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diy gardening

Adventures in Terrarium Building

Holy Meow!

Well, I previously said I would definitely stick to updating this thing so, of course I didn’t. I had a bit of a hecticly busy last few months, with working at the mall during the holidays, family visits, as well as being in AND attempting to film my dear friend Jaclyn‘s wedding in december. Either way, I’m back now, and not giving up on this blogging nonsense just yet! So, here goes!

Lately my mother has become fascinated with terrariums (the small artsy type you might see on etsy or in an issue of Martha Stewart Living) and has been trying to talk me into making one for a while. I do find them very charming but between school, work, taking care of two neurotic dogs, attempting to edit a wedding video, freaking out about life, house chores, and a 10 mile long to-do list of other crafty projects, I wasn’t quite sure when I would get around to attempting one.

Luckily my mother sprang a surprise attack, I mean visit, on me yesterday and we spent my day off working on a small batch of terrariums and, I must say, I am feeling slightly pleased with myself and the outcome.

It must be noted that, although I know a decent amount about things like indoor gardening and bonsai trees, this is my first attempt at assembling a self-contained garden and I was uneasy about starting. That being said – thanks to the never-ending source of information and how-to guides that is the internet and some old-fashioned creativity and resourcefulness, terrarium building ended up being a fun and almost stress relieving way to spend a day- even for my first try. Here, for anyone interested, is a run down of my process which is far from perfect but I think a good place to start getting ideas (disclaimer: this is by no means a how-to, just my insights and experience.)

Hooray for Terrariums!

Start with a clean and clear plastic or glass container. This can really be any size or shape, just find something that appeals to you. It can also have a lid or not, which really depends on the kinds of plants you will be using and how truly self-contained you want your tiny eco-system to be. If just starting out, make your life easier by using a container that is deep and has a very wide opening. Remember, you have to actually be able to stick your hands in there and arrange things. My containers all came from Michael’s and ranged in price from $5 to $14, but I used a coupon from the Michael’s iPhone app and saved 50% off my most expensive choice, the apothecary jar.


top left: painting picks. top right: some supplies. bottom left: drying picks. bottom right: plants.

Next, you will need to decide on your plants. I chose a variety of small succulents for most of my terrariums and a small dwarf japanese juniper for my last one. Now, as I found out the hard way, many of the succulents are incredibly fragile and you have to be terribly delicate when handling them and placing them in your container because they will break, fall apart, or go droopy even if you so much as look at them funny. true story. On that note: buy an extra plant, just in case you mess the first one up or need to practice handling them. My other choice was the juniper because I really wanted to make a bonsai-esque tiny forest filled with woodland creatures. I have no idea how well suited this plant is for a terrarium, but I have used them as bonsai trees before and figured I would give it a shot. I used basic bonsai principles and a set of kitchen shears (don’t judge me, horticulture snobs) and trimmed the lower growing twigs and excess bushiness off my tiny shrub to make it look more like a tiny tree. Oh yeah, and wear gloves- these suckers are prickly.


turning a bushy juniper into a tiny tree

Now you need all the fillers. The basics will be small pebbles or river stones to be placed in the bottom layer of your container for drainage purposes. On top of that will be a layer of charcoal (purchased at a garden center or a plant nursery) which helps purify your terrarium and prevent mold and bacteria and other undesirable grossness (*I used an orchid mix which contains charcoal in addition to wood chips and other things. I have no idea if this works, but my mother bought it, so, we used it). Then comes your potting soil. Use something that is of a high quality and appropriate for your plants. For our succulents, we mixed some potting soil with sand, but it would probably be best to buy soils that are correct for whatever you’re planting.

Now the optional parts: moss and decorations. You can have a living moss terrarium, which looks adorable and will be my next attempt, but this time I used dry reindeer moss for decorative purposes. It was expensive at the craft store and next time I would rather use something I am sure is natural and free of chemicals or dyes. As for decorations, you could really use whatever you want, such as small toys or figurines. I happened to have an unused box of super sculpey which I had no immediate plans for, so I molded my own cute little shapes, poked little craft wire jewelry findings into them, baked them in the oven then painted them with martha stewart craft paint. This part alone added several hours to whole project but it was fun and worth it as I think my custom picks add a personal, goofy touch to my terrariums.


small terrarium in a candy jar for my niece


arranging plants in a tall thin container was a nightmare, and the plants suffered some shock.















And there you have it. Assemble the layers, depending on the size of your container you probably want around an inch of pebbles, inch of charcoal, then 2 to 3 inches of soil, but these estimates will vary in each situation. Then, using your hands and small tools (i find spoons, skewers and chopsticks to be useful, but you might decide to be fancy and buy real terrarium tools) make small holes for your plants and gently arrange them in your container as you would any potted plant. Don’t place them too close to the walls, and it is helpful to visualize or sketch it before you bury them in there. Lastly top them with your moss and decor and sprinkle with water. Now you’re ready to sit back and admire them, probably for hours, if you’re a nerd like me.


oh, hey there snail dude.

Once completed, set them near a window or under a lamp to make sure they get enough light. Closed lid terrariums should require very little watering, somewhere in the once ever 2 week range (give or take). Open terrariums will need a bit more attention and watering, but in a high walled container, should still function as a little ecosystems.


my pièce de résistance; the woodland critters.

The most charming thing about terrariums is how pretty they look as decorations in your home with the added bonus that keeping some greenery indoors can liven things up, especially when you live in a drab apartment that is far away from any magical forests or jungles. As wonderfully low maintenance as self-contained gardens are, you can’t forget about them completely. Keep an eye on them to make sure they are getting enough light and moisture or, conversely, you may need to let them breath if they are getting swampy.

Either way, this a fun way to combine gardening and crafting, a lovely gift to make for a loved one or friend, a cute way to teach kids about ecosystems, or just something fun to do when you’re bored.

Send any thoughts, advice, and tips my way! Also, if you’ve made a terrarium of your own, share it with me! I’d love to see what other people have made ;)


More info on terrariums:

How to Make a Terrarium

Sprout Home

Moss Terrarium

Martha Stewart: Succulent Terrariums