5 Easy Steps to Make a Terrarium

I love succulents, home decor objects, and interior design. What's better than a terrarium to encapsulate all these things in one? 

What is a terrarium? Technically, a Terrarium is a sealed container, containing soil and plants. It can be opened for maintenance purposes, such as cleaning, pruning and caring for its plants and glass walls. Terrariums can also be open rather than sealed, but this depends on the type of plants used to make a Terrarium.

The first Terrarium was "accidentally"created by botanist Nathaniel Ward in 1842 who was studying insects behaviour. He accidentally left one of his experiments jars unattended for several weeks. Once he found it, he noticed that a fern spore had germinated into a plant. This was a revelation as it demonstrated that a sealed environment containing soil and plants creates its own water cycle. In very short terms, moisture from the soil and the plants, evaporates in the high temperature conditions created in the sealed environment. The water vapour condenses on the walls of the container to then fall back into the plants and soil. Plants can be sealed in a transparent container and continue to thrive!

Before we get into the details of building a Terrarium, it's important to decide if you are building a Closed Terrarium or an Open Terrarium as they require different types of soil, plants, and maintenance. 


Closed Terrarium

This is a sealed environment with a lot of humidity so you will have to select specific tropical plants that like this type of climate, such as orchids, ferns, mosses and air plants. Keep in mind you can use these plants for open Terrarium as well. You will just have to adjust your watering frequency. The type of soil you want to use is also very important. The most commonly used soil for this application is peat-lite, which contains different proportions of peat moss, vermiculite and perlite. You won't need to water this type of Terrarium as often as an open one, (although watering frequency really depends on the type of plants you use), however, proper maintenance and cleaning are critical to avoid the growth of mold and algae that can damage the plants and ruin the Terrarium walls.


Open Terrarium

This is an open container, generally a glass container with an open end to let the air circulate inside it and for pruning and watering purposes. Many types of plants can be used for this Terrarium. You just need to determine if you want a small or a big Terrarium, a cacti or succulents Terrarium, a generic house plant Terrarium, a tropical plants Terrarium, or a mix of them all. If you mix plant types, you will need to be smart about your watering frequency.  

This article will focus on Open Terrariums. Let's get started!

First things First! You need to select your Terrarium style, your plants, and collect the proper materials and tools! 


Terrarium Containers

Selecting the proper Terrarium container is the most important part. I personally love the East Indian glass and brass containers. I find they add a certain touch and richness to the space. The many different shapes and geometries allow the glass to reflect light in your room in many different ways making the space you place them in very interesting. The richness of the brass makes for a wonderful contrast with the green of the plants and can have a wonderful combination effect with the decorative materials you use for the top layer of your Terrarium. You can find Terrarium Containers pretty much everywhere. Here are some examples of both:


Glass Plant Terrarium

Brass Glass Pentagon Terrarium


United States

Glass Plant Terrarium

Brass Glass Pentagon Terrarium


You need to choose your plants based on the aesthetic values you want to bring to your space. However, practicality is a very important consideration too. How much time do you want to dedicate to the proper care and maintenance of your Terrarium? For me, going with succulents is the answer as it fulfills both my aesthetic pleasure and the limited time I have to water my Terrarium. Make sure you choose the proper plant for you and your lifestyle.


Collect the proper materials and tools

In order to assemble your Terrarium you will need the following materials and tools:

  • Draining Rocks
  • Potting Charcoal
  • Soil, (choose the type of soil based on the plants you've selected)
  • Decorative Rocks
  • Tools, (these are not required but they are definitely handy to have)
  • Watering can



5 Easy Steps to make a Terrarium

1. Cover the bottom of your container with draining material; a good layer of draining rocks is fundamental to provide drainage to your plants. You don't want the roots of your plants to stagnate in excess water in your container! It will rot the roots of your plants!



2. Add a layer of charcoal; do not underestimate the importance of this layer! A thin layer of potting charcoal will prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. This is a critical layer for your Terrarium!


3. Add a layer of soil; make sure you buy the right soil for the plants you've chosen for your terrarium. There are specific succulents and cacti soils as well as tropical plants soils!


4. Add your plants; place your plants in the Terrarium by digging into the soil's layer. You may need to add some soil after you've place the plants. I generally give it a bit of water at this point to let roots and layers of gravel, charcoal and soil settle.


5. Add your top decorative layer; this is the most visible layer so make sure you pick the proper material to suit the container you choose for your Terrarium and the plants you selected! Avoid stark whites for your top layers...it almost makes your Terrarium look fake, like the ones you can buy off the shelves at a craft store!


Watering and Maintenance

I generally water my terrarium as I build it to let all the layering materials settle. After that, watering really depends on the type of plants you've selected for your Terrarium. If you went with succulents limit your watering to every two to three weeks, as the only drainage in your terrarium is the layer of rocks at the bottom of your container! Having said that, every plant, every climate and environment has different requirements!



You made your Terrarium as an object of display, as a beautiful home decor piece to compliment your room, so don't relegate it to a sunny corner of the house. Sure, lighting is important but the beauty of your Terrarium deserves to be shared. Place it in a nice spot of your living room that has good natural light but no direct sun! Depending on where you live, you can even put it outside on a patio or veranda. However, remember that once you take your Terrarium outside, you may bring in all sort of tiny pests in your home! It happens to me with my Hibiscus every fall! I put it in the backyard in the summer and bring it in in the fall and I spend 4 months killing the insects it came in with!



You made it!! I hope you enjoy your Terrarium!

Please share a picture of your Terrarium!



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