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Tip 1: don’t.
Except it’s not. Jade plants aren’t a great option for terrariums. At all.
Which rather begs the question, why write an article on it?
The first reason is that people LOVE to grow jade plants in terrariums. I don’t know why. It’s, like a thing.
The second reason is that many, many people go to plant shops and garden centres to buy a terrarium, and get sent home with a jade plant. I’m not blaming sellers here, succulent+terrium=yay! is still a pervasive myth in the world of house plants.
The third reason is that many people like to gift terrariums to others, and then the receiver is stuck with it. I COULD recommend that you remove the jade plant and pot it up but that’s a tonne of extra work. There are a few things you can do to help your jade plant thrive in its shitty situation:
1 – Don’t close the terrarium
You want a terrarium that looks like this:
…Not like this:
I do think those little greenhouses are cute af, but they’re a disaster for any plant that likes dry air.
The beauty of terrariums is that if you pick the right terrarium, plants, lights, etc, you can leave it to grow by itself. I have everything set up on timers so all I need to do to mine is prune the large plants (and herd the escapee geckos back in).
Putting a jade plant in an open terrarium can work ok in the right circumstances, but putting one in a closed terrarium is just a dead plant waiting to happen. Succulents like dry conditions, but do need a good watering on occasion. A closed terrarium would stay too wet for too long.
2 – Make sure it gets enough light
Jade plants need a tonne of bright light anyway, even if they’re not in a terrarium. they can get leggy very quickly, and they’ll outgrow their terrarium. The light also causes the water in the substrate to evaporate quickly which is crucial to keeping the roots healthy.
Jade plants like a lot of water, but they do NOT like their substrate to stay damp. Professional succulent growers use various methods (including the humble blow dryer) to dry the substrate after watering.
Good light is the key to good succulent growth. They need a LOT. If you’re keeping a jade plant in a terrarium, I’d recommend a very bright, warm windowsill, or grow lights.
3 – Keep it warm
Jade plants are pretty cold tolerant (they are NOT frost tolerant), however, I recommend keeping jade plants in terrariums warmer. If they’re too cold for too long, they’ll more likely to succumb to root rot.
If you’re extremely careful to make sure your terrarium has ample light and is kept incredibly dry, then you don’t need to worry so much about the cold, but I’ve found that keeping it warm keeps the plant a little happier.
Also, it help to dry out the substrate and keep humidity down.
4 – Keep the substrate dry
As I said before, professional cactus growers thoroughly soak the substrate that their plant is in, leave it for, say, half an hour, and then dry off the substrate with a blowdryer. You could try putting it near a radiator if you like.
I keep plants directly above my radiators and they don’t seem to mind (Hoya bella and P. brasil), but I have read this can damage plants. Succulents spend their days in direct sunlight though, so I doubt half an hour near a radiator will kill them.
5 – Use as little substrate as possible
This is for the same reason that we don’t put small plants in big pots – the more substrate you use, the more water it can hold, the longer it will take to dry out.
If you have a certain aesthetic in mind for your terrarium which involves a deep substrate layer, that’s fine, just don’t use anything that can hold water. Gravel and sand will work fine BUT you’ll need to make sure to be VERY careful when watering. Any water that falls into the gravel layer will just sit there, causing the humidity to rise.
How deep a layer of substrate you need will depend on how big your terrarium is, but succulents have pretty shallow root systems. In a small terrarium, I’d start with a half inch/1cm of soil. You can always add more.
6 – Mist the soil
Misting the soil isn’t best practice when it comes to watering jade plants. Succulents like to be watered deeply, but then to dry out very quickly afterwards.
However, that just isn’t really practical with a terrarium, unless it’s got drainage holes. If you water it deeply, how are you going to get rid of the excess water?
Misting it is just easier. Thoroughly soak the top of the soil, but make sure to avoid getting the plant wet as much as you can.
7 – Reduce humidity as much as possible
This could be as simple as putting your plant in your dryest room, or near a dehumidifier. You could also fan it with a little fan. If you have a very humid house, put your jade plant terrarium outside as much as you can – not only does it tend to be less humid outside (depending on where you live) but the wind will also help dry out the soil.
8 – Drill drainage holes
You need to be very careful when drilling holes in glass. You’ll need a diamond drill bit, and, hopefully, someone that knows what they’re doing.
Personally, I think that drilling drainage holes into a jade plant terrarium is worth the risk of it smashing. It’ll mean that you can thoroughly water without having to worry about creating a muddy quagmire for your plant. As long as you can keep light levels up and humidity down your jade plant should do ok.
9 – Increase airflow
Increasing the amount of air around your terrarium can help to stop humidity from building up too much, as well as hindering mould growth. Also, plants need oxygen, especially for root growth. A fan is a great option, but don’t discount free things, like putting it near an open window, or outside for a few hours.
Don’t put your succulent outside in freezing cold weather, but they are pretty cold tolerant.
10 – Don’t crowd the terrarium
I’d just stick with one of two plants (depending on the size of your terrarium). Planting multiple plants can seem like a good idea, because the more roots in the soil the more water will be absorbed.
And that would be true, if plants weren’t such competitive little bitches.
Some plants (looking at you, Mother of Thousands) produce allelopthic compounds. Allelopathic compounds are chemicals that some plants produce that exert influence over other plants. Some succulents inhibit the growth and root formation of other plants, which is annoying, but understandable. Why compete for light when you can just stop the other guys in their tracks?
Other plants go as far as preventing seeds from germinating. Really cutting their competition off at the source. It’s a bit extreme, but I respect their hustle. Tomatoes are suspected to do this, but no one can prove it, which just makes me love them more.
Asparagus, hilariously, produces allelopathic compounds that not only hinder other plants but also will prevent asparagus from growing in the same place again. I’m assuming there’s some reason for this (perhaps asparagus wants to see the world) but I kind of like the idea it’s just a petulant plant, happy to cut its nose off to spite its face.
Buy a terracotta pot and some cactus mix. Take the jade plant out of the terrarium, and pot it in the terracotta pot. Then go and buy a fittonia to go in the terrarium.
Why am I considering having a go at growing a jade plant in a terrarium? How has writing this article convinced me to try it? Do I want to make both myself and a poor, unsuspecting jade plant miserable?