A terrarium is a work of art and a thriving environment for plants two in one. It’s easier to maintain than an aquarium and can make any room so much more interesting.
But what exactly is a terrarium and how can you make one?
Read on to find out more about terrariums and all the things that go into them.
Terrarium Meaning & Definition
A terrarium is a miniature garden growing inside a transparent glass container. It consists of soil, plants, pebbles, and often, a charcoal layer that keeps the water and the air clean.
The container can be a simple glass jar, a fish tank, or a handcrafted piece of glass. It can also be a transparent non-plastic container, though glass is usually the best choice.
So far so good, but how does it work? It’s simple. The plants and the soil in a terrarium release moisture which condenses on the glass walls and then returns to the plants.
A terrarium can look very similar to a vivarium. But while the latter serves as a habitat for an animal, terrariums sustain only plants and not animals. Terrariums can be open or sealed.
Open terrariums offer a less humid environment with more air circulation. They facilitate the growth of plants that like drier conditions and are often decorative.
Open terrariums require careful watering and a bit more maintenance than sealed ones.
Sealed terrariums or closed terrariums are fitted with a lid to create a self-sufficient ecosystem with its own water cycle.
Plants recycle the nutrients they take from soil and release moisture which returns to the soil. Sealed terrariums don’t usually require watering.
Types of Plants for a Terrarium
Plants are the key constituents of a terrarium. The thing to remember is that some types of plants do better in an enclosed glass jar than others. Here are a couple of other things to consider.
- Size – The best plants for your terrarium are small enough to fit into it without touching the walls of the container.
- Moisture – Plants that like moist soil tend to do well in a terrarium, especially in a sealed one.
- Foliage – Leafy plants add color and vibrancy to your glass container all-year-long.
- Light – It’s prudent to avoid plants with different light requirements. If some plants prefer shade while others need bright sunlight every day, it can be hard to maintain healthy growing conditions for both.
- Care – Undemanding plants are best for a terrarium since you don’t want to fuss over them all the time and disturb their arrangement.
Considering these factors, succulents and air plants tend to be the best plants for a terrarium.
Succulents for a Terrarium
Succulents store water in their leaves and stem, hence their name. They are adapted to growing in dry soil that doesn’t get much rain. They can thrive in low-moisture environments.
That said, succulents still need a bit of water to keep on growing. They also like warm temperatures—the cold easily damages them.
Important: Succulents grow best in open terrariums with good air circulation. Closed terrariums tend to be too humid for these plants.
Succulents is a broad term that contains many families of plants, including Asphodelaceae, Crassulaceae, or Echeveria plants. Cacti are succulents too, though often they are mentioned separately.
Take a look at it now to see some of the most beautiful and interesting succulents you can add to your terrarium.
Aloe Vera (Asphodelaceae)
Famed for its healing and soothing sap, the Aloe Vera plant can add a sharp texture to your terrarium. But more than growing it for its looks, you can use its sap to treat small wounds.
Tip: Aloe Vera thrives in the sun, so make sure your terrarium gets plenty of light. Also, be careful not to overwater it—let the soil dry out between waterings.
Sweetheart Hoya (Hoya kerrii)
Sweetheart Hoya grows heart-shaped leaves, hence its name. It has the characteristically green vibe of succulents and their low maintenance requirements.
Pincushion Cactus (Mammillaria crinita)
The Pincushion Cactus is prickly in a beautiful way, especially when it’s adorned with colorful flowers. You have lots of varieties to choose from depending on the size of your glass container.
Tip: Choose a simple variety for a more rugged look or opt for a flowering hybrid to add color to your terrarium.
Hens and Chicks (Sempervivum tectorum)
This stonecrop plant consists of a main plant and small offspring buds around it which give it its name. It’s an all-time favorite for terrariums. No surprise there since it’s undemanding, richly textured, and easy to plant and grow.
Paddle Plant (Kalanchoe thyrsiflora)
The flat petals of the Paddle Plant grow in a beautiful rosette that makes it a pretty sight in any terrarium. The petals wear different shades of green and can be tinged with red or pink. The Paddle Plant comes in many varieties, giving you lots of options to choose from.
Tip: Don’t let the soil get soggy—the Paddle Plant is susceptible to rot! Also, it needs plenty of light to thrive but best avoid direct exposure to the sun.
Zebra Haworthia (Haworthiopsis attenuata)
This cute succulent plant has horizontal zebra-looking stripes which give it a distinctive look. Zebra Haworthia can reach up to 20” but you can find small varieties no bigger than 3”.
This is a resilient plant that can add a rich texture to your arrangement. Zebra Haworthia is by no means boring!
Tip: In an open terrarium, use the soak and dry watering method to ensure this plant thrives.
String of Pearls (Senecio rowleyanus)
Green beads hang from the long, trailing stems of this delicate and unusual plant. This succulent can produce small, fragrant white flowers, hence another reason to add it to your terrarium.
String of Pearls looks great in a hanging or cascading arrangement. You can also drape it around other decorative elements in your terrarium for special effect.
Agave (Victoriae reginae)
Agave comes in so many varieties that you’re bound to find one that can fit even an odd spot. Most of the time, though, you’ll want to place this plant in the middle of the arrangement where it gets the attention it deserves.
Tip: Give it as much light as possible. It’s the best way to ensure it thrives.
Tiger Jaws (Faucaria tigrina)
The unique, jaw-like toothed leaves of this plant give it a carnivorous look. But the spines are harmless. And that’s not all—Tiger Jaws blooms into a delicate yellow flower.
If you’re looking for a succulent that can add a dramatic effect to your terrarium, Tiger Jaws could be just perfect for you.
Tip: Don’t keep this one in the shade! It needs bright light to thrive.
Burro’s Tail (Sedum morganianum)
With its beadlike branches and whimsy, trailing stems, Burro’s Tail can add a small green cascade to your terrarium. It looks striking in vertical arrangements.
Tip: Avoid keeping this plant directly in the sun. It grows best in partial sun or bright shade.
Terrarium Air Plants
Air plants soak up water and nutrients from the air through their leaves. Most don’t have roots, and those that do use them only to fix themselves to other surfaces. Air plants belong to the Tillandsia genus.
Often striking in appearance, air plants can add a special touch to your terrarium. They are undemanding and can live for years.
Important: Make sure the base on which you place your air plants is completely dry. Most air plants shouldn’t be planted in soil or sit over a moist surface.
Much like succulents, air plants grow best in an open terrarium. In a closed one, the high humidity may affect them.
Explore now some of the most beautiful air plants for your terrarium. You can’t go wrong with any of these!
Pink Quill Plant (Tillandsia cyanea)
Tillandsia cyanea puts forth interesting purple flowers amid lightweight leaves. When in flower, it’s one of the showiest terrarium air plants around.
Tip: This air plant needs plenty of water to thrive, so make sure to mist it regularly.
Sky Plant (Tillandsia ionantha)
The hardy Tillandsia ionantha is one of the most popular terrarium plants around. It comes in many varieties and impresses with its green explosion of layered leaves. The upper leaves change color from green to red as the plant blooms—it’s quite a spectacle!
Watching Tillandsia brachycaulos grow and bloom is wonderful. That’s because the plant turns shades of orange and then red as it blooms.
The leaves of this air plant are not as densely packed as those of other air plants, giving it a light and airy feel. If you want to add grace to your terrarium, it can be an apt choice.
A stunning choice for larger terrariums, Tillandsia maxima has beautiful coral red leaves and showy purple flowers. It can reach 6” in height and up to 4” in width, making it a striking centerpiece in a spacious terrarium.
At first glance, this delicate plant looks as if it has been scooped from the bottom of the ocean. But rest assured, it’s an air plant.
Its airy, rosette leaves are slender and graceful and turn pink as the flower blooms. Tillandsia capitate has the characteristic purple blooms of other Tillandsia air plants.
Tip: If you have a small terrarium, look for miniature 3” specimens.
The slender and graceful Tillandsia loliacea is a tiny but charming little plant. Its vivid green leaves and compact, upright growth makes it effortlessly beautiful.
This air plant has flat, ribbon-like leaves that curl around each other. Unlike other air plants, it has gray-green leaves that make it a good choice for arrangements with other terrarium air plants.
Tillandsia fuchsii var. garcilis
This delicate, breezy plant may have a bit of a complicated name. But it makes up for it with its thin and lithesome leaves which can spread more widely than other air plants.
This air plant grows upright up to 3” tall. Its fuzzy leaves and bluish-purple blooms give it an exotic feel without the fussiness of exotic plants.
Tip: You don’t have to get out of the way to grow this one, just make sure it gets enough sun—bright, indirect light is best.
Tillandsia stricta has huge pink and purple blooms. It’s ideal for single specimen terrariums. Its pineapple look gives it a rich texture and creates a beautiful green base for its flowers.
Terrarium Ideas for Inspiration
Excited already about the idea of having a terrarium? Things get even more exciting when you consider the many different types of terrariums out there. Here are some ideas to inspire you.
Glass Bubble Terrarium
This classic terrarium shape will probably never go out of style. Besides, the hole in the side of the container makes it easy to water and rearrange the elements inside if needed. It also provides good ventilation.
The lightbulb terrarium is about as small as terrariums get. You don’t need many materials for this one, just some tiny plants. And, of course, steady hands. If you like ships-in-a-bottle, you’ll love this one.
Coffee Pot Terrarium
Got an old coffee pot that’s gathering dust? Clean it up well and use it as a glass container for plants. This is a great example of how you can repurpose everyday objects into terrariums.
Shot Glass Terrarium
Never had a terrarium before? You can create one in no time with a simple shot glass. You don’t have much room in there for plants, so you have to get creative.
Got a spare demijohn about the house? You can repurpose it into a large terrarium for succulents. It’s not as hard as it may seem.
You just need to use a stick with a blunt end, a thin backscratcher or a similar implement to tamp down the layers inside.
Check out the video instructions below.
Plants In Egg Shell
Next time you make an omelet, you may want to save the eggshells. Use them as the base for a simple and fun miniature open terrarium.
You can make half a dozen at a time and store them in an egg carton.
Big Jar Terrarium
Keeping things simple is sometimes the best. And the big jar terrarium idea illustrates the point quite well. Pick one with a large neck for excellent ventilation.
Plastic Bottle Terrarium
Glass is usually the material of choice for terrarium containers. But you can also make a terrarium from a plastic bottle. Cut the bottle in half to make arranging the plants easier.
But if you want to give your terrarium a more vintage look, add in some wood. This terrarium idea takes a bit of extra work. But it’s well worth the effort, don’t you think?
Hanging Jar Lamp Plant Holder
Turning old jars into lamps is cool enough, but why stop there? Add some pebbles and soil and some plants and you can invent a cool terrarium. You won’t even have to sun it since the lightbulbs will provide the plants with light.
How to make a Terrarium DIY
Part of the pleasure of owning a terrarium can be making it yourself, with your own hands. Creating a DIY terrarium is a simple and enjoyable process.
In fact, it’s easier than most people would think. You don’t need any previous experience with terrariums, plants, gardening, or landscaping to get started.
Things You’ll Need
- A jar or another transparent glass container that lets in light
- Small pebbles for drainage
- Activated charcoal for keeping the water clean and preventing harmful bacteria
- Decorative stones or rocks
- Potting soil, either basic or a special mix for your chosen plants
- Small plants like succulents or air plants
- Basic gardening tools (optional)
Make a Terrarium Step by Step
- Clean the glass container you’ve chosen if it has seen other uses before.
- Cover the bottom of the container with a 1-2” layer of pebbles to ensure good drainage.
- Add a thin layer of activated charcoal to ward of detrimental bacterial and keep the water within the terrarium fresh.
- Put in the potting soil in a layer at least 2” deep to give the roots plenty of space for support.
- Add the plants, beginning with the largest one. Make a hole in the soil that encloses the roots of the plant and push the plant gently into the soil. If you use air plants, you can skip this step.
- Arrange the plants creatively. For small terrariums, plant from the back of the container to the front. That way you’ll have enough room without hurting the plants.
- Decorate the topsoil with pebbles or tiny rocks. You can get creative with this part and add tiny branches and any other decorative features you like.
- Lightly water the terrarium.
- Place the terrarium where it receives indirect sunlight most of the day. But if your plants have different light requirements, follow those!
- For open containers, water regularly before the soil becomes completely dry, usually once every two weeks. For this, you can use a laundry sprinkler or straw.
- Sealed containers do not usually require watering. However, you may have to remove the seal to release excess moisture.
Check out the video below to see all the essential steps you need to follow to build a DIY terrarium.
The Best Terrarium Kits for Kids and Adults
If you don’t have the materials to build your own terrarium, you can always buy a terrarium kit. Check out the top-rated products below.
Large Glass Succulents Terrarium
This handcrafted large grass terrarium was inspired by the classic look of a Wardian Case. It has a Victorian feel to it that makes it a gorgeous piece of home décor.
You’ll like the exquisite detailing and premium quality build. Note that you’ll have to buy the plants and soil separately.
- Elegant design
- Lead-free solder
- Rust-resistant resin base
- Ideal for succulents
Fairy Garden Terrarium Display Case
Looking for a terrarium with a vintage feel to it? This fairy garden terrarium has a beautiful design and exquisite detailing.
Tip: While you’re at it, you may want to check out some fairy garden ideas.
The hinged roof allows for easy watering. To use it as an open terrarium, just leave the roof open.
- Prop rod for opening the roof
- 2” deep tray
- Glass accents
- Durable build
Urban Born Glass Terrarium
This eye-catching terrarium brings to mind the greenhouses of centuries past. Stylish yet easy to use, it’s an inspired choice for both succulents and air plants.
- Aesthetic design
- Handmade glass
- Hinged door for easy spraying
- Weighs less than 4 pounds
Bliss Gardens Air Plant Terrarium Kit with Stand
Hanging terrariums add grace to any room, and this air plant terrarium kit proves the point. It comes with an oval glass globe, two air plants, mini rocks, geode crystal, and moss. In short, everything you need to set up a beautiful terrarium in less than an hour.
- Fun hanging design
- Ionantha and Caput medusae air plants included
- Instruction and care sheet
Six-Sided Glass Terrarium for Succulents
This beautiful terrarium is about the size of the average flowerpot but much more elegant. Easy to handle and durable, it’s the perfect home for succulents or air plants that grow vertically.
- Hinged roof for ventilation and watering
- Easy to remove glass top
- Careful detailing
- Compact design
DIY Terrarium Kit
Small and neat, this DIY terrarium kit lets you create a miniature indoor garden in a few simple steps. It includes a glass vessel with a lid, hydro-stones, soil, and moss.
- Complete kit (except for the plants)
- Kid-friendly design
Creativity for Kids Grow ‘n Glow Terrarium
You’re looking at one of the most accessible terrariums you can buy your kids. Everything’s included, including potting mix, wheatgrass and chia seeds, and river stones. Suitable for age 6 and upwards.
- Easy to put together
- Design and instructions stimulate creativity
Frequently Asked Questions on Terrariums
Our most asked questions on terrariums we’ve received from the comments, in your emails, and messages. If you’re still unsure about anything terrarium, do not hesitate to leave a comment below.
What is in a terrarium?
A terrarium is a miniature garden growing inside a transparent glass container. The plants and the soil in a terrarium release water vapor which condenses on the glass walls and returns the plants. Terrariums can be open or sealed.
How do you make a terrarium?
To make a terrarium you need to cover a jar with a thin layer of pebbles, add a thinner layer of activated charcoal, and some potting soil. You can then fix the plants into the soil, beginning with the largest one. Lastly, add pebbles and other decorative features.
How do terrariums work?
Terrariums hold plants and soil that release water vapor which then collects on the walls of the vessel and returns to the soil, recreating the circuit of water in nature. Meanwhile, a layer of activated charcoal keeps the water fresh. Sealed terrariums are self-sufficient while open ones require only watering.
How do I make a terrarium for free?
To make a terrarium, take a clean glass jar, fill the bottom with pebbles, add a bit of activated charcoal, and a thicker layer of soil. Fix a few tiny plants into the soil and add decorative elements or pebbles and some water. Seal the jar to keep the moisture inside or leave it open and water it regularly.
Happiness in a Terrarium
Whether it’s big or small, handmade or bought in a store, a terrarium is a special, live object. It may not be as busy as a vivarium or fish tank. But watching plants thrive in a self-sufficient miniature ecosystem that you created can be deeply rewarding. Buy a terrarium or build your own and you’ll understand why!