Bottle Garden Guide

Bottle gardens, also known as terrariums, create a closed environment in which plants can thrive. Victorians loved them, and bottle gardens have endured as a favorite of gardeners ever since. It gives plant lovers a chance to interact in new ways with their smallest favorite plants. However, bottle gardens aren't just for those with green thumbs! Even people who struggle to keep plants alive and healthy can make and maintain a healthy bottle garden.

Choose a Bottle

Start by picking a bottle. The type of bottle that will work best depends on the kinds of plants that will be placed inside. Bottles that are very deep with narrow openings are good for plants that really like humidity. Shallower bottles with wide openings are better for plants that thrive in drier environments, like succulents or cacti. People usually want to pick a bottle they like that works with their decor style, while others just want to use a bottle they already have. Whatever bottle is chosen, the most important thing is that it's clean and thoroughly dried before it's used as a garden.

Preparing the Bottle

The first step in beginning a bottle garden is to put a layer of pebbles or sand into the bottom of the bottle. The bottom layer lets extra water escape away from the plants and their roots. The pebbles should be covered with a thin coating of activated charcoal. A funnel is helpful for getting both the rock layer and the activated charcoal into the bottle. The funnel will also be used for putting a thick layer of potting soil into the bottle. How thick the layer of potting soil should be depends on the size of the bottle and the size of the plants. Every bottle garden needs at least two to three inches of potting soil, but larger plants in larger bottles will require much more.

Select Plants

Most plants will thrive in a bottle garden, as long as they are the right size. Favorite picks for terrariums and bottle gardens include miniature begonia, ferns, ivy, palms, peperomia, philodendron, pilea, and tradescantia. Succulents are also beloved choices. Gardeners can choose the plants they like best, but it's important to remember that every plant that goes into a bottle garden must have the same needs for humidity and soil moisture. As for how many plants to use, it depends on the size of the bottle and what the gardener wants! Some people love a very minimal bottle garden with only one or two plants inside. Others love a bottle filled with so many plants it looks like a miniature jungle!

Arrange The Plants

It's easier to arrange plants in bottles with large openings. Narrow openings require a little more creativity and work. Many experienced bottle gardeners have a tiny shovel with a telescoping handle to use when placing plants in a bottle with a narrow neck. Others use things like chopsticks or very long tweezers. No matter what is being used, the basic method is the same. Make a small hole in the layer of the potting soil where the plant will go. Now gently remove the plant from its current pot. Brush away any excess soil from the root ball. Carefully maneuver the plant through the bottle of the neck and into the hole in the soil prepared for it. Use a tool to settle the soil around the plant's roots. Repeat for each plant, ensure each plant has its own little space and no plant is resting against the side of the bottle.

Add Water, Close, and Maintain

Since bottle gardens don't have drainage holes there is nowhere for excess water to escape. Water added to a bottle garden must be done very slowly and carefully. Each plant should get some water. It's better to under water than to over water. It's easy to go back and add more water but almost impossible to get water out of a bottle garden. Once the garden is watered, let it sit open for at least a week. During this time, add small amounts of water if any dry spots are noted. After a week, put a lid (or cork) in place and seal the bottle. The garden should now be self-sustaining, but especially in the beginning, it's important to keep an eye on it and add water if any signs of dryness are visible.

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