Some have called me a “crazy plant lady” but I prefer the term, “plant enthusiast.” As the caretaker of over twenty plants, I have transformed by dorm room into my own verdant oasis. My room abounds with vibrant polka dot plants, lush ferns and pendulous vines, but some of my favorite plant cohabitants are my terrariums. I love terrariums because they are so simple to put together, unique, and they look gorgeous as room decorations. What’s better is that, with the proper balance of water and sunlight, your terrarium is sure to endure as a beautiful microcosm of lush greenery. Read on to learn how you can create a terrarium of your own!
• A clear glass container with an opening
Creative tip: instead of buying one new at a store, try looking for some at a second hand store or consignment shop; you can sometimes find really unique containers and they’re usually very inexpensive.
• Potting soil appropriate for your plants
• One or two small plants for your terrarium
Pro tip: for beginners, try to avoid succulents—terrariums can sometimes create humid environments for your plants and succulents don’t do very well with humid conditions; for beginners, it can be difficult to accurately gauge and regulate moisture levels.
• Horticultural charcoal
The charcoal helps prevent mold growth and can be purchased at your local garden center.
• Gravel or small pebbles
I’ve found that pet stores usually sell aquarium gravel in really nice varieties that are perfect for this.
• Decorative moss
You can easily find different assortments of moss at your local garden center or craft store.
• A small brush or paintbrush
Step 1: Gravel, charcoal, and soil layers
After cleaning your glass container with mild soap and water and letting it dry, you are ready to start building the beautiful layers of your terrarium.
The first layer of your terrarium will be a layer of gravel at the bottom. Aside from just looking pretty, this layer helps drain excess moisture from the soil and thereby helping to prevent root rot in your plants. You want to create a layer of gravel that is about one to three inches in height.
Following the layer of gravel, you will want to put a small layer of charcoal over the gravel. However, because charcoal isn’t particularly aesthetically pleasing, feel free to concentrate it in the center of the layer so that you can’t see it on the sides of the terrarium (like in the photo above). The primary purpose of the charcoal is to prevent mold and fungal growth.
3. Decorative moss (optional):
Some people enjoy adding a layer of moss after the charcoal. This is purely for decorative purposes and serves no actual purpose for drainage or moisture control. However, it does look quite nice!
4. Potting soil:
After creating your layer of charcoal (or moss), you are now ready to create your layer of potting soil. Depending on the size of the root ball of your plant(s) and the size of your container, you will want to create a layer that is between two and four inches in height.
Step 2: Inserting your plant(s)
Once you have successfully created your terrarium layers, you are now ready to plant your plants.
1. Either with your fingers or with a small plastic spoon, dig out a small hole for your plant without actually removing any soil from the terrarium. In other words, push soil to the sides of the container to create a small cavity for your plant’s root system.
2. Before placing your plant in this hole, be sure to loosen up its root ball and remove as much excess dirt as possible (without damaging the root system). Plants are typically pretty resilient, so it is okay to break up a few of the smaller roots in this process, but avoid damaging the larger roots.
3. Now, you can place your plant in its little cavity. Make sure that the root ball is completely submerged. In other words, the top of the plants root ball should not be above the plane of the soil in your terrarium.
4. Begin moving the soil from the sides of the terrarium and covering the plant’s root ball. Be sure to pack the soil tightly and press it down as you cover your plant’s root. Add more soil if necessary.
5. Repeat these steps if you have more than one plant, but be careful not to disturb the root systems of the plants already planted.
Step 3: Adding decorations
Decorating is by far my favorite part of building a terrarium. There is really no right or wrong way to do this, and you can use whatever kind of decorations you prefer. This is how I usually decorate my terrariums:
1. I like to ensure that there are a variety of textures inside my terrariums. To start, I usually tear off bits of sheet moss to create a partial blanket layer of the top soil.
2. I often leave a few patches of soil exposed so that I can add in some gravel or small stones for color and texture variety.
3. Depending on the color of my plants, I like to add in different moss puffs—I usually go with bright greens and whites.
4. The rest is up to you. Feel free to use other decorative stones or flowers, sticks, figurines—anything goes!
5. To easily remove soil from the sides of the container, your decorative pieces, or the plants themselves, use a small brush to gently wipe off the bits of soil so that your terrarium looks nice and clean.
After planting, avoid watering your terrarium for about a week. Because some of your plant’s roots might have been broken up during planting process, they are especially susceptible to root rot for the following days. To minimize this risk, keep moisture levels to a minimum by putting off a full watering for five to seven days. In any case, fresh potting soil typically holds a lot of initial moisture anyways, so you definitely will not be parching your plants.
After waiting a week, you can now begin the regular watering cycle. This will vary from plant to plant and climate to climate. My tip is to closely monitor soil moisture and let the soil dry completely between watering. If condensation is building up on the interior, there is too much moisture! Wipe the sides dry and try temporarily moving it to a sunnier spot so that it dries out. Also keep an eye on the plant itself for over or under watering. When plants are thirsty, they often droop and their leaves feel limp and fragile. If they are over watered, their leaves often start to rot at the base and easily fall off.
Again, appropriate sunlight levels will vary with the species of plant. But in general, avoid placing your terrarium in direct sunlight. This can sometimes result in cooking your plants in the container—not good. To avoid this, place your terrarium in bright, indirect sunlight. In other words, don’t put it directly in front of a window.
Below are some pictures of the terrariums I have created. Feel free to browse through to get different ideas!