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How to Make a Terrarium

Instructions on how to make a terrarium, plus material and recommended plants. Also, tips for terrarium maintenance.

A terrarium is a great way to nourish that green thumb during those winter months. You are able to get a little dirt under your nails and revel in the satisfaction of watching something grow under your care.

That being said, don’t limit yourself to only planting and nurturing a terrarium when it’s cold out! A well-planted and well-maintained terrarium will thrive year-round for many years! My closed terrarium is 5 months old and thriving! The only maintenance required is minimal, infrequent watering and trimming back my wee jungle.

Tips for a Successful Terrarium

While terrariums are very easy to make and maintain, there are few critical elements that are necessary for success.

  • Will your terrarium be open or closed?
  • Chose the right plants for your terrarium
  • Use layers of pebbles, charcoal, and soil
  • Don’t overwater!
  • Don’t bake them in direct sun or near a heater.

You first need to know if you want an open or closed terrarium.

What is the difference between an open and closed terrarium?

As you would guess, the difference is that one is open and one is closed. But more importantly, whether your terrarium is open or closed will determine what kind of plants you can use. For an open terrarium, consider plants that will tolerate dry conditions like mini-cactuses, air plants, and succulents.

The opposite is true for plants that will thrive in a closed terrarium.

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the plants I used in my terrarium

What are some plants that will thrive in a closed terrarium?

Plants that thrive in moist and humid environments will be most successful in a closed terrarium. For my 2 gallon jar, which is 7.5″ in diameter and 14″ tall, I used 3 plants (2.5″ pots) and 1 clump of moss.

My local garden center carries a variety of these mini terrarium plants, sometimes also called fairy garden plants, year-round.

Consider some of the following for your closed terrarium:

  • Most Ferns (I dug a little volunteer fern out of my yard. I couldn’t even tell you what kind it is!)
  • Mosses (I dug mine up in the woods near my home. Be on the lookout as you might be able to find just what you need against your home or in your garden)
  • Friendship plant
  • Nerve plant
  • Any of the Peperomias (there are over a 1000 varieties of Peperomia, here are a few that work well )
    • Watermelon Peperomia
    • Silverleaf Peperomia
    • Teardrop Peperomia
    • Red-Edge Peperomia
    • Ripple Peperomia
    • Jayde Peperomia
    • Japanese
  • Nephthytis (Arrowhead Plant)
  • Golden Club Moss
  • Aquamarine Plant (Gray Baby Tears)
  • Dwarf Golden Sweet Flag
  • Baby’s Tears
  • Strawberry Begonia

What Materials are Needed (other than the plants!)

material needed for a terrarium
  • You need your vessel. I used this Anchor Hocking 2-gallon Glass Jar, but any clear jar with a lid will work. You could also use a Cloche like this, but it will be on a smaller scale given the depth of the glass tray. Another option, and one that I am rather drooling over, is a Wardian Case. I can just imagine one of these beauties sitting on my dining room table with a lovely orchid inside!
  • River rocks or pea gravel to provide drainage.
  • Horticultural Charcoal acts as a filter and keeps your terrarium and soil fresh
  • Potting soil. You can make your own mix with one part sterilized potting soil, one part sand, and one part peat moss. Or you could purchase African Violet Potting Mix.
  • A piece of screen, like window screen (optional, but nice) to keep the soil from filtering down to the pebbles. I cut a circle out of a roll of window screen we already had in the garage.
use window screening in your terrarium to prevent your soil separate from your charcoal and pebbles
  • I have an earthworm in my terrarium but will add another when I see a stray one.

How to Make Your Terrarium

gravel and charcoal inside of a closed terrarium

Building a terrarium is really quite easy once you have all your supplies.

  • Start with a clean jar
  • Place a 1-2″ layer of gravel over the bottom of your jar.
  • Rinse your charcoal well, then add a 1″ layer of charcoal over the gravel.
  • If using, place your screen (cut the same diameter as your jar) over the charcoal to prevent the soil from washing down.
  • Add 2″ of potting soil over the screen
  • Add your plants, tucking them into the soil so that all their roots are covered.
  • Add any elemental items, like rocks or branches.
  • For my 2 gallon jar, I used 1/4 cup of water sprinkled over the plants.
  • Put the lid on and place your container in bright, indirect light.
Ferns inside a Closed Terrarium

How to Maintain Your Terrarium

These indoor gardens require very little maintenance.

Add a little bit of water when you notice that there is no condensation on the lid or sides of your jar. It seems that I add water every 4-6 weeks and then only about 1/4 cup for my 2-gallon container. You will need more or less depending on the size of your jar.

The ONLY problem I have ever had with my terrarium was when it was brand new and I over-watered it. As a result, I lost 2 plants. If you do overwater, simply keep the lid off for a bit to let it evaporate.

Resist the urge to fertilize. You want your plants to stay small and manageable.

You will need to pop in with your scissors and trim your plants. I trim my peperomia at least every other week.

For more indoor gardening ideas, check out this post on 6 plants that thrive in sunrooms!

Bookmark this page or pin the following image to refer back to this post on How to Declutter in the future.

Closed Terrarium

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  1. Good Afternoon Lynn,
    I have always enjoyed Terrariums. I am so glad that you have jarred my memory about how nice they are to have during the Winter Months. I love to garden and naturally I am unable to right now, with the high behind 32 degrees! Wonderful plant recommendations as well. Often times just finding the right plant for the terrarium can be one of the biggest challenges. Great post and great information. Pinning for reference!

    1. Hi Jemma! So good to hear from you. I am new to the Terrarium, but now that I have one I am thinking of making more. My mind keeps taking me to one of those lovely Wardian Cases…hoping I can find one at a thrift store somewhere.

      BRRRR….you definitely need a terrarium in Colorado! It will do your soul good to have something green to tend to.

      Happy weekend my friend.

      hugs, Lynn

  2. I purchased, what I thought was a glass bird feeder, but it is actually a terrarium! it could be used as either but looks to delicate to hang outside.
    I am just getting ready to start on it and enjoyed your article.

    1. Hi Cindy,

      I’d love to see a picture of your terrarium when you are done with it! Mine is still going strong all these years later, though it could probably use a little TLC. They are very easy to ignore…they just keep plugging along.

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