A Bit of Green in a White World

Despite loving the freedom of a few gardening-free months, there is something to be said for having a little life in the house. A piece of green to brighten up a room. I have one small houseplant in my tiny house — a Christmas cactus my parents hauled out from California when they helped me move. It must still be in a bit of shock, because while usually by this time it’s overflowing with pink, so far this year there isn’t even a hint of bud or bloom. Still, the green is dark and glossy and quite nice atop the wide bookcase against the back wall of the room. The thing is, I want more.

There is an empty pot in the bathroom waiting for a Sansevieria, for starters. I just haven’t found the right plant yet. And then this morning, I saw this:

And I love it.

Now, living in ~ 300 square feet, I don’t exactly have room for a 28 gallon fish tank filled to the brim with skulls and horses and plants, but I could certainly find space at the edge of my desk for something smaller… say, something like one of these:

Here’s what I love about terraria:

– They’re easy to make from stuff you may already have lying around the house, or can find cheap at thrift stores or yard sales

– They can be big or small — whatever fits your space

– They are low maintenance because they are largely self-containted (especially good in water-poor areas like the desert)

– The sky’s the limit in terms of design — create a mini tropical rain forest, a sparse, cactus-inhabited desert, a green mossy hill, or a kitchen herb garden in jars; add marbles or dinosaurs or tiny farmers with shovels and hoes

A few things to keep in mind:

– Choose plants that won’t outgrow the container too quickly

– Keep them in a place where they won’t get direct light

– Water only as needed — there’s no hole in the bottom so excess water won’t drain out

– Remember, the bigger the container, the more plant variety and creativity there’s room for

Check out some of these simple DIY terrarium tutorials (no reason for me to reinvent the wheel when these folks did such a good job with theirs). And as for me… I’ll be keeping my eyes open for the perfect tank or jar and will post progress as I make it.

Fish Tank Terrarium

Apothecary Jar Terrarium

Lightbulb Terrarium


Do-It-Yourself Gutter Garden

Looking for more space in a small garden? Consider this clever idea: Create a vertical garden using low-cost or salvaged rain gutters.

Suzanne Forsling of Juneau, Alaska attached gutters to the side of her house creating not only additional space, but a planting area that helped alleviate some of the problems associated with the difficult Alaska climate (cold ground, low light levels, etc.).

Of course because the gutters are relatively shallow, you’ll need to choose carefully what you’ll plant there. Salad greens are a great choice, but Suzanne also had good luck with radishes.

One Garden tip: If you don’t have a wall or fence available, consider mounting the gutters to free-standing posts. Add locking casters to create a movable living wall that can be used to divide your outdoor space into separate rooms.

Dig deeper:

Create a “Greenhouse” Window

Here is a great project from blogger Kelly Tirman. Originally built to hide an unsightly view, it’s also a perfect way to maximize sun exposure for indoor plants. Imagine each pot filled with a different herb, perched right above the kitchen sink. It would make cooking with the freshest ingredients a breeze.

Here are Kelly’s instructions.

Here is what you will need:

  • Measuring Tape
  • Screwdriver
  • L brackets (four brackets for each shelf)
  • 1/4 inch thick glass cut to fix your window (one for each shelf)
  • Small potted plants and/or collectibles

Prep: Measure your window to determine the size of your shelves and how many shelves you would like in your window. Consult your local glass company for the pieces of glass (I use Theisen Glass).

Installation: Secure your L brackets in place with a screwdriver and place your pieces of glass on top. Once the shelves are in place add your potted plants and/or collectibles.

I love this idea, especially for apartment dwellers who want to maximize their planting space. One note, if you rent you may want to check your rental agreement or talk to your landlord to make sure you won’t be charged for removal when you move out.

For more great money-saving ideas visit KellyTirman.com.

Container Gardening Basics

Choose the Right Container
Outdoor containers should:

  • Be at least 14-18” across otherwise they can dry out too quickly (indoor containers can be much smaller but will require more frequent watering)
  • Have adequate drainage (holes should be between ½ and 1” across, large pots should have multiple drains)—when planting, cover holes with fine screen, cheesecloth or coffee filters to keep soil from running out of the holes
  • Suit the size of the plant (or plants) that are going into them

Containers come in a variety of shapes and materials, which you choose are a matter of taste, style and how you plan to use it. Learn more about Choosing Containers.

Don’t Scrimp on Soil
Choose a soil mixture that:

  • Drains well so plants don’t get waterlogged
  • Holds enough moisture so plants don’t require constant watering
  • Is organic—everything that goes into the pot goes into the plant and will eventually wind up on your plate
  • Has the right pH—most vegetables prefer a slightly acidic soil (5.5-6.5), however blueberries require an even more acidic soil with a pH of  4.5 to thrive

For vegetables, add extra compost (up to 25%) so your plants have what they need to produce in abundance.

Pick the Right Plants
When selecting individual plants:

  • Size matters—always take into account the mature size of any plant before you put it in a pot, especially if you’re planting trees; make sure you stick with dwarf and/or slow growing varieties so they don’t outgrow their new home too quickly or crowd out other plants
  • Buy big—the larger the individual plant (say, a 1 gallon vs. a 4” pot) the more well-developed the roots
  • Consider the cold—in a container, a plant’s hardiness decreases by about 10 degrees (sometimes more in smaller pots); a plant that may ordinarily handle your winter quite well might not have the same success in a pot

When determining which plants go together:

  • Make sure they have compatible needs in terms of water, sun, soil pH, etc.
  • Coordinate plant heights—include something tall, a few things mid-range, a few more small and of course, some trailers to hang over the edge of the pot
  • Keep the pot’s location and planting design in mind—taller plants may cast shade on lower level sun-lovers or a building may block light from one half of the planter

Water Wisely

  • Keeping your containers appropriately watered is crucial to plant survival. Pots can’t hold as much wateras a planting bed while inadequate drainage may keep water trapped.
  • Check daily in hot weather—when the mercury rises, your plant’s water needs increase, and without the buffer of a large garden bed, to keep them cool and damp, sometimes it takes only hours to permanently damage a heat-sensitive plant
  • Dig deeper—don’t just rely on how the soil looks, dirt dries out fastest at the top of the pot so be sure to stick your finger at least one inch into the soil to test its true moisture content
  • Elevate your pots—putting containers on risers helps water drain and air circulate and protects your patio surface from water damage; you can purchase decorative pot feet in most garden centers, but bricks work just as well
  • Consider irrigation—container watering systems cost some money up front, but they will save you time, worry, and the cost of replacing lost plants; they are also invaluable for vacation care
  • Don’t forget the mulch, it helps retain moisture and helps keep roots cool in hot weather

A Few Other Tips

  • Place a saucer below pots on a wooden deck to prevent the deck boards from rotting
  • Consider placing heavy containers on rolling plant caddies so you can move them more easily—especially helpful in climates where tender plants need to be moved indoors for the winter