Help me create a healthy terrarium, please!
June 15, 2009 5:12 PM   Subscribe

Growing an orchid in an apothecary jar terrarium?

I would really like to plant an orchid in an apothecary type jar terrarium, but I don't have much experience with either orchids or terrariums. I was wondering if anyone had any general advice on doing this, maintaining the health of the orchid, what sort of orchid would be a good choice, etc? Any insights would be much appreciated!
posted by faeuboulanger to Home & Garden (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would recommend a Phalaenopsis orchid, otherwise known as a moth orchid. This is a great beginner orchid. Costco actually has some beautiful specimens for around $20, which is a great deal - I see lesser-quality orchids at the garden center and florist for twice the price.

There are two challenges involving your apothecary jar, though.

#1 - the Phal can get 30" tall when mature, so you would probably want to start with a baby plant, or a really large jar. It would eventually need to be moved out of the terrarium.
#2 - orchids like air circulation around their roots. You couldn't fill the bottom of the jar with orchid mix (usually fir bark) and expect it to do ok. It would probably need to be in a separate pot set into the bottom of the jar.

A Phal doesn't require a terrarium, though. It would be happy set in a west-facing window. Mine are right by my kitchen sink so I can just grab them and mist them with the spray hose. They are very easy and forgiving plants.

Here's a good site on growing orchids. Good luck! They are beautiful.
posted by Ostara at 5:36 PM on June 15, 2009

Cypripedium (the "lady slipper") is another very forgiving orchid for beginners, but they're not as beautiful as most when they bloom.

Orchids like a lot of air circulation. I don't think they'd prosper in a terrarium, no matter what kind of terrarium it was.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:00 PM on June 15, 2009

I think you can have an orchid in a jar, but leave off the lid. I've often seen orchids grown in a pot set inside some kind of outer container. What people do is: put in some gravel at the bottom, pour water onto it, and then set down the pot with the orchid. Keep the gravel steeped in water, so nice moist air will surround the orchid. It's okay for the pot containing the orchid to be damp, and for its bark to be wet, but you don't want the orchid's roots sitting in water.
I do something similar at home - I actually have the pot sitting on a larger container full of water, so the water is wicking up into the clay of the pot and evaporating. I set this up once when I was leaving on a long trip, and came home to happy orchids (cheerfully putting out new roots and leaves), so I kept it. I never actually water them, I just top up the water they are sitting above. And I sometimes mist them.

As people have said, remember that orchids don't get potted in soil, but in chunky bark, or sometimes a whole plant lives on a large piece of bark. There are "terrestrial orchids" which do get planted in soil, but I think what you're wanting to discuss here are the more commonly considered epiphytic orchids, right?
Besides the damp yet airy situation, occasional fertilizing is warranted, so keep that in mind. About once a month, or when the plant is growing. I have to admit I'm pretty random about it, but orchids are very forgiving.

There was an article a few years ago in Martha Stewart Living magazine about orchids, and they had a photo of a cylindrical glass jar (a big, wide, open thing) with several miniature orchids placed in it, and at least one hung up on the lip of the jar (so it was hanging inside). This was set up with the gravel and water at the bottom like I'm describing. I ran a few searches, but I couldn't find it - but if you happen to have a bunch of back issues or go to the library much, maybe you could have a look. I think it's the kind of inspiration you're looking for.
posted by ysabella at 7:05 PM on June 15, 2009

Not all orchids like humid air. Orchids as a group live in a very wide variety of different conditions, and each is adapted to the specific area where it's found. I mentioned Cypripedium, for example. One of the reasons it's easy for beginners to grow is that it doesn't need, or like, high humidity or lots of bright sunlight. Its natural environment is the floor of temperate rain forests where the air is dry much of the time and the plant is usually in the shade.

Before trying to design a growing environment, you should do research and pick the specific orchid you want to grow. THEN you work out how and where you're going to grow it, and what kind of conditions it will need in order to prosper.

Or, I guess, design the conditions, and then research different kinds of orchids to see what can and will prosper there. But don't assume they all ike the same thing. They don't.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:11 PM on June 15, 2009

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