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Testing Terrariums

Updated on December 12, 2013

Before We Get Planting...

Here's an introduction to my class, as well as what the heck terrariums are!

The Aesthetics of Sustainability is a class offered at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. While it is open to all students, it is required for those pursuing the Bachelor of Science degree at our school. In this class, we discuss the basics of our earth and its ability to self-sustain and our impact, as well as how we as humans are learning to sustain and what consequences/benefits this might lead to. Additionally, we are working with "Global Partners" in trying to create sustainable systems around the world. By working with real clients who have real issues to be resolved, this class allows students to gain a better understanding not only of different cultures but also of how to work with clients and organize as well as think sustainably with nature always in mind.

A terrarium is usually a "transparent enclosure for keeping or raising plants or usually small animals (as turtles) indoors" (Merriam-Webster). They are beneficial to learning about sustainability in that they are their own ecosystems, which sustain themselves by creating their own environments to live in and feed off of.


How to Make A Terrarium

There are dozens of how-to's on how to make a terrarium out on the internet, and Google certainly won't hurt! I'm going to share with you an article from Better Homes and Gardens, however, as a way for you to quickly reference something if you're interested in starting a terrarium with me!

See how convenient I can be? No need to even open a new tab or window, just start here!


  • A clear container (plastic or glass works!)
  • Activated charcoal pieces (I personally do not have these, but they help with drainage)
  • Potting soil (if you're really into this, research the soil that will best help your plants grow!)
  • Gloves (or not...if you like the mess)
  • Terrarium plants (go to Home Depot, Bachman's, or any plant store and they will probably have "miniatures" of plants, and can help you out if you just ask what would best thrive in a terrarium. Or do research online)
  • Sheet moss
  • Watering can (water bottles/sprayers can be just as effective!)
  • Trowel (or just use your hands to dig)

Now start making!

  1. Put 1-2 inches of charcoal at the very bottom of the container.
  2. Combine any charcoal you have left with soil.
  3. Fill your container 1/4 or 1/3 of the way with the charcoal and soil mixer, packing gently every 2 inches to avoid large air pockets.
  4. Remove plants from their containers, and set them on top of the soil to lay everything out the way you want with proper spacing.
  5. Pack the soil with your hands around the plants, making sure that they are deep enough so that the roots are covered, and the plants don't reach above the top (especially if you have a closed-lid terrarium!)
  6. Pat down moss on top of the soil and in between plants.
  7. Water them! Make sure that they are set in a well-lit, indirect sunlight area of your room.
  8. After this, you don't have to do much to take care of them! You might have to do some trimming and occasional watering, but that's it!

Some plants to get you started...

  • Pilea involucrata, "Moon Valley": Fast-grower, low light, 12 inches tall and wide
  • Arachnoides simplicior, "Variegata": Low light, moist potting mix, high humidity, 16 inches tall and wide
  • Cryptanthus bivittatus, "Starfish plant": Slow-growing, 6 inches tall and wide
  • Fittonia verschaffeltii var. argyroneura, "Nerve plant": Moist and warm air, 12 inches tall and wide
  • Peperomia caperata, "Variegata": Low but regular light, moist conditions, 6 inches tall and wide
  • Selaginella kraussiana, "Aurea"/"Golden clubmoss": Soil moist but not wet, 6inches tall 2 feet wide
  • Pilea glauca, "Aquamarine": Low-growing, high humidity, low light, 12 inches tall and wide
  • Tillandsia stricta, "Air plant": 8 inches tall and wide
  • Acorus gramineus, "Minimus Aureus": 14 inches tall 6 inches wide
  • Ophiopogon planiscapus, "Nigrescens"/"Black mondo grass": 15 inches tall 12 inches wide
  • Asplenium bulbiferum: Low light, 2 feet tall 4 feet wide
  • Saxifraga stolonifera, "Strawberry begonia": Rapidly matures, long life, 8 inches tall 6 inches wide

Tips and Tricks:

  • Be aware of your environment. What way is your window facing? North, east, south, west? This will impact how much sunlight you get. A west-facing window will get much ore than a north-facing window. Also: what is the humidity like in the room? Is it really dry or really moist? Generally warm or cold in temperature?
  • What type of terrarium do you want? Closed or open? Closed terrariums require little to no maintenance, as they ave their own micro-system put into place that allows for a self-sustaining environment, even for the animals you might have. Open terrariums are a little more like gardens, in that they require regular or periodic watering, trimming, and even feeding if you have animals.
  • Do you have a biome in mind? If you do, what types of plants work best in this biome? (see below for a list of biomes)
  • Do you want animals? Small frogs, snakes, and turtles thrive well in humid terrarium environments.


A Sidenote: On Biomes

Biomes are important. They determine the world's different types of environmental communities, and certain things thrive in certain biomes.

For our project, biomes were incredibly important. We had to determine a biome, and then find plants and tend our terrariums according to that biome's needs and general attributes.

Here's a list of biomes with some overview on what they are:

  • Aquatic: Water is 75% of the earth's surface. They have a wide range of species of plants and animals, with high humidity and a cooler air temperature. There are two basic regions to keep in mind: freshwater (ponds, rivers) and marine (oceans, estuaries).
  • Desert: Covering about 1/5 of the earth's surface, deserts are defined by areas that receive less than 50cm of rainfall per year. Most deserts are at low latitudes, though cold deserts occur in the basin and range area of Utah and Nevada, as well as western parts of Asia. Deserts generally have a large amount of specialized vegetation and vertebrate/invertebrate animals. Soils tend to have a lot of nutrients with little or no organic matter. Large mammals are rare in deserts, with most animals being non-mammalian vertebrates like reptiles. Deserts can be divided into hot and dry, semiarid, coastal, and cold.
  • Forests: Forests occupy about 1/3 of earth's land area, account for 2/3 of the leaf area of land plants and contain 70% of of carbon present in living organisms. Forests are known for being a major casualty of civilization's growth, with issues such as deforestation, pollution and industrialization threatening these natural habitats. Forests are defined as "biological communities that are dominated by trees and other woody vegetation". The three major types of forests are tropical, temperate, and boreal/taiga.
  • Grasslands: Grasslands have mostly grasses vs larger trees or shrubs. They expanded after the Pleistocene Ice Ages as hotter/drier climates spread worldwide. Grasslands are divided into either savannas or temperate grasslands.
  • Tundra: A tundra is cold! Generally, there is a large amount of frost on the landscape, as well as "extremely low temperatures, low precipitation, poor nutrients, and short growing seasons". Nutrients are provided by dead organic material, with two major nutrients being nitrogen and phosphorus. They generally have large population oscillations, with limited drainage and a simple vegetation structure along with low biotic diversity. Tundras are either arctic or alpine.

Who's Got a Green Thumb?!

Have You Planted a Terrarium?

See results

So Where's My Terrarium?

Terrarium name: Caleb

Terrarium stye: Closed-lid

Biome: Tropical forest

(This biome is defined by: Average temperatures of 20-25 degrees Celsius, with little change from season to season, evenly distributed precipitation with annual rainfall of 2000 mm, nutrient-poor acidic soil, rapid decomposition, multilayered and continuous canopy, little light penetration, diverse flora including trees with buttressed trunks and shallow roots, evergreen, orchids, bromeliads, vines, ferns, mosses, and palms, birds, bats, small mammals, insects. Subdivisions of this region are defined by "seasonal distribution of rainfall": evergreen, seasonal, semievergreen, moist/dry)

Positioning: Between two windows facing North in Minneapolis, MN.

Plants used:

  • Lysimachia (Creeping Jenny): Easy growth, medium to wet, well-drained soil, full sun to shade, low growing, prefers moist ground (Missouri Botanical Garden).
  • Creeping Thyme: 2-4 inches high, 2 feet wide, avoid overly moist ground (
  • Copperleaf: Full sun, sun/partial shade, poisonous if ingested, suitable for indoor growth, do not overwater (Dave's Garden).

My Progress Thus Far

Now comes the fun part! In the below pictures, I will show you what the terrarium looked like on the first day and following days, as well as what the plants looked like in their pots, etc etc. I will try to post new photos of my terrarium every few days or so, so that you guys can track my process!

DISCLAIMER: I am NOT a plant person...I don't have a green thumb and I have no clue about anything! So, if you have any tips/tricks for me that I can use for this project or put into this article (with credit given, of course!) please leave a comment below! I don't know if my terrarium will survive in the coming months, but I will be tracking the progress here regardless of whether or not it will survive. So enjoy this journey with me!

The Plants

Creeping Thyme
Creeping Thyme

Initial Documentation

Process Thus Far

The process photos below have been taken over the past couple of weeks during the initial stages of the terrarium.


Process to Follow!

These next process photos were taken after I started the blog post, so they'll be dated and all that fun stuff. Also, they will probably be taken with my iPhone so I can upload easily.

Here We Are!

Several weeks later, here's my Terrarium! While I don't think it's thriving, it's definitely not dead yet. So I would say it's just simply surviving.

But that's better than dead, right? Haha...

Thus Far...

The Conclusion!


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