How To Create and Care for a Terrarium

There’s a reason why terrariums have exploded in popularity. They are easy to maintain, can be planted in almost anything and make a real impact - perfect for the time poor and space-challenged. Follow these expert tips to create your own! 

These little ecosystems also lend themselves beautifully to a bit of creative flair and can be decorated in a myriad of ways. You are also not limited to what you grow them in – think upcycled light bulbs, shot glasses, jars, wine glasses, decanters, even plastic bottles… you’re only limited by your imagination.  They are also a great way to introduce kids to the wonders of gardening and a unique gift for the person who has everything.

We chatted with gardening expert Belinda Thackeray from Eden Gardens who gave us her tips for keeping terrific terrariums.

1. First, decide on open or closed

Before you decide on what you’re going to plant and what you’ll plant it in, you must decide whether your terrarium is going to be open or closed.

Closed terrariums have a lid and are perfect little moist, humid ecosystems. They only need watering every few months as the water is constantly recycled. Moisture in the air condenses on the side of the terrarium and then falls back down, watering the plants. Select plants that grow in low light, moist conditions with high humidity. Consider a theme such as a rainforest with carnivorous plants and ferns or a flower garden with mini violets, tiny moth orchids

Open terrariums are more suited to plants that grow in drier environments. They need to be watered and cleaned more often than closed terrariums. Think  a dessert theme with things like succulants.

2. Decide on your container

Any type of clear container can be used to create a terrarium – the possibilities are almost limitless! It can be open or closed (with a lid) and doesn't need any drainage holes in the bottom. They can be either glass or plastic – anything from a group of shot glasses with tiny single plants to mass planted recycled glass jars, fish bowls or large tank style vessels can be used.

You may like to consider things like decanters, crystal bowels, light bulbs, jars, wine glasses, candle jars, fish bowels, bottles, biscuit jars, and there are plenty of custom-designed glass bowels you can buy from florists and plant shops.

3. Choose your plants

Small plants that work well in terrariums include Pilea, Asplenium and other small ferns, club moss, Peperomia,Saxifraga, begonias, crotons, Hypoestes, African violets, baby’s tears and parlour palms.

For cuttings, try plants like African violets, begonias and Peperomia that grow easily from leaf cuttings.

Choose a selection of plants to suit the size of your terrarium. Select an odd number of plants such as 3, 5 or 7 and choose them with a variety of leaf shapes. Some should have slender stalks and others should have round and full leaves. Position tallest plants in the middle or at the back and layer down from there.

Whether you have an open or closed terrarium, just make sure the plants you select have a similar temperature, light and water requirements.

4. Add in the planting mix layers

Now, you need to layer the planting mix in the bottom of the terrarium.

First layer is small pebbles or gravel for drainage, followed by a layer of charcoal to keep the water and air fresh in the system.
Next add a thin layer of sphagnum moss to contain the bottom two layers.
Finally add in a layer of good quality, free draining potting mix like Eden Premium Mix.
Make sure you push down the soil gently to avoid air bubbles. A good design trick is to keep the outer most soil shallow and mound up the soil slightly in the centre.
Depending on the size and shape of your terrarium the planting mix layers will end up being about 2 – 4cm deep, or less in shallow containers, too deep a soil can ruin the look.

5. Put in your plants

Remove the plants from their pots and ‘tickle’ the small root balls so they are loose and pliable, and then arrange them in the terrarium. With enclosed terrariums, up to ½ the soil and some of the root ball can be gently removed before planting.
Once arranged, gently plant using a little extra potting mix and firming down so the plants are supported.
Use a mister to add a small amount of water so only a few drips appear in the pebbles.

6. Add decorations

Now the fun bit!
Add a top (mulch layer) of pebbles, tumbled glass or moss.  Add other fun decorations to creating a ‘landscape’ if you wish - include little feature rocks, driftwood, seashells or even figurines.
Chopsticks and tweezers are great tools for creating holes for plant roots, positioning plants and firming into place.

7. How to care for your terrarium

Terrariums are really easy to care for. Check on it every few days and stick your finger in the soil. If it is dry then water it. Also, examine the bottom of the terrarium. If there is water among the pebbles then you should not water it for a few days. If you are using a closed terrarium (with a lid), it may not need water for weeks or months. If it is too dry, use a spray bottle and mist the soil, if it looks too wet and the plants look sick, open the lid for a few days.

Position your terrarium indoors in a bright / light spot, away from direct sunlight.

Plants don’t need regular fertiliser as you want them to grow slowly and not too big. Only fertilise if the plant foliage starts to look yellow.

Its s good idea to periodically turn the terrarium to keep plants growing straight, otherwise in time they may grow towards the direction of the light. And every now and then, give it a trim.

Have fun with your terrarium!

For more expert information on Terrariums, plus everything you need to start your own, visit

Want more? We thought you might like this video.

Like this artice? Subscribe to our newsletter to get more articles like this delivered striaght to your inbox.

By registering you agree to our Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Privacy Notice


Sign Out

Join the Conversation

Please note, LifeStyle cannot respond to all comments posted in our comments feed. If you have a comment or query you would like LifeStyle to respond to, please use our feedback form.