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Exploring Womanhood > Heart of the Home > Gardening > Container Gardening

Summer Container Garden Ideas
by Jane Roa

Why not try a covered garden in a glass? It's a self contained closed system. With a proper balance of soil, moisture and plants your system will be continually refreshed through a process called photosynthesis and respiration. You can make three different types of gardens in covered or even open jars and bottles. Tropical and woodland plants will grow well in either open or closed systems. Desert plants prefer an open container but can grown in a closed one as well. Tropical plants will thrive in closed containers, like a rainforest type system.

Some types of containers to consider are anything glass or plastic that can be seen through and plants put into. A few suggestions - fish tanks, cookie jars, mason jars, mayonnaise, pickle jars, glass cookware, wine bottles, decanters, baby bottles, milk bottles. Well, you can see the possibilities are endless. For closed systems you can use tops, corks, stoppers to make them self-contained systems.

These little gardens make great gifts. Children become easily adept at making once they learn the basics. Children also enjoy the challenge of this, often seeking out unusual shapes of containers. However, start with children by using containers with large mouths that aren't too deep. If your creations don't grow the way you want, its easy to dump it and start all over again.

Tools and materials you'll need to make your containers with are as follows:

  1. Planting soil, loam, hummus, coarse sand or fine gravel for drainage and charcoal bits to keep the soil sweet.
  2. Gravel, white aquarium or small pebbles are nice for accent.
  3. Miniature ceramic figures or even plastic ones. Think Christmas decorations, these work great with these types of gardens, especially the deer!

You can gather your plants from nature herself. To do this you'll need a small trowel, plastic bags to carry your plants, scissors for trimming mosses and ferns.

To get the items into your jar or bottle you'll need a small funnel to get the sand, soil, and gravel into the container. You can use a rolled paper tube to extend the funnel into deep bottles. I've even just used a plastic soda bottle cut in half as my funnel, placing the rolled paper down into the mouth of the jar and pouring the items into the container.

To insert the plants a nice pair of long tongs are helpful or use a 3/16" dowel that has been sharpened on one end (in a pencil sharpener) to spear the plants. To get the speared plants off sharp ends, take a coat hanger and coil it around one end of the dowel so that it can be slipped down the dowel to push the plant off where you want to place it.

To water plants, spray bottles or syringes are useful. You can use it also to wash the bits of moss off of leaves of the plants in your container. To clean the inside of your container, use pipe cleaners, a small bottlebrush or cotton swabs. You might need to tape these to the ends of a dowel to extend to the deeper containers.

Some planting hints:

Select plants that have similar environmental needs, such as light and temperature. Insert a moss liner, the green side down facing out. Your moss should cover the bottom completely to cover up the soil, charcoal and roots from view. Then add the gravel followed by dry soil and charcoal mix. Add your plants root first, trimmed if necessary, add a small ball of moist soil to get roots in place. Clean the inside, water lightly and cover. The cover should fit tightly but not permanently sealed.

When the balance is right, you'll see a light misting of the glass, you don't need to open it up. You'll only need to open it up for too much, not enough water or to prune plants. Put the bottle garden in a cool, moderate lighted area for a few days to settle them in, then you can move to a stronger lighted area.

Trouble shooting:

  • Too much water or condensation - open it up to air out.
  • Yellow leaves - roots are too wet, needs less water or more gravel.
  • Musty smelling - UH OH, you forgot the charcoal.
  • Shriveled brittle foliage or brown crisp moss - Water me, please!
  • Bugs, gray molds, green algae growing - spray with a little household disinfectant or start over.

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A few don'ts:
  • Don't overcrowd, use grass, use fertilizer, over water, and expose shady woodland plants to direct heat.
  • Don't mix desert, tropical and woodland plants together in the same container.
  • Do be sure your container is really clean when you start. Remember you don't need any special lighting for these container gardens.

Your miniature garden needs only a minimum of care. Children really enjoy watching the tiny ferns and mosses living in the bottle. They especially enjoy it when the occasional tiny insect hatches out and flies around inside. Try these special container gardens as your next family project or for some simply cheap nice gifts to give.

Jane Roa is a freelance writer. Jane can be reached at janeroa@juno.com

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