around them if necessary and give the soil around them a light but firm pressing one last time to lightly compact the soil around the plants so that they will grow with a solid footing.
Now, if a leaf or two or three fall off during the transplanting process, do not fret! Succulents are very hardy and will grow new roots off of nearly any part of themselves that happens to fall off, so put the fallen leaves or stems cut-side down in the dirt in a small pot with the soil mixture and pack the soil firmly around the cutting. You don’t want the cutting to fall over or be knocked out of the soil easily as this will interfere with the root development process. Let it be and in time it could grow you another little plant.
After you’ve transplanted all your succulents, you probably will notice a good amount of coir and sandy bits resting on the leaves and stems of your succulents that accidentally got tossed onto them in the process. It is hard to remove these by hand, (especially in the small confines of a terrarium if you have chubby fingers like myself), so I recommend using a small and soft paintbrush (the kind you would use for watercolors or oil painting, not for painting a wall or furniture). Use the paintbrush to gently brush off any soil particles that have gotten stuck in the crevasses of your succulents.
Now you can place your succulent planter in its new indoor home. The most important aspect of their placement is sunlight. Ideally they should be kept in front of a south-facing window; if not possible, then they can survive off of indirect sunlight as long as they are exposed to it all day (i.e. don’t keep the blinds down on the windowsill where you keep your succulents).
Succulents can handle a surprisingly wide variety of temperatures, but between between 40 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit is neccessary for survival. Night time temperatures between 40 and 50 degrees are fine and in fact encourage flowering in some succulent varieties, but they should not be kept in areas where evening temperatures drop below 35 degrees Fahrenheit. I said it before in the introduction, but I will say it again: succulents do not need frequent watering. In fact, their biggest enemy and most frequent killer is over-watering. They shouldn’t be watered until the soil feels completely dry when you touch it. However, in the summer they will need to be watered more than in the winter; you should slowly begin watering less October during and slowly begin watering more beginning in March. Enjoy your new planter!