January - What's in Katie's Garden?


In My Garden (Zone 7-8)

Katie Elzer-Peters
Katie Elzer-Peters is the author of Beginner's Illustrated Guide to Gardening, Carolinas Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, Southern Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, and many other vegetable gardening books. She lives in coastal North Carolina, where she enjoys four-season gardening. 

I will admit it. In January I do very little outdoor gardening. My basic activities outdoors at this time of year are garden cleanup and pruning of things I didn’t get to in the fall (including cutting back roses, perennials, and ornamental grasses) and harvesting vegetables that are in “cold storage” such as carrots, collards, and kale. Otherwise, I mope away inside and long for the return of sunshine. I can’t imagine living in northerly points where you might have seven hours of daylight instead of ten.

When the gloom gets to be too much for me, I work on my indoor gardens. I have terrariums and miniature gardens. I tend to ignore individual houseplants—my husband takes care of those. But I’m a champ at making terrariums. Here is a little step-by-step guide to making your own enclosed little worlds.


You’ll need to gather plants, accessories, a container, and potting soil. Ideal terrarium plants like high humidity and low light. Table ferns, polka dot plants, Selaginella, Croton, Alternanthera, and Ficus plants all fare well in terrariums. Because terrariums are so small, look for plants in one-inch pots or plants in larger pots that can be split into smaller pieces. Candy jars from craft stores work well for containers. You can use a trifle dish if you want to plant an open terrarium. (Those require more care but tend to have fewer problems with fungus.)

You will need to use sterilized potting soil for planting the plants, activated filter carbon (activated charcoal) to prevent algae growth, and tumbled stones for a base.

Terrarium Step-by-step

1. Fill the bottom of the container with ½ inch to one inch of rocks. Pour activated charcoal on top of the rocks until the rocks are barely covered by the charcoal.

Pouring activated charcoal on top of stones at bottom of container.

2. Add the potting soil on top of the charcoal. Start with one inch of soil. This doesn’t seem like much, but it is easier to start with too little soil and add than to start with too much soil and take away.

Place the plants to make sure that they fit before removing them from their pots.

3. Place the plants, eyeball them, move them around, and then remove them from their pots and plant them. The bottom of the plant root balls can be touching the rocks. Use a spoon to fill in with soil around the plants. Finish off the look by adding decorative mulch such as tumbled stones and place any accessories.

Add little accessories to make your terrariums into tiny worlds.

4. Water the terrarium. Start by watering so that the top inch of soil (which might, in this case, be all of the soil,) is about as damp as a wrung-out sponge. Once you’re finished watering, place the cover on the terrarium.

Terrariums with lids require less care.

Keeping the Terrarium Growing

Terrariums need light so that the plants can photosynthesize and keep the water cycle going. If you can see condensation on the inside of the glass, you know the terrarium is getting enough light.

eep an eye on the terrarium. If the plants start to rot the terrarium is too wet. Open the cover and let it dry out for a week or so. Then you can replace the lid.




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Gardening Tip of the Day

  • Winter's indoor foliage plants delight us with a host of leaf colors and textures. Yet, who wouldn't mind the color burst that flowers bring?

    Since the low intensity of winter's sun makes it difficult to initiate plant flowering, and we may not want the intrusion of fluorescent lights, how about purchasing from the florist a single plant in flower? Just one bright flower can add that finishing jewel to your indoor houseplant display.