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“There are no gardening mistakes… only experiments.”

– Janet Kilburn Phillips

Bottle gardens are pretty much exactly what they sound like: small “gardens” planted inside a sealable bottle or container that are sometimes also referred to as terrariums. The particularly neat thing about bottle gardens is that, if done properly, they can become self-sustaining ecosystems that require little to no ongoing upkeep.

Step 1: Choosing The Right Container

The container that you choose for your bottle garden will determine how many plants you can fit inside and the size of the plants that you add. Also keep in mind that the smaller the opening is, the harder it will be for you to get your plants inside the container initially. Ideal bottle garden containers have lids and can be sealed (otherwise you’d be creating an open terrarium which is slightly different!), are made of glass that’s clear versus opaque, and are tall enough that some space is left between the top of the plants and the bottom of the lid.

Step 2: Add Your Soil and Choose Your Plants

Bottle gardens are surprisingly easy to create and maintain, but in order for it to be successful, you’ll need to ensure that you are using the right soil and choosing the right plants.

Adding a small layer of pea gravel in the bottle before adding your soil can help to increase drainage and keep excess moisture away from the plant’s roots. Then, add 3 to 4 inches of a porous, well-draining soil mixture to the bottle on top of the gravel. A standard indoor potting mix amended with a small amount of perlite or sand should be sufficient. Ensure that you moisten the soil before planting anything.

Next, add the plants to your bottle garden—starting with the smallest ones and moving up to the largest. Stick with low-growing, tropical plants that thrive in humid conditions such as ferns, moss, polka dot plants (Hypoestes phyllostachya), nerve plants (Fittonia), and baby tears plants (Soleirolia soleirolii). All of these plants also have shallow root systems which allows them to thrive in bottle garden environments.

You can choose to only add one type of plant, or add multiple, but keep in mind that the closer you plant your plants together, the more cramped they will become over time and the sooner you may need to do some pruning and maintenance.

Depending on the size of your container’s opening, you may also need to purchase some terrarium tools to help you get the plants situated inside. These can be readily found at most nurseries and garden centers, or online.

After you’ve finished creating your bottle garden you’ll need to water the freshly added plants. Using a spray bottle to mist the inside of the bottle can be helpful to ensure that you don’t overwater and saturate the soil. Leave the lid off of your terrarium until any water present on the leaves of your plants has dried.

Step 3: Maintaining Your Bottle Garden

Choose a location in your home that receives bright but indirect light. The plants inside your bottle garden should receive dappled light, but never direct sun. Once a week you should remove the lid of your bottle garden for up to 15 minutes to let in some fresh air, otherwise your bottle garden is fairly maintenance-free. You will only need to water your bottle garden if you notice that the soil begins to dry out, otherwise the initial watering should create a rain cycle (how cool!) that allows the bottle garden to maintain consistent moisture. On an ongoing basis, keep an eye out for signs of pests or disease, and regularly prune any dead or dying leaves from the plants to avoid rotting.

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