Sucking the life out of my succulents

For the longest time I’ve wanted to plant some succulents in a terrarium. I keep seeing tons of pictures and different arrangements, and I love the way they look (as long as they’re not too deserty looking). Also they’re supposed to be easy to take care of and almost impossible to kill.



But I’m not the type of person to just jump into something without knowing what I’m getting myself into…even with something as simple as plants. I have to follow the rules! So I started researching succulents: how to plant them, how to care for them, what soil they prefer, etc. I came across an article (which now I can’t seem to find!) that was talking about the pitfalls of succulent terrariums. First, succulents and cacti need good air flow. A lot of these containers have such small openings that they get no air flow at all. Second, many people don’t consider the growth rates of their plants and end up overcrowding their terrariums, leaving no room for the plants to grow. I got the feeling this article was recommending not to plant succulents in terrariums at all but rather to plant them in pots with good drainage and to place them outside. BUT I couldn’t help myself…I wanted a terrarium!

I did decide to follow a little of their advice, though. I set out to find a container that was large and had an open top so there would be better air flow. I decided to plant only 3 succulents in the terrarium, leaving space between each plant to grow. My wonderful mom was visiting that weekend and bought them for me at Home Depot for a couple bucks a piece.

I’m not sure what the one in the back is (with the stripey leaves.) It didn’t have a label. The star shaped light green one is an Echeveria Sunburst and the one on the left with the round leaves is called Elephant bush or “Spekboom.” Then we bought the perfect glass container at Michael’s and of course used a 50% off coupon.

The only other things I needed were potting soil, sand, and rocks (which I got from my incredibly rocky back yard). I’m also planning to put a layer of small rocks on the top, but I can’t seem to find any small enough.

One of the most important things for cacti and succulents is that they like well drained non-compact soil. If you can’t find a cactus and succulent potting mix (I looked everywhere and couldn’t find anything similar!) you can add a non-organic material to your potting soil. I used a regular Miracle Grow potting soil and added coarse sand (not fine sand because it compacts when wet) to the soil. Some places recommend you also add a layer of charcoal to help with moisture, but I didn’t feel like it. So there.

I added a layer of rocks first and then a couple inches of my potting soil/sand mixture and planted my succulents. This was the result.

Sadly my echeveria lost a few leaves in the process, even though I tried to be really careful with it. 🙁  And you know how everyone says they’re impossible to kill? Well, I killed one.

(Ignore the toothpicks by the stripey plant. It got a little droopy during planting). The frustrating thing is I have no idea what I did wrong. I’m sure it didn’t help to lose several leaves in the planting process. I don’t believe I over watered (especially since the other two look good). I couldn’t accept defeat this early so I pulled out the dead one and popped a new pretty plant in it’s place. It’s been planted for about a week now and so far so good.

Now I just need some rocks for the top. Someone else found my new terrarium, too. Wonder who those teeny tiny bite marks could be from?

Update: I don’t have a green thumb. At all! Check out the fate of my succulents and my “cheater” solution here.

One Response to Sucking the life out of my succulents

  1. Dimitra September 6, 2012 at 4:16 am #

    I think your “unidentified” plant is Pilea Cadieri. In any case I used to have the same plant and the leaves were becoming like the ones in your photos when the plant was under watered. As soon as it got watered, the leaves (and stems) were upright again. Altogether, it did not do well in sparse watering conditions (like a succulent) and enjoyed high humidity. Are you sure it is a succulent? 🙂
    As far as top layer, you could try aquarium gravel, it should be the perfect size for your terrarium.