How to Start a Terrarium

Are you neglectful of your houseplants? Terrariums will give you low-maintenance beauty all year long.

Creating your own terrarium is a great way to bring a little greenery into your home without a lot of maintenance. You might opt for an open terrarium with some hardy succulents and cacti that you hardly have to water. Or maybe you'd rather have a closed terrarium that helps keep tiny plants consistently watered. Either option is a nice showpiece in your house.

Aside from the terrarium itself, you don't have to buy anything special to assemble or tend to it. A few standard gardening tools will do. Here's a guide to the ultimate in low-maintenance plants to include in a terrarium, plus how to make your own simple mini tabletop garden.

Best Plants for Open and Closed Terrariums

A single plant: You don't need to expend a lot of effort to put together an eye-catching terrarium. Get a lush look by using a simple closed container and just one humidity-loving tropical houseplant that's compact or slow-growing. A button fern or a flame violet are good options. If you're having difficulty finding one, read the plant labels or ask a salesperson for help.

An array of plants: Open terrariums feature a hole on top and are well suited for species such as succulents, which can't tolerate the humidity of a closed terrarium. Additional options for an open terrarium with multiple plants include echeverias, tillandsias, bromeliad, jade plants, and small aloes. For multiple non-succulent plants, choose a covered container like a glass cloche. It will help contain the moisture and minimize your watering chores.

A varied landscape: Flowering and foliage plants make a stunning display when arranged inside a Wardian case―a glass-paned terrarium with a hinged vent on top. To fill a Wardian case, we recommend at least five plants. We've used parlor palm seedlings, 'Red Splash' polka dot, lady's slipper orchid, 'Pink Starlight' earth star, Pearcea, and miniature ivy. Also consider a heart fern, a mosaic plant, a dwarf begonia, creeping fig, and baby's tears.

What You'll Need:

  • Clear glass vessel
  • Small pebbles
  • Potting soil made for the type of plant you're planting
  • Tiny plants in various shapes and sizes
  • White sand (for succulents or cacti only)
  • Spoon or scoop

How to Make a Mini Open Terrarium:

  1. Find the perfect glass container for your terrarium. You can use anything that strikes your fancy—a vase, a cleaned-out pasta jar, a fish bowl, or a special terrarium bowl.
  2. Fill the bottom of the vessel with a 1 1/2-inch layer of small rocks to collect the water drainage and avoid overwatering your terrarium plants.
  3. Add a layer of potting soil made for your type of plants. It should be deep enough for the plants to root, about 2 1/2 inches.
  4. Remove the largest plant from its container and dust excess soil from the roots. Using the end of a spoon, make a hole in the soil big enough for the roots and nestle the plant inside, tamping the soil down firmly to hold it in place. Plan for approximately 1 mini plant per inch of container diameter. Tip: Use a paper towel to transplant prickly plants to avoid pricking your fingers.
  5. Continue planting, working from the largest plant to the smallest. It's easiest to start at the back of the container and work your way forward. Tip: Play around with the arrangement—mixing up the types of plants, colors, and sizes to make it more visually pleasing.
  6. Once the plants are arranged, add about a 1/4-inch layer of white sand around the plants if you're doing succulents or cacti.
  7. Finish with some landscaping. Place a few additional pebbles here and there to complete the look.

How to Care for Your Terrarium

Care instructions depend on the kind of plants you're using. Succulents like direct sunlight every day, while indirect light is better to keep the moisture contained in a closed terrarium.

Most closed terrariums won't need watering for four to six months, but water the plants in an open succulent terrarium every two weeks. You'll know it's time when the plants look wilted, or water stops condensing on the sides of the container. Mist the sides of the terrarium (rather than the leaves) with an ounce or two of distilled water. If your closed terrarium is too moist (indicated by consistently foggy glass), leave the top off for a couple of days to let some of the moisture escape.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles