Building a Terrarium

By Janice Brown

As the dog days of summer set in you may want to move your gardening ventures indoors. What better way to do this than to build a terrarium? This is a great activity to do with kids too, but I must warn you building terrariums can become additive. The good thing is that these miniature gardens can be made quickly and inexpensively, often using things you already have at home.

To get started you’ll need the following items:

  • A clear container
  • Gravel or sand
  • Charcoal (optional)
  • Sphagnum moss (optional)
  • Soil
  • Small plants
  • Scissors
  • Paper towels or small paint brush
  • Spray bottle with water
  • Decorations: miniatures to create scenes, river rocks, pebbles, craft sticks, etc. (optional)


Choosing your container can be lots of fun. Most likely you have one you can use at home. Get creative with choosing containers. Think bottles, fish bowls, jars, etc. You can even upcycle a two liter soda bottle into a planter. To use a soda bottle, cut off the bottom half four-six inches from the bottom and then follow the steps below. To close container, slide top of bottle over the bottom. If it is too tight, make a small 1/2 inch slit at top of bottom wall.

About the Plants

Choose plants small enough to fit in your container. Take your container with you to shop for plants to help judge sizes. Good plants to try are polka dots, pepperomias, button ferns, baby’s tears, and strawberry begonias. Only use succulents in open terrariums as closed terrariums are too moist. Choose plants that need similar light conditions. Thoroughly wash and dry container.
Once you’ve gathered your gear it’s time to get started!

  1. Pour a layer of gravel or sand into the bottom of your container to provide drainage. This will keep the plant roots from staying too wet. The layer can be from ½ inch to a few inches. The thickness depends on the size of the container and the look you are trying to achieve. If you have a tall container thick, contrasting layers of soil and rock can really give a cool affect.
  2. Optional steps: A layer of charcoal from a pet store or garden center can be added here to act as a deodorizer, but if your terrarium finds a happy balance you won’t have to worry about odors. Also if you want to keep the soil from mixing in with the layer of rocks, add a layer of sphagnum moss now to act as a barrier to the soil.
  3. Now pour in a layer of soil. Again, the thickness of the layer depends on you, but make sure you use enough to completely cover the roots of the plant.
  4. Use the paper towels or brush to clear particles of dirt off the sides of the container.
  5. Decide how you want to arrange your plants. Use your finger or the opposite end of the paintbrush to create holes in the soil for your plants. Make holes about 1 inch apart. Preferably space so that plants won’t touch the sides of the container.
  6. If necessary gently separate potted plants into single plants, place one in each hole, brush the soil over the roots, and gently tap the soil down.
  7. Add a little water to moisten the soil, making sure not to make the soil soggy. A spray bottle comes in handy for this.
  8. Add decorations if you desire. Use rocks or twigs for natural touches or get campy with little plastic figurines. Possibilities are endless, so go with what appeals to you.
  9. Place the top on the container.

After Care

Terrariums are simple to keep. Place in indirect light and monitor for the first few days. The container should have beaded moisture on the sides and may be a little foggy at first. Water should be needed only occasionally and from time to time plants can be trimmed to keep them small. That’s it! Enjoy!

JaniceBrownOn the Grow is a garden coaching service launched by Janice Brown to teach people how to be successful gardeners in the sometimes difficult, Gulf Coast climate. On the Grow provides garden education for the home gardener, children in outdoor classrooms, neighbors in community gardens, and employees in workplace gardens. Whether you want a new idea for a girls’ night out, a new way to engage children in nature, or want to implement a fresh wellness program in your company, On the Grow is here for you. Your coach will take you step by step teaching you the basics, while presenting you with a fresh perspective by helping you experience the healing benefits of gardening. Our mission at On the Grow is to help everyone experience the joy of a garden and build a greater connection to Mother Earth. Connect with One The Grow on Facebook and Twitter!

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