How to make a terrarium

An open terrarium

Terrariums are an attractive way to display house plants and bring more greenery into your home.  They’re a great way to experiment with plants and a fun creative project if you love indoor gardening. There’s a wide range of terrariums available to buy ready made, but you can make your own using any clear glass jar or bowl you have available. Whether you’re making one for your own home or to give away as a gift, a terrarium can be made any time and will look good all year round. Closed terrariums can be fiddly to set up, so if you’re a beginner, try starting with an open terrarium as these are easier to plant and need less aftercare.


Before you start

Choosing a container

Geometric terrarium. Getty Images
Geometric terrarium. Getty Images

You can buy many different styles of terrarium from simple cubes and glass bowls or jars, to geometric designs or hanging glass domes. Consider bigger or differently shaped terrariums, too. You don’t need to buy one – any clear glass bowl or jar could be repurposed into a terrarium. Here’s a few ideas for a homemade terrarium:

  • Glass globes
  • Jam jar
  • Closed glass jars with a stopper
  • Kilner jar

For more ideas watch our video on choosing a container:


How to make an open terrarium

Create a Desert Plant Terrarium
Create a desert plant terrarium

Topped with a mulch of pale grit and chunky pebbles, the effect is that of a landscape in miniature. Don’t be afraid to play with the top dressing if you want. You could use horticultural sand, or even pecking grit for birds – the grain size is somewhere between gravel and sand – which will add a more naturalistic feel.

Plants for an open terrarium

For an open terrarium choose desert plants that need a drier environment such as cacti, aloes and succulents. Most garden centres will sell a decent range of small cacti and succulents to use in your terrarium.

Five plants for an open terrarium:

  • Cacti
  • Succulents such as echeveria
  • Aloe
  • Haworthia
  • Peperomia

You will need: 

  • Cube terrarium
  • Free draining compost or cacti compost
  • Small cacti, aloes or haworthia
  • Grit mulch
  • Pebbles

Step 1

Adding the grit to the terrarium
Adding the grit to the terrarium

Plant a shallow layer of grit in the base of an open container (to avoid humidity building up), followed by a 4-5cm layer of cactus compost.

Step 2

Planting the cacti with kitchen tongs
Planting the cacti with kitchen tongs

Plant the cacti, using kitchen tongs to handle the very prickly ones. Alternatively, wrap in paper and plant by hand.

Step 3

Adding gravel to the terrarium
Adding gravel to the terrarium

Using a teaspoon, add a decorative mulch of pale gravel around the cacti. Once the gravel has been added, artfully place several of the pebbles on top. Water sparingly to settle the plants.


How to make a closed terrarium

Closed terrariums should be self sustaining – they create their own ecosystems and become self watering as condensation drips down the inside of the jar. Some closed terrariums may have a narrow neck. If so, you can use a funnel to fill it with compost and long stick to move plants around.Water the plants you are using so they are moist when you put them in to your jar.

Plants for a closed terrarium

Plants that thrive in humidity will enjoy the damp atmosphere of a closed terrarium. These are usually plants that are native to tropical areas such as the nerve plant, ferns or peperomias.

Five plants for a closed terrarium:

  • Asparagus fern
  • Fittonia (nerve plant)
  • Calathea picturata
  • Miniature orchid
  • African violets

You will need:

  • Humidity loving plants
  • House plant compost
  • Activated charcoal
  • Gravel and small pebbles
  • Spoon, paintbrush, a cork on a stick, tweezers, funnel
  • A sealable glass vessel, with a glass or cork lid

Step 1

Adding a dessertspoon of crushed charcoal. Will and Madeleine Taylor
Adding a spoon of crushed charcoal. Will and Madeleine Taylor

Use a funnel to fill a clean dry jar with a 2cm layer of gravel. Add a tablespoon of crushed charcaol on top and spread evenly with a stick or the back of a narrow paint brush. Add 6cm of moist compost to the jar and firm it in using a cork on a stick.

Step 2

Wipe down any compost stuck to the jar
Wipe down any compost stuck to the jar

Make holes in the compost with your cork stick. Then use a dry paintbrush to wipe down any compost that has stuck to the side of the jar. Remove the plants from their pots.

Step 3

Fold each plant gently and drop inside the jar. Will and Madeleine Taylor
Fold each plant gently and drop inside the jar. Will and Madeleine Taylor

Drop each plant into the jar and use your stick to move each one into a hole. Use the cork to firm down the compost around each plant and level the surface.

Step 4

Firming the compost with a cork.
Firming the compost with a cork

Tear some moist carpet moss into bits, and push them inside the jar. Firm them into the compost. Drop in the pebbles and level with a cork stuck on to a stick. Seal your jar or bottle.


Next steps

Terrarium in a bright spot, out of the sun
Terrarium in a bright spot, out of the sun

Place closed terrariums away from windows or in a spot where it will get bright, indirect light but not direct sun. Keep an eye on your plants once you’ve made your terrarium and take action if they start to turn brown or wilt.

Carts

Accessories

Flower Seeds

Composting

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