How To Make A Terrarium: The Complete Beginner’s Guide

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Whether you’re looking for some simple decor or you want to put your green thumb to work, terrariums are easy, beautiful ways to bring some greenery into almost any space. The best part is that you can personalize your terrarium so it reflects your style. Plus, they’re easy to maintain, so you can grow one even if you’re crunched for time.

If you’re wondering how to make a terrarium, you’ll first need to choose your container and plants. We’ll walk you through the different types of terrarium plants, and show you how you can easily make your own tabletop garden.

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What Is A Terrarium?

Ideal for small spaces and gardeners who want a thriving, miniature greenhouse, terrariums are glass containers that house dry or tropical plants. They require minimal watering and indirect sunlight, and the containers can either be open or closed. Think of them as aquariums for plants.

The first terrarium was created by accident in 1842, when botanist Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward accidentally left a fern spore in a jar unattended. Over time, the spore grew and germinated into a plant!

Ward’s accidental experiment revealed that certain types of plants can thrive in sealed, unventilated containers. Here’s how this is possible:

Closed Terrariums

When you think of the tropics, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Trees, birds, and … humidity. Closed terrariums are sealed glass containers that mimic the humid conditions of the tropics. When they’re placed in indirect sunlight, they turn into miniature greenhouses!

Closed terrariums are ideal for tropical plants, including mosses, orchids, ferns, and air plants. You can observe several natural processes inside of a closed terrarium, including photosynthesis, respiration, and the water cycle. In a closed system, condensation forms on the container’s glass walls — that’s a good thing! Moisture in the air eventually returns to the soil, where it’s absorbed by the plant’s roots.

Maintaining your closed terrarium is almost effortless: just water it occasionally, and open the jar once per week in order to get rid of excess moisture.

Open Terrariums

If closed terrariums have a lid, then open terrariums are ideal for dry plants like succulents — including cacti! For a succulent terrarium, you’ll want to avoid excess moisture, and you only have to water the container when the soil looks dry.

You can also use an open terrarium for plants that require some direct sunlight, including herbs like sage and thyme.

How To Make A Terrarium Infographic

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How To Make A Closed Terrarium

Ideal for tropical, humidity-loving plants, a closed terrarium is your personal tropical garden! Here’s what you need:

Closed Terrarium Supplies

  • Clear glass container with lid
  • Plants
  • Pebbles
  • Activated charcoal
  • Potting soil

DIY Closed Terrarium

  1. Layer the pebbles along the bottom of your container. The pebbles will help with drainage.
  2. Layer the activated charcoal (sometimes called activated carbon) over the stones. Activated charcoal will help reduce microbial buildup, and it helps clean the water.
  3. Place a layer of potting soil over the charcoal, about 2” deep.
  4. Take your largest plant and make small holes in the potting soil for the roots. Place your plants in the soil, from the largest to the smallest.
  5. Mist the soil and sides of the jar with water.
  6. Close your container with the lid.

Place your closed terrarium in an area with indirect sunlight. If the sides of your jar are too wet, open the lid occasionally to let the moisture partially dry. You should only need to water your terrarium every few weeks or months, and only if you don’t see any condensation forming.

IDEAL PLANTS: Ferns, creeping fig, baby’s tears, pothos, rex begonia, hypoestes, African violets

succulent, garden, rock, landscpaingHow To Make A Succulent Terrarium

A succulent terrarium is the ultimate way to garden without having to worry about killing your plant. Since containers for these dry plants are open, you can get creative with your vessels — pick up an old glass coffee carafe from a thrift store, or use a classic fish bowl!

Open Terrarium Supplies

  • An open, clear glass container
  • Pebbles
  • Succulents, cacti, and other dry plants
  • Activated charcoal
  • Potting soil

DIY Succulent Terrarium

  1. Layer the pebbles along the bottom of your container to help with drainage.
  2. Lightly press the activated charcoal over the pebbles. This material will help keep your terrarium healthy.
  3. Layer about 2” of potting soil over the charcoal and pebbles.
  4. Starting with your largest plants first, plant your succulents (and other plants) in the soil, making holes for their roots. Make sure you use a paper towel or gloves when transferring cacti so you don’t get poked!
  5. Once you’re happy with the way your plants look, put just enough water in your terrarium so the soil looks slightly damp.

You won’t need to water your open terrarium very often — just keep an eye on the soil. It should look barely moist, but never bone-dry. You may need to trim back your plants if they start to outgrow their container; simply use scissors to keep them contained.

IDEAL PLANTS: Succulents, cacti, thyme, mint, oregano, sage, carnivorous plants

How To Make A Hanging Terrarium

You may have seen an image of a dreamy, hanging plant that can grow, somehow, without any soil. This variety of plant is called “tillandsia,” and a hanging terrarium is a gorgeous way to display it!

You can also make a hanging terrarium for your dry plants, like succulents and cacti, depending on your vessel. As long as you’re able to easily access it for watering, your options are endless!

Air Plant Terrarium Supplies

  • Open glass container (for hanging terrariums, make sure it has a hangable hook)
  • Base material (pebbles, moss)
  • Air plants

Since air plants don’t require soil to grow, just place a layer of your base material along the bottom of your container, and then position the air plant on top.

To care, thoroughly wet your air plant one to two times per week, and make sure you hang your air plant in a place where it can receive plenty of bright, filtered sunlight — in front of a window is ideal.

What kind of plants would you put in your terrarium? Tell us in the comments!


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