A Re-do and a Potential Success

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After constructing several terrariums this winter, I wanted to experiment with an “aqua-terrarium.”  I wanted to try a terrarium of plants growing in a watery environment.

Petco offered a selection of plants sold specifically for use in aquariums, from which I chose two small ferns.  Both ferns were new to me, and so I did a little internet research between buying them and planting them.  Which proved very helpful.

I learned that the Crested Java Fern, Microsorium pteropus, ‘Windelov,’ should be anchored to something and not planted directly into soil, sand or gravel.  And I learned that the (so called) Aqua Fern, Trichomanes javanicum, does not grow well completely submerged.  The success rate of growing this fern in an aquarium long term is slim to none…

I pressed on, allowing the upper leaves of the Aqua Fern to remain above water, and nestled its roots into a pocket of potting mix covered in small stones.

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January 16, 2015 terrarium 004

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Less than a week into the experiment it was clear that this was not a healthy planting.  The water quickly grew murky.  The Aqua Fern never perked up.

I decided to cut my losses and save the Crested Java Fern by moving it into a new, soil-less  “aqua-terrarium.’  I used pure spring water in the construction, and placed the newly built container where it would get bright but indirect light for most of the day.

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And the fern has responded with new growth.  There is not only evidence of new shoots from the base, but what appear to be roots have begun to grow from the tips of some of the fronds!

Native to Southeast Asia, this fern may be found growing along areas that flood and in shallow bodies of fresh or brackish water.  It will grow in anything from moist soil to a completely underwater environment.  And it spreads itself, with those growths on its leaves which take hold to most any surface, to cover wide areas.  I enjoy the beautiful shape of its fronds floating in the water.

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I clean the surface of the water every week or so with a paper towel before topping off the water level.  I don’t know what the “sheen” which forms on the water’s surface may be, but I remove it and wipe residue from the neck of the vase to keep it looking fresh.

Thus far, I rate this experiment as a potential success, and would recommend it to others who want to try growing an ornamental plant underwater indoors.  Now, I’m considering whether to add a small aquatic snail to help feed the fern and balance the planting….

After cleaning the murky water from the original ‘aqua terrarium’ planting, adding a bit more gravel, and allowing the Aqua fern several weeks to show new growth; I decided a “re-do” was in order.

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Who knows; this poor fern may have been on the decline when I purchased it.  An unfamiliar species, I don’t know how it should have looked to begin with, but it didn’t look particularly appealing from the beginning.

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Back to Petco to find a replacement plant, I was amazed to find several containers of my favorite Peacock Spikemoss on the aquarium plant display!  Really?  I know they appreciate moist soil, but have never heard of growing them completely submerged!

But I decided that while I wouldn’t try to grow it underwater, spikemoss would certainly look better in my vase than the dead fern!  And I just happened to have some clumps already growing well at home…  Remember the Amaryllis planting?  Well, the strawberry begonia plants and spikemoss are still growing strong.

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The re-do was a simple bit of “chuck and pluck.”  I very unceremoniously chucked the dead fern where all such things land, and plucked a healthy bit of spikemoss and strawberry begonia out of the Amaryllis garden where they were growing.

A bit of re-arranging of stones and cleaning up of the original vase made it ready to accept the new plants.  I added some clumps of moss, an Apophyllite cluster for sparkle, and watered it all in with a bit of pure spring water.

Although not an ‘aqua-terrarium,’ it is still  a pleasing ‘terrarium.’  We will enjoy it until the plants grow too large for the vase.

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Although the original ‘aqua terrarium’ experiment didn’t work out as I had planned, it has finally worked out OK.  All I lost was a single plant, while gaining some useful experience.

Lessons learned:  Regular potting compost doesn’t work out well in an aqua-terrarium.  Maybe I needed a thicker layer of sand and gravel to contain it, but I still think it was the factor in making the water murky and unpleasant.

Don’t depend on the pet store to recommend appropriate plants for growing underwater.  I should have browsed and noted the names of the plants first;  then done the internet research before making a purchase.  Just because a plant is sold for use in an aquarium doesn’t mean it will grow successfully underwater.

Given the right plant, like the Crested Java Fern,  this approach to an aqua-terrarium works and makes an interesting and unusual display.  I would definitely construct ‘aqua-terrariums’ in future, using the Java fern, with an eye to an interesting container and beautiful stones.

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This fern is known to grow rapidly and divide easily.  It is a good gift for someone who claims they have no green thumb, but would like to have a plant in their home or office.  There is no worry about over-watering!

Gardening experiments give us ample opportunities to fix our mistakes and try again.  It is better to try something new and learn something, even if we have a ‘re-do’ or three along the way.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

 

Aqua-Terrarium

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Is it possible to grow “underwater” plants in a terrarium?  I’ve been playing with this idea for some time now.

I’m not thinking of an “aquarium,” with fish or snails or frogs.  I’m wondering how the principals of making a “little world in a bottle” can be transferred to making a watery environment.

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Books on terrariums seem to group their projects into three or four main categories.  There are the ‘desert’ terrariums constructed from sand, rock, and succulent plants.  These require very little water and need bright light.

There are the “jungle’ terrariums made for rooted plants which prefer high humidity.  These have soil, moss, ferns, tropical plants, and often bits of lichens, wood, and stones.

There are those terrariums which hold air plants balanced on stone, wood, or sand; and the so called “fantasy” terrariums which may have only reindeer moss and decorative items.

The ‘water-world’ I was imagining wasn’t anywhere to be found in books on miniature gardens or terrariums.

 

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And so I’m experimenting with one. 

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It made sense to look for water-loving plants at a nearby Petco.  There is a decent selection, even in January.  These tiny plants come packed in water absorbing gel in little clear plastic sleeves.  I chose two ferns, Microsorium pteropus, ‘Windelov,’ commonly known as ‘Crested Java Fern’ and Trichomanes javanicum, or Aqua Fern.

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I’ve trained myself to take a moment to search for information about new acquisitions, and it’s a good thing that I did a little research on both of these plants before planting them.  Although aqua fern is commonly sold for use in aquariums, it is a terrestrial fern in nature.  There is a lot of criticism in the articles I read of pet shops which sell this fern for aquarium use.

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It can tolerate water up to a point, but prefers to grow in the air.  Grown entirely underwater, it dies within a year or so.

The crested Java fern is not so picky.  It can grow on land, partially submerged, or completely underwater.

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But it should never be “planted” with its roots under soil.  It grows from creeping rhizomes and must be anchored to a rock or piece of driftwood, and allowed to grow above the soil line of its environment.

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All of this was useful information in thinking about how to plant my “aqua-terrarium.”

I realized that although the crested Java fern needs no soil, the aqua fern would benefit from having its roots anchored in soil and its leaves at least partially exposed to the air.

A base layer of glass shards and polished stones forms the base layer of this terrarium.

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I topped this with a fairly thick layer of reindeer moss to hold the soil from shifting down among these stones.

The trick of this construction is to encase the soil as much as possible, to keep it from muddying the water.  There is some leakage of soil, but I expect it to settle out over time.

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I wrapped a large, attractive stone with gold plated jewelry wire, constructing a little spiral to anchor the roots of the crested Java fern.  Rhizomes should eventually grow over the rock, and potentially spread across the gravel.

I covered the little bit of fresh potting soil as much as possible with large flat stones, and then pushed the roots of the aqua fern into a hole left in the soil.  More small stones secure that fern in place.

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Finally, I poured a thin layer of quartz sand over everything to seal and cover the soil, added bottled spring water, and added a few mineral specimens as accents.

As with all first attempts, I’m already considering how this could be better.

The container is perhaps a little small for two ferns.  Maybe I should have skipped the potting soil entirely, and used only the crested Java fern in this construction.  I may still pull it back out and give it its own container.

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I”m also wondering whether the water is too high for the aqua fern.  Maybe it should grow in a boggy environment with mosses instead of in this ‘aqua-terrarium.”

And of course, I would love to add one of those cute little frogs we spotted at Petco…  But that presents its own challenges, and questions, doesn’t it?

I’ve placed this new ‘aqua-terrarium in bright but indirect light and will just observe it for a while.

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I’m hoping you have an opinion or some advice in all of this…

What do you think about this genre of terrarium?  How would you proceed?  Is this an interesting little indoor winter garden?

I have mixed feelings about it.

I’m not sure that either fern is shown off to advantage with this configuration, but as they relax and adapt, they continue to improve in appearance.

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I especially like the tips of the little crested Java fern as seen underwater.  They somehow resemble frogs’ hands…

 

Woodland Gnome 2014

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