Here’s how to make your own Terrarium (a self- sustaining garden)

29 Mar

I’ve always loved terrariums, but lately they’ve stormed the design and blog world with a frenzy so now I am set on bringing these little self-contained gardens to my readers!  Not to mention, a friend asked me the other day to write a post on them for her…so here you go!

A terrarium is a collection of small plants growing in a transparent, sealed container.  It is a closed environment, and can actually be used to illustrate how an ecosystem works!  Pretty amazing stuff!  Inside a terrarium’s walls, many different natural processes may be observed: such as photosynthesis, respiration, and the water cycle.  The water in the terrarium is constantly recycled.  As the moisture in the air condenses on the glass walls, it returns to the soil and is absorbed by the plants’ roots.

Image: Katy Elliot

All that is to say, terrariums are the perfect garden for any of you urban city dwellers desperate for a little green.  …Or for those of us who tend to neglect our indoor plants, ie: me.  Oops.

Many people have tried and failed at creating successful terrariums.  Here’s how to proudly accomplish your terrarium endeavors!

This diy terrarium video, created by Sprout, is the ultimate helpful tool in creating your own DIY terrarium.  Below, the steps and details are written out for you…but I recommend starting with the video.

You’ll need:

Clear glass or plastic container. Here are some awesome terrarium containers (scroll to the bottom), or apothecary jars, or you can use something you find around the house.
Small stones
Activated charcoal (from aquarium or orchid supply store)
Sphagnum moss (optional)
Potting soil
Decorative objects (optional)

Choosing your container
Terrariums come in many different, creative shapes and sizes. Most terrariums are made from a clear glass jar with a wide mouth.  However, plastic works well too…I just don’t think it’s as beautiful.   The wider the opening of your container, the easier it will be to place the plants inside.

Choosing your plants
Often, terrariums are made with small mosses, lichens and ferns, but I’ve seen them with tons of other gorgeous plants too.  Depending on the size of the terrarium, you can use begonias, miniature violets, coleuses, pilea and others.  And the best thing is the plants don’t need to be purchased, but can be collected from your own yard or the woods or anywhere.  Get creative!

Building Your Terrarium
1. Place a thin layer (approx. 1 inch) of small stones in the bottom of the terrarium to help drainage.
2. Place a thin layer (approx. 1/2 inch) of activated charcoal over the stones. This acts as a filtration substrate and keeps the water cleaner.
3. Place a thin layer of sphagnum moss or a fine screen over the charcoal to act as a barrier to prevent settling of the soil. (Optional)
4. Place a layer of potting soil approximately 2” deep.
5. Make small holes for roots and carefully plant your plants in the soil.
6. Finishing touches – add ornaments or decorations to give your terrarium a special theme. (Optional)
7. Lightly mist with water, approximately 10 sprays to the soil and sides of the jars.
8. Close container tightly with lid or cover.

Caring for your Terrarium
As usual, the two most important things for your terrarium are sunlight and water.  Who would have guessed!?

Place your terrarium in a bright area with indirect sunlight, such as a windowsill.  Because the terrarium is a closed system, it can get too hot if it is in direct sun and the plants may burn.
Water: A properly maintained terrarium can go for weeks or months without needing water.  As the terrarium heats up, water will be pulled up from the rocks and soil to the top of the container where it will form a mist and then drip back down to water the plants.  This is so so cool to witness!

You should be able to see some mist on the sides of the container as well as some fog inside; however, if the sides are constantly wet, and there is so much condensation that you can’t see your plants, then you will need to open the top of the container temporarily to allow it to dry a bit.

Pruning: Plants may need to be pruned to keep them small enough to fit the container.  You can do this with a pair of scissors.
Fertilizer: You should not add any fertilizer to your terrarium.  The goal is to keep the plants very small, so you do not want to encourage rapid growth.  The plants will get the nutrients they need from the soil.

Try hanging terrariums too!  They’re gorgeous when hanging in front of a window at different heights!

Image: Full size here

That’s all for today folks.  I hope you find these little mini ecosystems as inspiring as I do!


9 Responses to “Here’s how to make your own Terrarium (a self- sustaining garden)”

  1. rmen streetwear October 15, 2011 at 3:07 am #

    That’s very cultural piece

  2. Business Directory November 21, 2011 at 1:01 pm #

    At least some bloggers can still write. My thanks for this read.

  3. bamboo#1 March 8, 2012 at 7:58 am #

    Thanks for this 🙂 I just learned about the existence of terrariums and since spring is nearing and it’s time to start messing with potted plants again, I’m looking for info on starting up one of these. This entry was very informative.

  4. George Clark June 8, 2012 at 3:27 pm #

    I have condensation daily on my 3 gallon plastic jug. I have removed the lid but still get condensation. Will this be harmful to the plants???

    • LW Media & For The Love of Press July 13, 2012 at 9:31 am #

      Hi George. Condensation is a good thing with terrariums. You WANT condensation daily- this is how the terrariums become pretty much self sustaining. The only catch is you don’t want too much condensation. Some condensation on about 1/3 of the surface area of the glass/plastic on one side of the container is the right amount. If you have more condensation than that, just wipe it off the sides each day & replace the lid. Eventually after doing this for long enough, only 1/3 of the surface will have condensation, then you’re good to go and don’t need to wipe off the condensation anymore. Some spritzes of water or a couple of tablespoons of water every few months from there on should do it!!

      • George July 14, 2012 at 6:47 am #

        Thanks 4 your response. One more question: how often do I water terrareum cactus and do I water just the soil, the plant or both???

      • LW Media & For The Love of Press July 18, 2012 at 2:05 pm #

        I’m sorry I haven’t gotten back to you sooner George! Truth be told, I am a designer and not a terrarium expert, but I looked up some of your questions about watering cacti and found some useful information for you. Here is a link ( that I think will help you, as terrariums for cacti are very different than other plant terrariums. You are supposed to water the soil once a month, but it can’t get too wet. I recommend buying a hygrometer to measure humidity. This link talks about that very thing: Hope that helps!!!

  5. Sharlyn Paras July 18, 2012 at 7:14 pm #

    Very useful for my sons’ Science group project. Thanks!

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