The Ultimate Guide to Making a Terrarium for Beginners

What are Terrariums?

Terrariums are a miniature eco-system that is generally self-sustaining with very little care on your part.

Making a terrarium is pretty easy! All you need are a few simple items and a plant of your choice.

Terrariums are great for those who want to get a taste of indoor gardening while adding beautiful decor to the home.

How Do Terrariums Work?

We’re going to cover the basics of making a terrarium in this guide, but it’s also essential that you understand how terrariums even work in the first place. 

How are they so self-sustaining? Well, the sunlight helps to evaporate the water inside.

Since the terrariums are generally in a closed container (or almost entirely closed), the evaporated water does not disappear in the air but instead accumulates on the sides of the glass.

As it collects, the water starts flowing back down the sides of the container into the soil.

Who Invented Terrariums?

The History of Terrariums

Terrariums were first discovered in 1829 by a botanist named Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward.

Originally called a Wardian case, the first known terrarium was created when Ward sealed a moth inside a glass jar with damp soil. A week later, a small fern started to sprout.

Ward noticed that the condensation appeared on the glass walls during the day while the droplets fell back down into the soil at night, creating an environment of constant humidity.

The Wardian cases quickly spread among the English during the Victorian Era and was a popular method for growing and transporting plants.

These Wardian cases evolved into terrariums and became quite popular in the United States during the 1970s.

More recently, terrariums have had another resurgence and can be found as decoration in most homes and businesses.

What are the Different Types of Terrariums?

Traditional terrariums are generally created inside an entirely closed system –that’s how it becomes self-sustaining.

A closed terrarium is the truest form of a terrarium and what was initially invented by Ward.

However, more modern terrariums include two main types –a closed terrarium and open terrarium.

Closed Terrarium – Closed terrariums are created inside a completely enclosed container. Plants used in closed terrariums should enjoy humidity and thrive with moist environments. 

Open Terrarium – Open terrariums are generally in an open-air container. The plants that are used in open terrariums usually need more air circulation and sunlight but do not require a moist environment. 

What Items are Required for Making a Terrarium?

You’ll need a few things to be able to create a terrarium, including the following items:

  • Container (Plastic or Glass)
  • Plant(s) of choice
  • Potting soil
  • Activated charcoal
  • Decorative items
  • Spray bottle of water
  • Small tools – These are needed if the opening of the container is too small for your hands. This can be improvised with things around the house like chopsticks, tweezers, etc.

Glass Terrarium Containers

Plastic can also be used for making a terrarium, but glass is a much more popular and aesthetically pleasing choice. Although there are many glass containers made just for terrariums, you can use any glass container for a terrarium.

You want to select a container that has a wide enough opening for you to be able to place your plant and other items inside. Small tools can help you set everything inside the terrarium container if the opening is too small (like a glass soda bottle).

The overall width of your container should be considered as well.  Ideally, you want to ensure that your plants do not touch the sides of your container, so keep that in mind when selecting your glass container.

You can probably find some great terrarium containers at your local crafts store, hobby store, nursery, or even consignment/thrift stores.

There are also a ton of great options online as well. Here are a few of the different types of containers that have been popular in the past few years.

  • Geometric Terrarium
  • Hanging Terrarium
  • Mini Terrarium
  • Closed Terrarium

Terrarium Plants

Fortunately, there are a variety of different plants that can be used while making your terrarium.

Many of these plants can be sourced from your local nursery or even online like on Amazon or Etsy. When selecting your plants, make sure you understand what conditions are required for your plant to thrive.

If you’d like more than one plant in your terrarium, pick plants that have similar requirements but vary in shape, texture, color, or size.

Try and select an odd number of plants for your terrarium as this will be the most aesthetically pleasing.

Here are some things that need to be considered when it comes to selecting a plant for your terrarium:

  • Frequency of Watering
  • Humidity Required
  • Amount of Sunlight Needed
  • Air Circulation Needed
  • Type of Potting Soil

Here are some plants that are commonly used in terrariums:

  • Air Plants – Tillandsia stricta
  • Assorted Succulents
  • Assorted Cacti
  • Nerve plant – Fittonia verschaffeltii var. argyoneura
  • Prayer plant – Maranta leuconeura kerchoveana
  • Starfish plant – Cypthathus bivittatus
  • Moon Valley – Pilea involucrata
  • Baby’s tears plant – Helxine soleirolii
  • Victorian Brake fern – Piteris ensiformis
  • Bird’s Nest fern – Asplenium nidus
  • New Zeland Mother fern – Asplenium bulbiferum
  • Creeping Fig – Ficus pumila

Activated Charcoal for Terrariums

Since the glass container will not have drainage holes at the bottom like planter pots, you’ll need to create a layer to act as one.

This base will be used to help prevent the retention of excess water in your soil. Excess water in the soil can damage the roots of the plants.

You first want to place a layer of small rocks or pebbles on the bottom of your container.

A thin layer (roughly 1/2 inch) of activated charcoal will be placed on top of the pebbles.

The activated charcoal will help to catch any impurities in your miniature eco-system. Activated charcoal can generally be purchased at a nursery, pet store, or here.

Ideally, the last step of your drainage layer is to add some sheet moss (like Spanish or Sphagnum moss). This layer of moss will ensure that your soil doesn’t seep into the pebbles.

Potting Soil for Terrariums

Make sure you select the potting soil that works best for your plants as this layer will act as nutrition for the plants.

A general type of potting soil that works well with most plants used in terrariums is the African Violet potting soil. Fast draining soil would work best if you are making a terrarium with succulents.

Potting soil is to be placed as the next layer above the drainage layer. Use a small spade or large spoon to do this.

Terrarium Decor

Some people like to add little decorative items inside the terrarium to give it a more unique touch. You can also add another layer of moss or pebbles on the top of the soil if you prefer.

Fairy gardens are a popular hobby that involves creating a miniature scene as if your terrarium was the home of a fairy.

This can be done with small items like this pack here which includes 120 accessories of mushrooms, small flowers, ladybugs, and other items

Making a Terrarium

Making a terrarium is quite easy. There are a few simple steps you need to follow to ensure that you are creating an ideal environment for your terrarium plant. Here is a summary of the steps necessary for making a terrarium.

  1. Select your plants and the number of plants that you’d like. Pick an odd amount of plants with varying colors and heights, but similar sun and water requirements.
  2. Find a container that will fit your plants. Make sure that the plants will not touch the sides of the container.
  3. Determine the height that you want your plants to sit. This will be largely dependent on the size and shape of your container.
  4. Place a one-inch layer of small rocks and pebbles as the drainage base to ensure that excess water does not damage the roots of your plants. This layer may be thicker depending on the size of your container.
  5. Place a layer of moss to ensure that the soil does not fall between the cracks of the pebbles.
  6. Add a 1/2 inch layer of activated charcoal to help purify the water as it circulates through the eco-system.
  7. Add potting soil to the next layer of your terrarium. Use a small spade or spoon to create a small hole to prepare for the transplant of your terrarium plant.
  8. Take your terrarium plant out of the original container and remove some of the old soil. Tease the roots gently before placing it into the new soil. Use the spade to gently cover the roots with potting soil. Try to ensure that there are no air pockets between the plant roots and the soil.
  9. Add some small pebbles or a layer of moss over the top of your soil for the last layer of the terrarium.
  10. Add other decorative elements in the container to finish making your terrarium.
  11. Provide adequate water and sunlight to your plants.

How to Make a Terrarium Tutorials

How to Care for Your Terrarium?

Caring for your terrarium is quite easy as long as you understand the needs of the plants that you selected.

You will generally only need water and sunlight. Fertilizer is unnecessary for terrarium plants as growth is strongly discouraged due to the limitations of the glass container.

Watering Your Terrarium

Check the terrarium every week to see if it is need of water. If the soil feels dry, spray some water to hydrate your plants.

If you start to see mold growing in your terrarium, remove it as soon as possible.

This mold growth is most likely due to excessive water in your terrarium. If there is too much water in a closed terrarium, you can also leave your containers open for a few days to allow the water to evaporate.

Sunlight For Your Terrarium

Place it in an area that gets a moderate amount of sunlight, preferably a north-facing window.

If you see that your plants begin to brown or wilt, move it away from the sun into a place that does not get as much light as your original location.

If there are any dead matter in your terrarium, remove it as soon as possible.


Terrariums can be quite easy to make! You only need a few simple items to get started — a container, plants, small pebbles, activated charcoal, and soil. You can also add other decorative items to give it a unique touch.

The most important part of making a terrarium is the selection of plants. Make sure you understand the watering and sunlight needs of the plants before selecting your container.

Alternatively, you can choose your container first and ensure that you pick an appropriate plant for it.

Either way, don’t forget to enjoy the process of creating your first terrarium!

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