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How to Makea Terrarium

If you fancy trying something a bit different for your home décor, then have a go at creating a terrarium. They may sound fancy, but these are basically little gardens that grow in a glass container - think of an indoor mini greenhouse which can take pride of place on your shelves.

If you know someone who is plant mad, this little jungle in a glass world is the perfect choice. You can choose pretty much any size or style of container (as long as its glass) which makes each terrarium utterly unique. Go for a fishbowl filled with a mass of plants all the way down to a mini vase with a zen garden for that modernist look. You’re basically creating your very own living piece of artwork - who wouldn’t be impressed with a gift like that!

What’s more, it won’t even need much looking after. That’s right, once you’ve popped your plants into your terrarium you can pretty much ignore it – ideal if you know someone who kills off any plants they touch. Don’t believe us? In 1960, David Latimer decided to put some seeds into a sealed glass bottle to see what would happen. The bottle has sat in the same position in his home for all these years and was only opened once in 1972 for a quick water. Since then, it has remained sealed and the plant is thriving!

Interested? Have a read through our guide and then get stuck in. Terrariums are a great project and so simple to create. In fact, why not have a go with your kids or grandchildren – it’s a great way to spend some time together during a school holiday.


What is a terrarium?

To put it in a nutshell, a plant terrarium is a container, usually made of glass, into which you put soil and plants. It is then sealed (either fully or partially) to create its very own little microsystem – that means the plants look after themselves with little effort from you.

You’d probably imagine the plants wouldn’t survive without a little bit of fresh air, but they really can. Here’s the science bit – the plants absorb the sunshine through the glass which gives them the energy they need to take carbon dioxide from the air and turn it into oxygen and moisture. The moist atmosphere then condenses on the walls of the container and drips down onto the soil and plants below. How clever!

When was the first terrarium?

So how did terrariums become to be featured in home? Although they look like something that would fit in well with the boho vibes of the 1970s, these indoor greenhouses were first discovered in the 1800s. Of course, like a lot of great inventions how they came about was completely by accident.

An English botanist called Dr Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward was not only fascinated by plants (he particularly liked ferns) but also by insects such as moths and caterpillars. He would keep the insects in observation bottles and, one day while placing the pupa of a sphinx moth into a container, a fern seed accidentally dropped in. After a while, he noticed that a spore had started growing and it dawned on him that a plant could survive in a closed environment.

Ward continued to experiment with the right components to keep the plants happy and eventually developed a small greenhouse known as the Wardian Case. In Victorian England, his discovery became important in the transportation and introduction of plants and even shaped our economy and diets – bananas were even carried in a Wardian case!

Terrarium plants

A successful terrarium is all down to the plants you use and how you select the right ones depends on several factors.

Are you going for a sealed or partly sealed system? A partially sealed or open terrarium has lower moisture levels and a cooler environment which reduces condensation and mould. You’ll need to choose plants such as cacti, air plants and succulents which prefer a bit more airflow. For a closed terrarium you’ll need plants that like it hot, hot, hot. This is perfect for tropical plants which prefer humidity such as ferns, mosses and orchids.

Your terrarium plants also need to have space to grow without overcrowding - choose a large plant for a small jar and it’s going to get messy! For small terrariums, go for plants such as Miniature English Ivy, Baby Tears or even a Venus Flytrap. In larger ones, you can upscale your choice and go for Spider Plants or Prayer Plants.

Do you want a pop of colour? A glass terrarium is not only about green plants, and it is possible to create a colourful display. Nerve plants, Polka Dot plants and African Violets will grow well in both open and closed systems.

How to make a terrarium


Creating your terrarium is incredibly simple. First, you need to choose your container. You can buy purpose-made terrariums which come in a wide range of sizes and shapes. However, if you fancy getting creative why not upcycle something – a large jar, an old goldfish bowl, or even an old lantern! Just make sure the container doesn’t have any drainage holes.


To put your terrarium together you need to get the right base layer. Start with a drainage layer by placing about 5cm of gravel at the bottom before adding a thin layer of activated charcoal (you can buy this online) which will reduce bacteria. Now for the soil – you’ll need to buy one that is specifically for terrariums. You’ll need a layer which is deep enough to support the roots of your plants.


When the base layer is complete, it’s time to start adding the greenery. Dig some holes into the soil (a spoon will do for this job) and then take each plant and gently tease the roots apart. Pop into the prepared hole and pat down the soil. Finally, spray the plants with some water – be careful not to soak the soil. Pop the lid on top (if you’re going for a sealed unit) and you’re done!

Terrarium ideas

Now for the fun part – getting creative!

If you’re limited in shelf space, we recommend making a miniature terrarium. You can make this out of anything such as an old spice jar or small bottles. Of course, you’ll need to downscale your plants and go for miniature versions like micro ferns, baby plants, moss or tiny succulents. Create a couple and group them together on a shelf for a miniature display.

The great thing about terrariums is how decorative they look, especially if you go for an eye-catching container. This makes them an attractive addition to a table in your lounge or on a work surface in your kitchen. To make your terrarium a sight to behold don’t just pop your plants in at random, instead take time to place them carefully. You’re looking to achieve a blend of different heights and textures. For example, go with Pilea for ground cover, Peperomias for height and then finish off with a show stopper such as Miniature Orchids or Ferns.

You could even make a terrarium purely with moss. Simply add some rocks or stones into your container for definition and then let the moss grow over the surface. It will deliver a beautiful carpet of vibrant greens. Perfect for giving your bedroom calming vibes!

Why not hang up your creation in a conservatory? You can choose a container that comes ready-made for the job such as an old hurricane lamp or hang up your container using a macrame net. It’s even possible, with enough patience, to make one out of a glass bauble, maybe hang some off decorative branches in a vase!

Finally, set a scene and create a little wonderland. Design a fairy woodland, a park with duck pond or even your very own arid desert. It will look incredibly cute in a child’s bedroom!

How to care for your terrarium

We know these terrariums are pretty good at looking after themselves, but there are still a few things you’ll need to do to keep those plants happy. Make sure you place your terrarium in a spot with plenty of natural light but not in direct sunlight – we don’t want to overheat the container.

If your plants start to droop or the soil feels dry, then your terrarium probably needs a little water. Spray with a little water so that the soil becomes moist but not soaking wet! Remember, open terrariums usually need more watering than a closed system.

Keep an eye on the condensation levels, especially in a closed system. If the glass becomes foggy it’s probably because you’ve watered too much. Open it up a little and let everything dry out before closing up the container.

If your plants get too big for their container just give them a little trim. You should also remove any yellowing or damaged leaves. And remember – never fertilize your plants in the terrarium, they don’t need it!

Have fun creating your terrarium and let your imagination go wild with your designs!

Looking to add some more plant power to your home?