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How To Make A Terrarium (Step-by-Step)

Terrariums are miniature gardens. Think of a smallish see-through container filled with plants—a mini-garden! They can be as big or as small as you want, require very little maintenance, and can be enjoyed all year round.


Terrariums are easy to make and can be customized whether you want a lush forest or a desert landscape. If you're interested in other unique ways to display plants, you can learn to grow them in water.


Making a terrarium is a great and easy way to bring some life and greenery into your home. You can create a beautiful home for tiny plants with just a few simple items and steps.

open geometric terrarium

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How To Make A Terrarium

 

1. Before you Start

Choose one of the following as your terrarium option:

  • Open

  • Partially open

  • Closed

Open terrariums work well with plants that love the sun and thrive in drier conditions, such as succulents and cacti. These plants prefer a well-draining soil mix and do not require high humidity levels. Open terrariums also provide more air circulation, which helps prevent mold and fungal growth.


Closed terrariums work well with plants that thrive in humidity, such as ferns, mosses, and tropical plants. This is because the moisture from the soil and plant transpiration is trapped inside the container, creating a humid microclimate ideal for these plants.


There are also a few things you should avoid when building your terrarium:

  • Fast-growing plants.

  • Plants with big leaves that will block out light needed by smaller plants.

  • Plants that don't like humidity in a partially open or closed container.

  • Cactus and succulents in fully enclosed containers.

 
open terrariums in various containers

2. Choose a Container

You can use any transparent container - glass or plastic.

Containers with a wide mouth work well, such as:

  • aquariums

  • goldfish bowls

  • cold frames

  • bell jars

  • tureens

  • apothecary jars

  • mason jars

  • glass cookie jars

Why a wide mouth? A wide opening means you can fit your hand (or most of it) into the container to add all the goodies. It makes building your terrarium much easier, especially if it's your first time creating one.

A wide opening also makes it easier to wipe the glass clean if you're messier than you thought you would be.

 

3. Choose the Plants

Choose plants with various heights and textures that are small enough to fit in your container. Ideally, you don't want your plants to touch the sides of your terrarium.


Here are a few examples of plants that do well in a terrarium:

  • African violet

  • Pothos

  • Polka dot plant

  • Small ferns

  • Lucky bamboo

  • Nerve plant

  • Prayer plant

  • Club moss

  • Creeping fig

 
build terrarium from above

4. Add Drainage Layers

Since there are no drainage holes in your terrarium container, you must create a drainage layer.

No drainage layer = root rot.

  • Add a 1-inch layer of gravel or crushed stone at the bottom of the terrarium.

  • Then, add activated charcoal on top of the stones. This will help with drainage and odor control.

Tip: All your layers will be visible since it's a transparent container. Work neatly and with precision; this will count in your favor.

 

5. Add Moss and Potting Mix

Add a layer of moss on top of your gravel/ stone/ charcoal layer.

Why? The moss will prevent your potting mix from mixing with your base layers.

It also looks pretty.


Next, add potting mix on top of your moss, as much as possible, while still leaving enough room for your plants.

 
add plants to terrarium

6. Prepare the Plants

Before you add any plants, decide where each plant will go.


The tall ones, the short ones, the wide ones, the narrow ones - all your plants should have a predetermined spot in your terrarium.


  • Remove the plants from their nursery pots.

  • Remove some roots - your plant most likely has a much smaller area in the terrarium, so pruning some of the roots is necessary.

  • Shake off any excess soil from the plants.

  • Trim off any yellow or damaged leaves.

 

7. Add Plants

Use a spoon/ chopsticks/ tongs/ tweezers, or your fingers to dig a small hole for each plant.


After you've placed each plant, pat the soil down around it to firmly secure each plant.

 
use tweezers to build terrarium

8. Decorate

If it's your thing - decorate the inside with the following:

  • Figurines

  • Shells

  • Crystals

  • Rocks

  • Wood

  • Whatever your whimsical heart desires

 

9. Water the Terrarium

Easy does it.

Use a spray bottle to water the plants until they're damp. Do not soak them. Anything other than a spray bottle will dispense too much water at once and displace the soil or your plants.


Remember, there are no drainage holes; all the excess water will accumulate at the bottom of your container. You'll have to deal with root rot if you overwater your terrarium. There's also no way of draining the excess water...if you tilt your terrarium to decant the water, you'll most likely end up with all your plants on the floor.


Tip: Use the water to clean off any dirt on the leaves and sides of your container.

 
open terrariums on window sill

10. Maintain the Plants

  • Do not place the terrarium in full sun. You don't want to bake your plants.

  • Do not add fertilizer. Ever.

  • Feel the soil. If it's dry, use your spray bottle to give it water.

  • If the soil is moist, do nothing.

  • If there's a lot of condensation in a closed container, leave the terrarium open until it disappears. Your plants will enjoy the increased airflow.

  • Remove yellow and damaged leaves often.

  • If the plants become too big, prune them.

 

The Bottom Line

Building a terrarium is loads of fun and often therapeutic. Do it alone, or invite friends over for a terrarium party! With proper maintenance, your terrarium will remain healthy and beautiful for many years!

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