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make a terrarium

Updated on August 4, 2008

What is A Terrarium?

A Terrarium is an arrangement of plants together in one container, often with other things like rocks, stones or miniature figures and items. Sometimes the goal of a terrarium is just to create a pleasing arrangement of plants and other times the goal is to create a miniature world.

An easy to Make Dish Terrarium with 5 plants
An easy to Make Dish Terrarium with 5 plants

What Kinds of Terrariums are there?

There are three basic types of terrariums

  • Open Air Terrarium or Dish Terrarium - This is the easiest kind of terrarium to make. You simply choose a suitable bowl or dish and put an arrangement of plants in it. This is an "open air" terrarium because it is not enclosed.
  • Closed Environment terrarium (often called a bottle terrarium) This type of terrarium is more challenging to make. It is a self contained environment that is sealed off from the outside world. Often times the container that is used has a small opening which further challenges the terrarium maker with the task of trying to get things inside and arranged properly. Think of this as a bit of a ship in the bottle kind of technique.
  • Animal terrarium - Sometimes this is called a vivarium. This is a terrarium that is make where the focus is on the plants but there will also be a creature living inside -often times this could be a lizard, turtle or mice.

What kind of terrarium should you make?

If you are an absolute beginner to gardening and terrarium making then you should make an open air container. This will give you some experience with making and caring for a terrarium.

If you are an experienced gardener or terrarium maker, or an experienced hobbyist you may want to take on the challenge of creating a closed environment terrarium. This type of terrarium is more difficult, more rewarding, and can be very dramatic in how it looks.

The Basics: How to make a terrarium

All the terrarium types are made in the same way.

Step 1: Gather your materials which include:

  • 3-7 plants (odd number of plants should be used because it generally is more pleasing to the eye)
  • A container, (Dish, bottle or Fish tank)
  • Potting Soil
  • Small pebbles or rocks (enough to put a 1 -2 inch layer in the bottom of your container for drainage)
  • Spanish Moss or Spaghnum Moss (optional) This is a layer you place over the pebbles before the potting soil goes in. It helps to prevent soil from seeping down into the pebbles.

Step 2: Build your terrarium

  • Place the 1-2 inch layer of pebbles
  • Place a thin layer of Moss over the pebbles
  • Place the soil
  • Arrange the plants
  • Water and watch every day for progress

Tips and Hints for making your terrarium Beautiful

When selecting your plants you should look for variety of leaf and color. Don't choose plants that all look alike. Arrange them next to each other to see if they compliment each other. Choose a plant that has long thin fronds and a plant that has full and round leaves. Look for color variations too.

Before planting your plants arrange them next to each other and move them around to find interesting arrangements. Once they are planted you don't want to uproot them and move them. Find an attractive arrangement 'before' you plant them.

Ideas for Containers

The container is very important when it comes to making a terrarium. It can make a dramatic impact in how the terrarium looks. Choose something aesthetically pleasing.

Almost anything can be used as a container and a brandy snifter is often a good first choice. You can use a nicely decorated deep dish bowl, a fish tank, a 5-gallon water jug or even a plastic 2 liter soda bottle.

Be creative! Choose something dramatic.

Being Creative with your terrarium making

You can be really creative in how you make your terrarium. Here are three things to think about:

  • The Container - Be creatve when choosing the container, almost anything can be used. Look at things and see them as potential terrarium container.
  • Theme - Some of the best terrariums are based on themes such as a desert theme where all the plants are those found in the desert. A carnivourous terrarium can also be a lot of fun to make and it looks very exotic. Beach themes, jungle themes, and bonsai themes are also good choices.
  • Extras - The extra little things can make a big difference. Things like small ornaments, miniature figures and animals or colored stones can transform your terrarium into a magical miniature world.
  • Go all out and add a miniature pump and waterfall !

Video: Terrariums for Kids

What plants should you use in your terrarium?

This is a big concern for many beginner terrarium makers and my recommendation is that you not worry about this at all. Just choose a selection of hardy house plants from your local home improvement store or nursery. They will be just fine.

But if you want to play it safe here are some common plants that are well suited to terrariums:

  • Palm Neanthe Bella - Low light and grows slowly and is very hardy
  • Swedish Ivy - Very durable low care plant
  • Bird Nest Sansivieria - Extremely hardy
  • Irish moss - Makes nice groundcover
  • Croton - Come in many bright colors but need a lot of light
  • Pothos - Medium Light , nice shaped leaves
  • Pitcher Plant - Carnivorous and has a nice exotic look
  • Butterwort - Also carnivorous
  • Miniature African violets - Adds nice color
  • Cactus - High sunlight and sandy soil
  • Aglaonema (Chinese evergreen) - Extremely hardy plant
  • Aspidistra (Cast iron plant) - As the name implies this is a very durable plant
  • Herbs - Have a nice added function of being edible (Don't hesitate to use herbs like parsley, mint, chives, oregano or others in your terrarium. They tend to be hardy, stay small and often add a little bit of a nice aroma.)

Taking your Terrarium to the next level

Some terrarium makers take their work to the next level by adding small animals to it. The terrarium is then transformed into a vivarium. Doing this adds quite a significant change to the terrarium and increases the care and enjoyment of it.

If you decide on adding a small pet to your terrarium the biggest consideration you have to remember is that everything has to be designed for the animals well being and safety. Some of the considerations include water, humidity, types of plants, and whether the terrarium needs to be fully enclosed.

Not all small pets are suitable for terrariums but some of the more common ones that have proven to be successful are:

  • Crickets
  • tarantulas
  • American Chameleons
  • Toads
  • Hermit crabs
  • Salamanders
  • Leopard geckos
  • Land Snails

Video: How to make a Desert Themed Terrarium


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