A unique facet of indoor gardening is trending upward, offering consumers a novel way to enjoy plants year-round. Terrariums are hardly a new concept, but they’ve received a thorough makeover with regard to retail appeal and suitable plant selections.
The terrarium has long been an indoor favorite since it was accidentally discovered by Nathanial Bagshaw Ward in 1842. He grew a fern from a spore enclosed in a glass case and was rewarded by having the vessel gain popularity as the “Wardian Case.” Today, of course, it’s known and sold as the terrarium.
The First Green Displays
My first experience of seeing a “living” display was in the Reptile House at the Philadelphia Zoo. Having the birthplace of America’s zoos (March 1859) nearby meant that it was a convenient day trip for elementary classes to see animals up close. What I didn’t realize was that I was seeing an ecosystem at work: Growing and sustaining plants indoors was a necessity in keeping zoo animals alive and well in long-term captivity.
These enclosed exhibits were actually large-scale terrariums. Zoo staff carefully plotted their use of natural (and artificial) lighting to ensure photosynthesis, ventilation for air movement, and suitable planting media to create these natural and living habitats.
Whether a consumer chooses a classic terrarium or not, many additional choices are available to create interesting and special indoor gardens. Consumers may choose from jars, bowls, glass urns, blown-glass spheres and many more designs. A true terrarium, however, is one that is enclosed, preferably with a lid that will allow venting.
Succulents have surged in popularity, known as foolproof, long-lasting plants with minimal maintenance requirements. Taking it a step further, consider the more than 650 types of air plants or Tillandsias that need no soil to thrive. These are fabulous candidates for today’s terrarium!
The rise of miniature gardening has increased interest and availability in ferns, which love enclosed terrariums. It’s easy to see the selling opportunities, even for those of you who don’t have a working greenhouse at your store location.
Build It, and They Will Buy
We’ve all heard the marketing mantra that “packaging sells,” correct? Just about everyone has pretty packaging these days. But, the success of your selling department will rely on providing planted examples showing different dimensions, plants and vessel types for the customer to buy or recreate. You’ll also need helpful staff or easy-to-follow print instructions to direct customers on which types of plants work well together: ferns and foliage, or succulents and cacti.
Plant choices will influence the customer’s watering needs and methods. Supply your display with low-volume watering cans with narrow spouts and misting sprayers. Distilled water (or filtered water that’s been allowed to stand overnight) may be recommended to minimize tap-water chemicals that can affect plant health.
Include some additional materials like horticultural charcoal, small pebble stone, Spanish moss and sphagnum moss. The use of charcoal is important for removing toxins and odors that may accumulate inside the terrarium over time. Hoffman makes a wonderful horticultural-grade charcoal that’s very popular in the market.
Opening the terrarium occasionally allows moisture to evaporate and air to circulate around the plants. If a disease like powdery mildew occurs on plants inside a customer’s vessel, you’ll need to offer specific chemistry that’s labelled for indoor use and for these specific plants. One disease-control recommendation is the Complete Disease Control 32 oz. RTU from Monterey Chemical. It’s a bacillus formula that prevents and even cures most disease problems on a wide listing of plant species. You’ll also want to advise your customers to vent their terrariums for a longer time frame to slow down disease pressure.
Finally, you will need to provide the right soil options for the specific plant materials being sold. Most retailers sell four-quart bagged materials that are labelled for cacti and succulents or typical professional potting soils recommended for indoors. There are many options to consider stocking, especially those from Premier Horticulture, Sun Gro, and Espoma.