How to Make a Simple Terrarium




Introduction: How to Make a Simple Terrarium

This instructable is about how to make a simple Terrarium. Making Terrariums can be as simple or as complex as you would like them to be but always remember these three things in your design:

1. Base your plants and how many off the container you use
2. Generally, no fertilizer should be used with your soil medium
3. And provide proper drainage

Keeping these ideas in mind will keep your plants healthy throughout their lifetime.

Note: In most cases, fertilizer or compost should not be used unless you want your plants to outgrow and/or overshadow smaller plants in your terrarium. While fertilizer is great with individual potted plants, little ecosystems like terrariums balance themselves out on their own with minimal care.

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Step 1: Gather Your Supplies

Spray bottle with filtered water
Dried moss
Pea gravel
Potting soil
Any size container (preferably glass to be able to see your substrate)
House plants ( or native plants, but they can be picky)
**Activated charcoal

**= Optional


You don't have to use activated charcoal unless you have a sealed container for your Terrarium. If you do, then it's a must. I am using it in this instructable for demonstration purposes. The charcoal helps keep the water clear of buildup of microorganisms that might grow in your substrate, such as algae and keeps the air clean for your plant to breathe. Besides, who wants a smelly plant in their house?

The type of plants you use can be almost anything, but it ALL depends on the container. If you have a plant that will outgrow your container size, or the environment is not one it can grow in (given time, a cactus will rot in a moist closed container), then you'll be kicking yourself later. Do research on what your using beforehand and your plants will be all the healthier for it.

In this instructable I used African Violet, Spike Moss, and dwarf Sword Fern.

For a list of suitable Terrarium plants, follow this link:

Step 2: Layering Your Substrate

You can layer your charcoal and then your gravel or you can do it the other way around. I've seen people do it both ways and their doesn't seem to be much of a difference in either outcome for the health of your plants. In this example I did the charcoal first and then the gravel.

Start pouring your charcoal until it just covers the bottom of the container. Shake it a little to even it out. Then add a couple small handfulls of gravel around the container to make sure you have and even coating around the container. Once you have just covered the charcoal you can now pour slowly from the bag until you have about half an inch of gravel on top. If you just pour straight on top of the charcoal to start, all the gravel will push the charcoal out of its way and you'll have an uneven layer of charcoal at the bottom.

Take some of your moss and just make a thin layer on top of your gravel. No too much though, you are only using it to stop your soil from sinking right into the gravel. Think of it as a screen.

Step 3: Preparing the Soil and Plants

Next, spray your potting soil with your filtered water until it's very moist. It should look somewhat like the photo below. You are getting the soil ready by letting it compact itself by absorbing the water. This way, you don't have to keep adding and adding soil later when you realize you don't have enough after you water. And you won't have to add even more water later. It's a win-win situation.

Now, take you first plant and gently hold loosely onto the base of the stems coming out of the pot. Use your other hand to squeeze the sides of the pot as you turn it slowly while doing so to ease out the plant. The less stressful you are to the plants now the less jarring it is to them to become accustomed to their new environment.

Hold your plant over your container and gently tease out the soil around it's roots. You don't have to get out all the soil but enough to be able to spread the roots out in it's new home. If you have a plant that is "pot bound" (a twisted root ball), teasing may not be enough. You may need to cut into the ball about half way and pull a bit to spread the roots.

Do the same with the rest of the plants you may have and place your plants in an aesthetically pleasing arrangement within the container.

Step 4: Filling in the Gaps and Adding Decor

Next take your potting soil and fill in the gaps around the plants and along the edge of the container. Remember to firmly pack the soil when placing to avoid air "bubbles" as it were.

When it looks good, add in your decor where ever there seems to be spaces in vegetation and is pleasing to the eye.

Step 5: Water Your Terrarium

Now that you've filled in the gaps, take your spray bottle and spray your Terrarium several times until you can see some water well up along the insides of the container. Make sure the bottom where the charcoal is not soaked but only has a little drizzle. Spray under the foliage if you have to to get the soil moist.

Clean the sides of any remaining dirt, and you have your finished Terrarium!

Just remember to water your Terrarium with your spray bottle and keep it moist but not soaked. If you have a closed container, lift the lid off it for a day every week or so to prevent it being too wet.

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    10 Discussions


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Do you think Hen & Chicks would do OK in a 4-6" container on an east-facing windowsill? I think they're adorable, but I wasn't sure if I'd get any chicks in a container that small.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I apologize for such a late response. I'm sure you have probably found your answer by now but yes, Hen-and-chicks is a great thing to put into something in that size. They are a very hardy plant and can be grown almost anywhere. It also has the tendency to stay the size relative to it's container however, over time it will produce upstart plants around it and it may grow crowded. You can take the starts from that pot and put them into another to grow.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    My mom grew hens and chicks in the drip catcher for a pot that was about an 8" diameter. They are quite hardy and adaptable, hers survived the winter in this tray. You should be just fine growing them in the smaller container in the windowsill.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Technically, in this example, yes, it would be considered more a "pot" than an actual "terrarium". Any type of vivarium cannot be called such unless it actually has some type of enclosure to it's environment. At least in the traditional sense. It would not do to have a desert terrarium with a small bell jar enclosure for example (too much constant humidity for desert life that has evolved to survive constant hot and dry climates)as a bigger or open enclosure would be better. This example in the instructable could have an enclosure, like a lid or large jar. But you have to remember, unless you have the time to take it off and on constantly and consistently you can create an unstable environment for the plants that it may not be able to adapt to. There is also the option of controlled airflow, humidity and sunlight via the use of an aquarium tank and lights, but this is better used for larger projects and not everyone can afford the luxury.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    That looks really pretty, I tried making a terrarium once but didn't think to check whether the plants I used were suitable,so several plants died. 


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    It happens sometimes. Just out of curiosity, do you remember what plants they were?


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    No, I can't remember.  I'll definitely use the link you gave to find more suitable plants to use.