Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Mondays in Steamboat Today.
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Some good choices for a bottle garden include: baby’s tears (Soleirolia soleirolii), little club moss (Selaginella), maidenhair spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes), Southern maidenhair fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris), crotons (Cadiaeum variegatum), mosaic plant (Fittonia verschaffeltii), polka-dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya) and mother-of-thousands (Saxifraga stolonifera ‘Tricolor’). Other plants that do well in bottle gardens include: Ti plant (Cordyline terminalis), ribbon plant (Dracaena sanderiana), Earth star (Cryptanthus acaulis), prayer plants (Maranta) and parlor palm (Chamaedorea elegans).
If you’re itching to work with plants but the ground outdoors is as frozen as the Fish Creek waterfall, consider planting a bottle garden.
Tropical plants, ferns and other plants requiring high humidity are perfect for a miniature garden located inside a bottle.
With a bottle garden, you’re actually creating a little greenhouse where moisture from the soil condenses on the sides of the glass and runs down its sides, making the air and soil constantly moist.
Clear glass bottles with narrow neck openings are best for this type of garden. Make sure, however, that the neck opening is large enough to allow you to fit small plants through it. Plastic bottles and those with tinted glass don’t work as well because the tint reduces light and plastic tends to build up condensation, blocking your view of the plants and the light needed for healthy growth. If you do opt for a tinted glass bottle, you’ll need to restrict yourself to shade-loving plants in your garden.
Plants for bottle gardens should be small and slow-growing.
Thyme in a bottle is probably not a good choice, but there are many mosses, ferns, climbing, trailing and other plants that do work well.
Choose plants for your bottle garden to provide a pleasing mixture of sizes, textures, and color. Also be sure to choose plants with similar light and temperature needs.
The soil you use must be high in organic matter. Most potting soils sold commercially work well.
To plant your bottle garden, first thoroughly wash and disinfect the bottle. Dry it, and then add a drainage layer of small pebbles (pea gravel or aquarium gravel) mixed with a little horticultural charcoal to keep soil from developing a sour smell. A fiberglass screen or some sphagnum moss should be laid atop the charcoal to keep the soil from sifting into the drainage area.
Using a long-handled spoon or a rolled-paper funnel, spread a 2- to 4-inch layer of relatively dry soil, so the soil doesn’t stick to the sides of the bottle. Smooth the soil and make a hole for the first plant.
Lower the plant into its hole and backfill. Repeat for the rest of the plants, inserting the lowest-growing species first. If it is difficult to insert the last plants because of the other foliage already in the bottle, wrap a paper tube around the plant and slip it off after it is in position.
Finally, firm the soil and add any wood bark, pebbles or other decorative items. Then moisten the soil and foliage with tepid water from a spray bottle.
Leave the bottle’s neck open for a few weeks until the moisture condensing on the sides is minimal, then insert a cork stopper. If the neck is quite narrow, no stopper is needed.
Be sure to remove any plant that begins to rot, as well as falling leaves or other plant parts that begin to decay. A bottle garden should need watering very infrequently as the soil dries out. Unless the plants seem unhealthy, fertilizing is not recommended since it will encourage too much growth.
Deb Babcock is a master gardener through the Routt County’s Cooperative Extension Office. Call 879-0825 with questions.