Frequently Asked Questions

 
 James Harris & Gregg Harris, a Father & Son Team

James Harris & Gregg Harris, a Father & Son Team

 

1. What is a terrarium?
2. What kinds of plants do well in a terrarium?
3. What plants do not do well in a terrarium?
4. Do I need to water my terrarium?
5. How often should I water my terrarium?
6. How much water should I add to my terrarium?
7. Do I need to fertilize my terrarium?
8. What can I do when my terrarium fogs up?
9. What should I do if I see mold growing in my terrarium?
10. What should I do if I find a mushroom growing in my terrarium?
11. What should I do if I see an insect?
12. What should I do if I see a slug?
13. What should I do if my terrarium is getting too crowded with plants?
14. Can you ship planted terrariums through the mail?
15. What is a Wardian Case terrarium?
16. How much light does my terrarium need?
17. Can I add my own rocks and minerals to my terrarium?
18. What does the moss do in my terrarium? Is it there just for looks?
19. What is your No-fault Warranty?
20. How can I get my terrarium serviced?
21. Am I able to return a terrarium? 
22. I live too far away to bring my terrarium in to your shop. How can I maintain it myself?
23. Can I keep carnivorous plants in a terrarium?
24. Can I keep air plants in a terrarium?
25. Can I keep cacti and succulents in a terrarium?
26. Can I keep orchids in a terrarium?
27. Can I keep African violets in a terrarium?
28. How does a terrarium get its air when it is closed?
29. Can I keep poison dart frogs in my terrarium?
30. What care do poison dart frogs need?
31. What other animals canine would in my terrarium?
32. May I bring in my own container to be planted as a terrarium?
33. May I bring my own container to be planted during a terrarium class?
34. Do I have to have a lid on my terrarium?
35. Why is your shop called Roosevelt’s Terrariums?

 

1. What is a terrarium?

A terrarium is a miniature rainforest planted in artisan glass. It is a self-contained ecosystem that can thrive for years, with proper light, without even being opened or watered. A true terrarium must be closed with a glass lid, cork, stopper or some other kind of closure. That is in order to allow the terrarium to recycle its water, carbon dioxide and oxygen. A closed, wet terrarium is the best way to enjoy beautiful tropical plants in your home or workplace without having to worry about how to keep them healthy and happy.

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2. What kinds of plants do well in a terrarium?

The best plants are tropical, evergreen plants with smaller leaves that can be easily trimmed as they grow. Some evergreen woodland plants and mosses will also do well in a terrarium.

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3. What plants do not do well in a terrarium?

Plants that do not like high humidity will not do well in a terrarium. This would include any plants that require high levels of direct sunlight. Desert plants, such as succulents and cacti, require a hot, dry, arid habitat. Though many blooming plants thrive in a terrarium, most orchids and normal size African violets that require constant air circulation will not do well in a terrarium. 

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4. Do I need to water my terrarium?

That will depend on what type of closure your terrarium has. A terrarium with a normal, loose-fitting glass lid will usually need a small amount of water every three months to remain moist and humid. A terrarium bottle, lab flask or jar with a natural cork, rubber stopper or rubber gasket should not need to be watered at all, if it is kept closed. However, terrariums with such rubber gaskets or stoppers may be so airtight that they build up pressure inside due to the composting activity of the microbes in the soil. For that reason we cut a tiny grove in each rubber gasket or stopper to act as an air passage to allow any air pressure to be released as needed. 

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5. How often should I water my terrarium?

If your terrarium has a loose-fitting glass lid you will need to add a small amount of water every three months. If your terrarium has a cork, or a rubber or glass stopper, you should not have to water your terrarium because it is self-contained.

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6. How much water should I add to my terrarium?

We recommend adding roughly a quarter of a cup of water for a quart-sized container, a half cup of water for a half-gallon-sized container and a full cup of water for a container that is gallon-sized or larger. Soil should be kept moist, but not soggy. Excess water at the bottom of the terrarium may be removed with the suction of a plastic basting tool.

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7. Do I need to fertilize my terrarium?

No. A small amount of fertilizer has already been added to the soil by the grower when the plants were being grown in the greenhouse. Additional fertilizer may cause rapid plant growth, which then requires more trimming of the plants. 

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8. What can I do when my terrarium fogs up?

The fogging up of a terrarium is a natural and necessary part of what makes a terrarium work. This is the water cycle. Therefore do NOT open your terrarium just to air it out. Doing so defeats the purpose of it being a terrarium. Instead, we recommend that you invest in a set of our magnetic scrubbers to clear off the fog on the inside without allowing any precious moisture to escape.

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9. What should I do if I see mold growing in my terrarium?

Many molds are harmless to the plants, but they are unsightly when they are spreading aggressively. Molds normally appear when a terrarium has become too dry and musty. A healthy terrarium should be kept wet and “drippy” on the sides without allowing the soil to become soggy and water-laden. If mold appears, the first thing to do is remove the moss, plants and soils where it is even the slightest bit visible. Affected plants may be soaked in mild detergent water and rinsed off in room temperature water and replanted, or discarded and replaced with clean, new plants. An organic fungicide may be added to the terrarium to kill any remaining mold spore. Another way to tame a mold infestation is by the adding springtails to the terrarium; these are tiny white insects that actually eat mold and fungi. These tiny creatures are part of the clean-up crew of the rainforest. They help to balance the ecosystem of your terrarium.

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10. What should I do if I find a mushroom growing in my terrarium?

Mushrooms are the puppies and kittens of the terrarium world. They are so cute when they are small, but they are not as cute when they grow large and begin to spore and take over your terrarium. Some mushrooms actually create a dead zone, called a fairy ring, where the toxins in their spore have killed off plants in the surrounding area. I recommend enjoying them for a day or less and then removing them before they open their caps wide and begin to drop their spore. If you like the mushroom look, I recommend placing porcelain figurines of small mushrooms in your terrarium.

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11. What should I do if I see an insect?

It all depends on what it is. If it is a black fly, a white fly, an ant, a mealy bug or a red spider mite, it should be removed quickly before it can reproduce. If more appear, continue to remove them until no more appear. An mild organic pesticide may be added to kill any eggs that remain. If, however, the insect is a small centipede, a “roll poly” or a springtail, it will do no harm. These critters eat only the dead material on the forest floor. If you like it, keep it. 

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12. What should I do if I see a slug?

If you see a slug, even a very tiny one, you should take it out immediately. These slimy little creatures are voracious eaters of live plants. Some snails, with shells, eat only dead plant material, but slugs like their salad fresh and green. You are likely to see holes in the leaves of your plants and winding slug trails through the fog on the inside of the glass first. Then, if you follow the trails, you may find the slug moving along slowly at the very end of it. Use a q-tip or a bit of paper towel to “capture” it and discard it. 

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13. What should I do if my terrarium is getting too crowded with plants?

Every terrarium plant must grow in order to remain alive. Though most of our plants grow slowly, they will eventually begin to bump up against the lid of your terrarium. It is wise to be proactive and not wait for crowding to happen. Instead, pinch off or clip off the buds at the top and sides of each plant as needed. This will force it to put out new growth on the base and at the sides. The clippings may be inserted into the soil to propagate new baby plants if you like. Poking a tiny hole in the soil with a skewer or chop stick will allow the stems of your fresh cuttings to be inserted into the soil without bruising or breaking them. 

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14. Can you ship planted terrariums through the mail?

We are sorry, but no, we cannot ship planted terrariums through the mail. If the terrarium tipped over in transit, it would mix everything up like a tossed salad. Any stones in the terrarium would also likely break the glass. You may select and pay for a terrarium through our website, but the terrarium must be picked up from us here at our shop in Portland, Oregon during regular shop hours. 

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15. What is a Wardian Case terrarium?

A Wardian Case is the original terrarium design. Built of plate glass and wood molding, it is named in honor of Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward, the discoverer of the Terrarium Effect in 1827. The first Wardian Cases were used as cargo cases for the transportation of live tropical plants from one continent to another, across the vast oceans and long, land-based trade routes of the day. After proving its effectiveness as a glass cargo case for live plants, the Wardian Case was then adapted for use as a beautiful wood and glass display case for keeping live tropical plants in botanical gardens and then in people’s homes. Our Wardian Cases are reproductions of the original, simple designs as first invented by Dr. Ward. 

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16. How much light does my terrarium need?

The tropical plants that we use in our terms require bright but indirect light. These plants are used to growing under the canopy of the taller trees in the rainforest. Therefore, it is important to protect your terrarium from the heat of direct sunlight. The light that radiates from the sky itself is the ideal light for your terrarium. You may supplement this light with LED lights or with fluorescent lights. Incandescent lights are of less value for plant growth, though they may be of some value. Supplemental lights should be turned on first thing in the morning and turned off last thing in the evening. Do not keep lights on overnight, as your terrarium plants will need a period of darkness at night during which they respirate, exchanging water vapor and oxygen for carbon dioxide.

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17. Can I add my own rocks and minerals to my terrarium?

Yes, you may add your own rocks and minerals to your terrarium, provided they are clean and not water soluble. We recommend that you place such materials in a bowl and submerge them in hot, boiling water for five minutes. This will not only kill any fungi or other pathogens present, but will also test the materials to be sure they do not dissolve in water. Some beautiful crystals are salt-based or sedimentary and may therefore dissolve in the high humidity of your terrarium, shedding chemicals that may slowly poison your plants and mosses.

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18. What does the moss do in my terrarium? Is it there just for looks?

Live, deep-forest mosses are beautiful and they add a lushness to any terrarium landscape. However, mosses also play an important part in the ecology of the forests, absorbing and holding water until it is needed during dry times. They also have an anti-fungal effect that helps to keep the terrarium’s system in balance. We use mosses for all of these reasons.

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19. What is your No-fault Warranty?

The scientific technology that we use in the design and planting of our terrariums is so stable that we are able to offer a no-fault warranty on every planting. When you purchase or receive one of our terrariums, we provide complete maintenance just for tips. Just bring your terrarium in to our shop during regular shop hours and we will give it a terrarium spa if it only needs to be trimmed and cleaned, or a terrarium clinic if needs to be replanted. With our terrariums you cannot fail, because we won't let you fail. All you have to do is enjoy them.

The Fine Print: We have repaired hundreds of terrariums over the years, and we are more than happy to continue to do so. However, we must reserve the right to replace any failed terrarium with another terrarium of equal value or greater whenever, in our sole opinion, to attempt to perform a repair on the terrarium would likely fail. We also reserve the right to purchase back from any customer by means of issuing a the full refund, any terrarium, when we decide, at our sole discretion, that to do otherwise is not likely to result in that customer’s satisfaction.

We have never had to exercise either of these two policies thus far, but they are provided here in order to evoke them for those who may require them in the future.

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20. How can I get my terrarium serviced?

Just bring your terrarium in to our shop during regular shop hours and we will give it a terrarium spa if it only needs to be trimmed and cleaned, or a terrarium clinic if needs to be replanted. We will take your name and phone number and call you when it is ready to be picked up.

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21. I live too far away to bring my terrarium in to your shop. How can I maintain it myself?

If you live too far away to bring your terrarium in, we will advise you over the phone and by text how best to service your terrarium. By texting us a photo of whatever may be the problem, we will recommend what to do. If you need new plants, we may be able to help you find a good local source.

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22. Am I able to return a terrarium?

Unfortunately, no. Because of the nature of our products as live plants, we do not accept returns for a cash refund. However, under some circumstances, we may be willing to offer partial credit toward some other terrarium or other item that we offer. Only our plantings are under warranty, and then only for a refresh or a replant. Broken glassware is not covered by our warranty. 

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23. Can I keep carnivorous plants in a terrarium?

Most carnivorous plants need direct sunlight in order to thrive. Many also need a cold season of dormancy in order to come back fresh and healthy. For these reasons, a terrarium is not a good habitat for these plants. 

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24. Can I keep air plants in a terrarium?

Air plants may be kept in a closed terrarium if there is also enough soil present to provide carbon dioxide. Even though the air plants are not actually planted in the soil, without the soil inside the terrarium, the air plants will eventually suffocate. 

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25. Can I keep cacti and succulents in a terrarium?

No. Cacti and succulents are desert plants. They need a sunny, hot, dry, and arid habitat in order to thrive. Placing these plants in the closed, wet, low light environment of a terrarium will cause them to die.

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26. Can I keep orchids in a terrarium?

Some miniature orchids do well in a terrarium, but most of the popular varieties with the large flowers require more air circulation than can be provided in a closed terrarium. 

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27. Can I keep African violets in a terrarium?

Normal-sized African violets do not usually do well in a closed terrarium because of their need for good air circulation. However, miniature African violets can do very well in a closed terrarium, provided their spent blooms are removed as they fade. Miniature African violets will bloom two or three times each year if the bright light and high humidity requirements are met. 

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28. How does a terrarium get its air when it is closed?

The terrarium effect works because microbes in the soil are composting the leaves and stems of former plants and breaking them down into loam. In this process they're releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide into the air inside the jar. The plants breathe this carbon dioxide in through their leaves in the process of photosynthesis, during which the plants manufacture for themselves new molecules of starch. But for each molecule of starch that is produced, a molecule of oxygen is also produced and released into the air inside the jar. This oxygen makes its way down through the air passages in the soil to where the microbes live. They breathe in this fresh, new oxygen and go back to work composting the soil and releasing more carbon dioxide in to the air. Thus, at the foundation of all the life in your terrarium is this relationship of doing well for yourself by doing good for others. All of life on planet Earth is dependent upon this simple but profound truth — that we are able to thrive best by helping others to thrive. That is how your terrarium gets its air.

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29. Can I keep poison dart frogs in my terrarium?

Yes. Poison dart frogs make a wonderful addition to any larger terrarium. However, best practices demand that we not place dart frogs into a terrarium smaller than at least 8 gallons. This is in order to provide an adequate oxygen supply for the frogs when they are mature. Larger-sized terrariums also allow the frogs to have adequate room to run around and to hunt inside the terrarium.

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30. What care do poison dart frogs need?

Poison dart frogs will need to be fed every day on flightless fruit flies. Such flies are sold in our shop and in any pet store that serves the dart frog community. Dietary supplements are also recommended by many in the frog community. If you also desire to breed the frogs, then special requirements will also need to be set up for that.

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31. What other animals can survive in my terrarium?

We do not recommend any other animals in our terrariums. Our poison dart frogs do not dig or otherwise rearrange our beautiful plantings. They simply climb around on the plants. Other creatures, such as toads, lizards, small turtles, and other amphibians, tend to muck up the terrarium very quickly.

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32. May I bring in my own container to be planted as a terrarium?

Yes, we are happy to plant your own container if you will bring it into our shop during regular shop hours. We normally charge a $10 fee to clean your terrarium container if needed, and then we charge $35 minimum or $50 per square foot to plant the container. This fee includes all of the plants, soils, rocks, gravels, and mosses needed to provide you with an extraordinary terrarium.

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33. May I bring my own container to be planted during a terrarium class?

Sorry, but no, you may not bring your own container to our terrarium class. This is because, with the number of students in each class, the time needed to clean and dry each container would take away from time for instruction. Each container must also have a properly fitting lid in order to make a successful terrarium. In addition, we would be unable to provide our no-fault warranty for terrariums that we had not had opportunity to prepare. However, you may bring your own container into our shop to be planted either by us or by you at our terrarium planting station.

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34. Do I have to have a lid on my terrarium?

Yes. We have a saying around here, “If it doesn't have a lid, who you trying to kid? It's not a terrarium." It is the lid that allows your terrarium to recycle its water, oxygen and carbon dioxide.

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35. Why is your shop called Roosevelt's Terrariums?

We are called Roosevelt’s Terrariums for two reasons? The first is because Roosevelt was into terrariums. As a young man, he and his younger brother Elliot turned their upstairs bedroom into a natural history museum, which included large terrarium cases, known as Wardian Cases in honor of their inventor, Nathanial Bagshaw Ward. Though they were not called terrariums until 1895, that was in fact what they were. The second reason is because I am a Roosevelt Impersonator. I go out to our local schools to present the life of Theodore Roosevelt as it relates to various topics and issues. So, our shop reflects what Teddy himself would have had in his upstairs museum of natural history — rocks, minerals, fossils, taxidermy and terrariums. Lots of terrariums!

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