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How To Make A Terrarium

Updated on March 27, 2017

Terrariums Made Easy

Making a terrarium is easy and fun and they can be oh, so beautiful. Here discover exactly how to make one; where to get the supplies; and how to display them and keep them growing for years to come.

I guarantee that you'll never look at a jar the same way again. Like the little boy with a hammer where everything looks like a nail, every jar will look like a terrarium to you. And, you will be right because terrariums can be make out of any size, color or shape of jar. They can have lids or they can be open.

Even if you think you don't have a green thumb, you'll be able to make and keep a terrarium growing for years.

Another big plus to having terrariums in your home is closed terrariums are pet proof. My indoor cats eat plants and dig in the pots so I can't have indoor plants. But I CAN have terrariums and I do. All of the ones you see here are in my home. Of course all of mine have lids so my cats can't get to the plants nor the dirt.

Terrariums are miniature Ecosystems

According to Wikipedia: "An ecosystem consists of all the organisms living in a particular area, as well as all the nonliving, physical components of the environment with which the organisms interact, such as air, soil, water, and sunlight."

Antique green jar terrarium

Antique green  jar terrarium
Antique green jar terrarium

Supply List for Making a Terrarium

Easy to find items for terrariums

Here is a list of the items you'll need to make a terrarium. Many you'll probably already have in your home; others are easily purchased at a local nursery. (The activated charcoal pieces are found at pet stores as well).

You really only need 7 items:

1. Jar

2. Plants

3. Potting soil

4. Activated charcoal pieces

5. Sphagnum Moss (optional)

6. Small rocks, glass, marbles

7. Decorations (optional)

Jars are not all created equal

Jars make the terrarium

Any shape, size or color jar works, although, the more unique they are, the better in my opinion. They will add color but style to any room you put them in. If they are in unique jars, you'll be more likely to look at them and enjoy them.

You'll be proud to show them off and believe me, you'll be hooked on making terrariums -- for yourself or as gifts for family and friends.

Photo: elephant jars found at garage sales

STEP 1: Set up for success

Get your space together

The first thing you want to do is clear off a work area. Your kitchen table works fine. Spread out newspaper to cover the surface and lay out your materials you'll be using.

Have a garbage can standing by and of course a water bottle.

STEP 2: Start the layering process

Rocks, marbles and glass pieces

Now that you are all set up, you begin by putting a layer of small rocks, marbles and glass pieces in the bottom of the jar. You can use a very coarse sand instead but I find the rocks, marbles and glass pieces look prettier.

The amount needed varies per jar size, however, my rule of thumb is approximately 1 to 1-1/2" deep. I usually find what I need in my yard, however, you get buy small bags of tiny rocks, sometimes polished, at a nursery or dollar store.

STEP 3: Add the charcoal layer

Charcoal pieces

Sprinkled a thin layer (about 1/8 - 1/4" ) on top of the small rocks. A terrarium with a lid makes it a closed environment. The activated charcoal pieces will filter the air and keep it fresh. If you can't find it at your nursery, check a pet store. It is the same charcoal used in aquarium filters.

STEP 4: Add a layer of Sphagnum Moss

Sphagnum moss layer

Next spread a layer of moistenedsphagnum moss over the charcoal. Make it about a 1/2" to 1" layer. The moss will prevent the soil -- which you'll be putting on next -- from settling into the rocks below. Water will drain fine.

Some people skip this step but I prefer having this barrier between the soil and the charcoal/rocks.

STEP 5: Add the potting soil

Potting soil to feed the plants

Next add potting soil which you can find at any nursery. Again, the amount depends on the size of the jar, but about 3 to 5 inches should work. You want enough to cover the plants roots with a little room to grow.

The total of the rocks, charcoal, sphagnum moss and potting soil should take up about 1/3 of the jar.

STEP 6: Add plants

Plants are key

Next, add your plants. Set your plants out on the table in different arrangements to see what works best. Keep in mind that the terrarium should be beautiful from all sides. A taller plant could be put in the center and shorter ones surrounding it. Or a taller one in the back and shorter ones in the front.

Keep in mind that you'll probably want to vary the color, size or shape of plants. Tall ones, short ones, ferns, large leaves, green ones and maybe even pink ones. Remember to leave room for a decoration or sculpture if so desired.

STEP 7: Add decorations

Decorations add a personal touch

Adding decorations, interesting rocks or sculptures can add an a special touch to the terrarium. They can be your focal point and can also be changed by season.

If you are making the terrarium as a gift, it can be personalized for that personal touch.

Some Of My Terrariums

Some Of My Terrariums
Some Of My Terrariums

How to care for your terrarium

Easy steps to keep your terrarium growing

The care and upkeep of a terrarium is easy. Just keep these things in mind:


Keep the terrarium in a well-lit room - bright, natural light. Do not put the terrarium in direct sun light.


Water sparingly. If the sides of the terrarium mists up, there is enough water. If there are drops rolling down from the mist, you are watering too much. If that is the case, simply open the lid and using a paper towel dry the inside of the glass jar. Better to underwater than water too much. A closed terrarium is a miniature world with it's own bio-system.

You may only have to water once a month or even every 6 months, depending on light, type of plants, size of jar. It's easier than it seems; just keep an eye on it and mark your calendar when you water. When it looks like a plant is drooping a little, mist it or put about a thimble-spoon amount of water on each plant.


If you see rotting leaves, pinch them off. It may be from over-watering.


IF you see any pests or mold, remove it immediately and clean around the plants and container. If it takes over the terrarium, you'll need to start all over. If you do start over, throw everything away, wash out the jar with soapy water and rinse well, then begin again.

A Carnivious Terrarium

Gothic House Carnivorous Terrarium (Wardian Case) - LIVE
Gothic House Carnivorous Terrarium (Wardian Case) - LIVE

Now this is a cool terrarium. Put in some carnivorous plants and you and your kids, family and friends will want to watch it for hours.


Beautiful Square Terrarium

Wardian Display Case
Wardian Display Case

This is another beauty. Can you just imagine how fabulous it will lock on your dining room table or coffee table? You can just stick plants in it as pictured or actually plant the whole thing full of plants.


Bonsai Village Terrarium

DuneCraft Dome Terrariums Bonsai Village
DuneCraft Dome Terrariums Bonsai Village

Great little terrarium. Pick a bonsai or two and plant in this fabulous terrarium.


Unique Jars make the terrarium special

Unique Jars make the terrarium special
Unique Jars make the terrarium special

Round jar tarrium

Round jar tarrium
Round jar tarrium

Triangle jar terrarium

Triangle jar terrarium
Triangle jar terrarium

Hanging Terrariums - Hand those plants!

What a great way to showcase plants. And, they take up little room. You can hang them instead of having to put them on tables.

Videos on how to make a terrarium

These are some of the best videos I've found on making terrariums.

A bell jar terrarium -- another way to go

A bell jar terrarium -- another way to go
A bell jar terrarium -- another way to go

Want to link to this lens? Here's how.


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Copyright 2010 - 2017 Frankie Kangas All rights reserved.

Guestbook for your feedback - Let me know about your terrariums

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    • Socialpro54 LM profile image

      Socialpro54 LM 

      5 years ago

      HI, great resource, great lens!

    • maryseena profile image


      5 years ago

      Great terrariums!

    • Franksterk profile imageAUTHOR

      Frankie Kangas 

      5 years ago from California

      @Resident-Nerd: I've always wanted to make an old fish tank into a terrarium. I think you'll love creating terrariums.

    • Resident-Nerd profile image


      5 years ago

      This is a great idea. I am in to fish tanks which are also a mini ecosystem of their own. I may just have to try this as well.... it seems like a lot of fun. Thank you

    • Franksterk profile imageAUTHOR

      Frankie Kangas 

      6 years ago from California

      @corydoras: Wow. I'd love to see a photo of it. Sound wonderful. Bear hugs, Frankster

    • corydoras profile image


      6 years ago

      My current terrarium is an open 10 gallon aquarium. It contains 2 species selaginella, 1 mini phalaeonopsis orchid, 2 species tillandsia, 1 creeping fig, 1 fittonia, 1 cryptanthus bromeliad, 1 venus flytrap, and one unidentified plant. No livestock at the moment, at least not intentionally except for the odd food item for the flytrap.

    • Franksterk profile imageAUTHOR

      Frankie Kangas 

      6 years ago from California

      @uneasywriter lm: What a wonderful idea. I'll have to try that myself. Thanks for sharing. Bear hugs, Frankster

    • uneasywriter lm profile image

      uneasywriter lm 

      6 years ago

      I do this with my herbs in the wintertime. I always have have fresh herbs in the kitchen and if done right these make great table center pieces and home décor at the same time.

    • Franksterk profile imageAUTHOR

      Frankie Kangas 

      6 years ago from California

      @anonymous: You are welcome. I'd love to see the photos of the terrariums you make. BTW, if you want the layers to show, you could cheat and make them thicker just around the sides of the glass. It would appear that you have more ingredients in each layer, but that should not be a problem. It would give you the look you want.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      @Franksterk: Thanks so much for your reply! I like the different sized rock suggestion and thanks for the advice on the charcoal. My first try at was just as you said- the soil really compacted the moss and the charcoal fell into the rocks (and I think I used too much, so it basically 'took over' the rock layer). I know it's not necessary to have a layered-look, but I think it looks cooler! We're going to do this w/ my son's cub scout den in a few weeks, and I'll send you pics (of their projects) when they're done!

    • Franksterk profile imageAUTHOR

      Frankie Kangas 

      6 years ago from California

      @anonymous: Marble sized rocks and smaller should be fine. It does not matter that the charcoal falls in between the rocks; the charcoal will still act as a filter to keep the ingredients fresh. Also the charcoal is such a thin layer that in most terrariums, you will not see that layer nor much of the Sphagnum moss layer due to the pressure of the soil mixture and plants on top. It is not really important to see the layers although I understand your wanting to.

      I wouldn't put the charcoal on the very bottom as you want the water to filter through it not settle into it.

      One thing you could do if you want to show layers is to have 2 different sized rocks - marble sized and tiny gravel sized. I'd put the marbles in first then the gravel-sized rocks. That way the gravel will help to keep the soil from flowing between the rocks.

      You could also use pure-ese (what I call marbles of 1 color that you can see thorugh for color and/or use white gravel to help with the layered look you are seeking.

      Send me a photo when you are done so I can share it on this site. Good luck. Frankie

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I tried to make a terrarium with nice-looking rocks the size of marbles and bigger but when I put the carbon on top, it all just mixed in/covered up the rocks. The moss layer (once it had soil on top) also just seemed to blend in to the other layers. Can I put the carbon on the bottom (first layer)? And do you have any other tips for getting a better layered-look? Thanks!

    • IngridA1 profile image


      6 years ago

      What a wonderful article, thank you for sharing! I'm inspired to try my hand at making a terrarium!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      HI, great resource, great lens! Thank you!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Fantastic Lens! Thanks you so much for sharing these useful tips to make a terrarium.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Brilliant lens! I can't wait to try this out for my self. I love the detailed step by step!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      great step by step instructions thanks.

    • Franksterk profile imageAUTHOR

      Frankie Kangas 

      8 years ago from California

      @Spook LM: Oh yeah, if I open the lid the cats tend to have their paws in there.

    • SciTechEditorDave profile image

      David Gardner 

      8 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area, California

      I need to make a terrarium. A big one. One big enough to hold my pet Komodo dragons. :-) Something that the neighbors' cats, dogs, and kids can't get into (or my critters can't escape, as well). And your great lens has given me some ideas! I've liked, favorited, lensrolled, and thumbs-upped your lens! Congrats on a great job!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      You know Frankie, I like the idea of these being pet proof cause you sure do know Boots the Cat -- her curiosity is nine yards long. This looks like a fabulous project! HUGS!!!

    • Spook LM profile image

      Spook LM 

      8 years ago

      Looks like fun. If you open the lid do the cats then get in? Blessed by an Angel.


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