Build an Inexpensive Terrarium With Free Plants




With a little bit of know-how and a little bit of scouting, you can quickly and easily find terrarium plants in your own yard.  Look up, look down, look near, look far.  Knowing what's in your yard is key.  Chances are there are some wild plants growing everywhere that might have been overlooked, and some of the plants in your yard might be considered weeds. 

Epiphytes make for great terrarium plants since they mostly live on rain water and secure themselves to trees (hence, epiphyte).  Some are parasitic and won't be such a good choice.  For this Instructable, I'll be using a Ball Moss plant (Tillandsia recurvata) which is common through the Southern portion of the US.  Ball moss is not a moss at all.  It's an epiphytic air plant that secures itself to tree branches, lives largely off rain, and isn't parasitic although it might compete with its host for light.  There are many epiphytic plants in the world.  If you need some information or some sort of clue as to what to look for, call your local horticultural extension office and ask for some common plants that would work well in a terrarium.  Do not harvest plants from parks or from other people's property without permission because it's illegal and not very nice.

Finding terrariums or making them is all about imagination and scanning through potential pieces.  I spent 2 hours in IKEA scouting for possible terrarium ideas that weren't too expensive.  There were some amazing pieces, but I decided against them for a cheap version.

This Instructable shows to make an inexpensive terrarium with found plants, and in doing so, I hope people can broaden their ideas about gardening, sourcing plants, and repurposing items.  This terrarium is particularly good for beginners to gardening or building terrariums, but beyond that, it's pretty and easy and affordable.

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Step 1: Materials

You'll need:
-Smarta 30cm Tray/Dish from IKEA
-Trygg 28cm Bowl from IKEA
-Lava Rocks (broken terracotta pottery, pebbles, rocks, glass, etc. will also work)
-Ball Moss Plant 
-Rain/Spring Water (not shown)
-Preventative Organic Indoor Fungicide/Insecticide (optional but recommended; not shown)

Step 2: Add Lava Rocks

Cover the tray with lava rocks (or your alternative).

Tip:  Sort the rocks a bit according to size.  Place the largest ones in the middle, the middle sized ones to the edge, and fill the gaps with the small ones.

Step 3: Water Ball Moss

Dunk the Ball Moss in rain/spring water.
If you are going to spray the plant with a fungicide/insecticide, do so now.  If you opt to not spray the plant, check on it regularly for insects and disease.

Step 4: Add the Bowl

Put the bowl upside down on the tray covering the plant.

Step 5: Care

Occasionally lift the bowl for air circulation and dunk the plant in rain/spring water when dry.  Keep in a sunny area but out of direct sunlight.  The goal is to mimic the conditions where it normally grows.



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9 Discussions


4 years ago on Introduction

Thanks for a very practical and inexpensive project.

Suggestion: To omit step 5 - e.g., lifting the bowl for air circulation: Dip the lava rocks overnight in water to retain water and add adhesive to the bowl and tray. This will provide your plant a sealed and self-sustaining environment where the plant provides for its own nourishment - water and carbon dioxide.


6 years ago on Step 5

I was thinking lately about a terrarium and how to go about making one. Thanks for sharing this.


9 years ago on Introduction

 I have these epiphytes growing all over the yard, mainly high in a water oak but I 'rescue" any that fall and stick them in other trees just because I like the way they look. Ive never known any name for them except epiphyte, ball moss works though.

4 replies

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

Where do you live? I've never seen epiphytes before (I live in Utah). I'd love to try growing some like in this Instructable. Could I by chance convince you to send me some? I'd love you forever if you did!


Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

Now you have a name to a plant.  Huzzah!

It's funny you like how they look in trees because I actually don't.  Weird, right?  I like how they look from close up, but I guess I like "clean" trees.  I don't mind lichen and real moss though.  I think the ball moss looks gorgeous on its own.  I hope that makes sense.  And if you put anything under glass, it immediately looks expensive, precious, and wonderful.  It's the glory of terrariums.  Do you think you'll try to grow some indoors?

Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

Well... I am a bit odd, my yard is full of small sculptures, recycled marbled slabs and even large plastic bugs and lizards. I have had these and other epiphytes  growing in the bathroom in the past but not in a terrarium


Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

That's awesome!  I have recycled metal sculptures of pigs with wings, gnomes, stumps, and all sorts.  I want a toilet fountain with a series of toilets spilling into each other, but with water restrictions, I don't think it'd be a good idea. 

Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

Thank you!  I love your terrarium ideas as well.  I'll go post my comments now cos I meant to before.