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PLants growing in plastic

Exploration and Observation: Drinking Juice and Making a Plant Terrarium

This week’s science activity comes from my good friend (and a great author) Helen Boswell, author of the young adult novel Mythology. This is a great activity for young naturalists like Calpurnia Tate from this week’s book! Here’s we go:

Plants are an important part of the ecosystem and equally interesting. (For instance, did you know that plants can actually tell the time similar to how animals have circadian rhythms? Click here to find out more!)

So here’s a simple exploratory activity I would like to share with teachers. I worked with my own son to test out this activity. He helped me to make some of the visuals for this post.

Activity: Making a Plant Terrarium (by Helen Boswell and her son William)

Materials needed:

  • Large plastic juice bottle
  • Scissors
  • Rocks or marbles
  • Soil
  • Seeds

1)     Buy juice that comes in a plastic bottle. Drink all of the juice and thoroughly wash out the bottle.

Drawing of juice

2)     Remove the label and cut the top off the bottle, about 1/3 of the way down.

Drawing of scissors cutting a bottle

3)     Fill the bottom of the bottle approximately an inch high with small, smooth rocks. Marbles work well, too, but it’s more fun to collect your own rocks from outside. The rocks will serve to allow drainage of water from the soil inside the terrarium. Add approximately 3-4 inches of potting soil to the top of the rocks.  Water the soil so that the layer of rocks is wet.  The soil should be moist from the watering but should not be muddy.


4)     Now for the most fun part (aside from drinking all of that juice). Okay, I’ll rephrase – here’s the most fun and exploratory part of this activity. If you’re an educator, buy some seeds and remove them from the packaging (try different things – grasses, flowering plants) or go to your local nursery and get some fern or moss spores (ferns and mosses do amazingly well in terrariums). Have your students plant the mystery seeds or spores in their terrariums and keep track of their growth. Try to identify the plants as they grow and develop. Or go on a nature walk and find some plants! They need to be very small – make sure you get the roots! – and plant them in your terrarium to monitor their growth and development.

drawing of plants in bottle

5) Place the bottle top (including the lid) back onto the bottom of the juice bottle. Unscrew the lid to add water to the soil through the opening of the bottle whenever the soil appears dry. After the first initial waterings, you won’t have to water very much at all, because the closed bottle will keep the moisture in the bottle!
Keep your terrarium in a well-lit area, but not direct sun, as the inside of the bottle will get very hot if it’s placed in the sun.

Plants in plastic

William wanted me to share with you a picture of his terrarium (shown above with the top off). We found some tiny ferns (no bigger than his pinky nail) and planted them and this is what it looks like now! We water it about once a month. It’s a great way to spark a student’s interest in plants, and especially great for his or her parent who might not have the best of green thumbs!

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