Terrarium or Vivarium – (vivarium – Latin), literally for “place of life”; plural: vivaria or vivariums) is usually an enclosed area for keeping and raising animals or plants for observation or research. Often, a portion of the ecosystem for a particular species is simulated on a smaller scale, with controls for environmental conditions.
A vivarium may be small enough to sit on a desk or table, such as a terrarium or an aquarium, or may be a very large structure, possibly outdoors. Large vivaria, particularly those holding organisms capable of flight, typically include some sort of a dual-door mechanism such as a sally port for entry and exit, so that the outer door can be closed to prevent escape before the inner door is opened. The best definition I’ve heard is a miniature indoor garden!
Building a homemade terrarium is so much easier than you think. You don’t have to spend a lot of time or money to build a terrarium at home.
Here is how to build a simple tropical plant terrarium. What’s great about terrariums is that they are easy to care of and require minimal maintenance and you don’t have to be an expert. There are many ways to build terrariums and various materials you can use. Here are some of the basic materials and steps for building a simple plant terrarium.
Many of us want to create an indoor garden, but there is always the difficulty of finding enough space in apartments to grow the plants. Terrarium indoor gardens will not only add beauty to your small home space, but also require minimal space and maintenance. You can grown a variety of plants in a terrarium and place them in living room, dining area, or wherever you want. And once you learn how to create a terrarium, you can also make terrariums to bring to your office!
DIY Terrarium Material
Of course, you will need a container to start with your terrarium project. A glass container is highly recommended for growing terrarium plants. You need to ensure that the container is deep enough to accommodate the growing roots of your plants. Some of the most commonly used containers for terrariums include cloches, lantern cloches, bell jar, vases, aquariums, and tureen. You can also use any glass bowl or goldfish bowl for growing terrarium plants.
- Glass Containers – you can buy these in craft stores and even aquarium stores. There are many shapes to chose from so pick the one that connects with you! Covered ones hold the humidity but either one will suffice. You want to try to match your plants requiring more humidity with the closed containers etc. The container doesn’t have to be glass, it can be plastic. Be creative!
- Bowls – Dish gardens
- Fish tanks
Are you interested in a light bulb terrarium? This is an easy way to learn how to create a terrarium. You can use a light bulb and plant a miniature foliage species inside it. This beautiful bulb makes a great live showpiece, and you can’t beat the price.
Will you be building a hanging terrarium? If you want to build a hanging terrarium will need to buy a vessel with hooks. You can look for those small bulb or globe like glass containers with tiny hooks so that you can hang the terrarium vessel from your ceiling.
Go to a garden shop or your local Home Depot and ask for help in choosing the right plants. Select ones that will grow and thrive based on where you want to place your terrarium – location is factor in determining what kind of plants you will buy.
For example close to a window where the plants can catch sunlight easily versus in the middle of a room where there might be less sunlight. Some plants require more watering than others, so you want to keep the same kinds to together. It’s easier to maintain. We’ll soon have a list and categories of various terrarium plants. These plants are slow growing and should be similar or compatible with the other plants that you want to include in your terrarium
Succulents are perfect choices for terrarium. These plants need minimal water, fertilizer, and light for their growth. For a detailed guide to succulent ideas.
Succulents and cactus terrariums go well together. So another great choice for terrarium plants are the cactus varieties. These plants can grow in scarce conditions like high humidity and minimal water in soil. These are the lowest of the low maintenance terrariums.
If you’re feeling really bold, you can go for the black jungle terrarium look: the newest trend in terrarium building is this black jungle look. Just like the amphibian habitat setting, you can choose some small, succulent, and dark colored plants for growing them in terrariums.
These are the more traditional types of terrarium, for good reason. Of course, moss plants are perfect for terrariums as they require minimal maintenance to grow inside a closed vessel. Plus they look so beautifully green and lush.
Orchid Terrariums: Both epiphytic and jewel orchids can be grown in terrariums. These plants do well under low light, high humidity, and minimal water conditions. However, anyone who’s ever tried to grow an orchid knows how difficult these can be to keep alive.
Carnivorous Plant Terrariums: Even though pitcher plants are the most well-known carnivore plant varieties, they are not fit for terrarium gardening. Instead, you choose Nepenthes, Butterworts and Sundews. For more information on carnivorous plant terrariums, .
Air Plant Terrariums: Epiphytes and air plants have best adaptation strategies to survive in rainforest-like conditions. Because they are so maintain, they are a great choice for terrariums, especially enclosed ones.
Twig Terrariums: Twigs can add a cool architectural element to terrariums, but you need to be careful and do your research. Using twigs for terrariums is possible only if you choose a resistant plant variety.
Terrarium Drainage Materials
These go at the bottom of your terrarium. Helps drain the water.
- Clay Pellets
- Nature Aquarium Polished Glass Gravel – Purple 8 oz. Large
- Small stones or pebbles from the yard (free!)
Terrarium Planting layer
- Window screening, use fiberglass, metal screening will rust
- Landscape Fabric
- Spanish Moss
- Spagnum Moss
- Cocopeat Coconut Coir 5 Bricks Coco Coir Organic Potting Soil Amendments (soak for about 30 minutes).
- Activated charcoal – this helps absorbs the fumes from decaying organic materials.
Terrarium Potting Soil
Use only commercial potting soil to avoid insects or other organisms.
Pro tip: when you use a bulb or hanging vessel for terrarium, it’s wise to use sand mix. This is because regular soil will hold back the moisture that may lead to formation of mold.
Here are some options of soils that you can choose for your terrarium:
– Terrarium gravel: In learning how to create a terrarium, it is essential to use terrarium gravel. This type of material is derived from lava rocks. The porous bed of the gravel allows water to drain quickly. Hence, plants can grow well on gravel and their roots can descend down. Also, the gravel rocks help preventing the formation of mold and fungus. That means your terrarium plants will grow healthy and beautiful!
– Terrarium charcoal: Activated charcoal is an absolute necessity when it comes to how to create a terrarium. The layer of charcoal is needed to help filtering the air. Thus, the plants stay healthy and fresh. Use a layer of charcoal on top of the layer of pebbles of gravel for better results.
– Terrarium sand: Sand is also a necessary part of your terrarium jar. Sand’s unique drainage properties help in keeping the inner environment fresh, moisture free, and healthy.
– Soil: Of course, a plant needs soil to grow and live. Soil has all necessary ingredients for a plant to derive its nutrients and photosynthesize. You can use any potting mix depending upon the type of plant your use. For cactus, you will have to use cactus and succulent soil instead.
make sure you rinse them with hot water before you use them – make sure they are moisture proof.
- Rocks and Pebbles
- Shells or Trickets
- Figurines or landscaping accents
- or whatever your imagination can conjure!
Special tools for the miniature gardener.
- Use an old spoon and fork to move your soil around.
- Small scissors preferable with long blades for the deep containers.
- Wide funnel to add the soil or small pebbles
- Long sticks or bamboo skewers to dig with
- Long twizzers or what we use in Hawaii good ol’ chopsticks!
- Glad we don’t need a mower for our garden! LOL!
- Small plastic or watering can with a long nose for better control when you water your garden.
After adding soil in the pot and planting the foliage, you can add some figurines. Popular choices include some toys, small beads, shiny notes, or anything that you want inside your tiny or large terrarium. You can look for some exclusive terrarium accessories at a lot of different places. You may even consider going to a model rail road store for figurines.
Should I buy a Terrarium Kit?
These days many stores offer DIY terrariums kits. These terrarium kits contain everything that you will need for creating a trendy terrarium. Such kits come with instruction manual so that you can easily follow and proceed with your DIY project. These terrariums kits are an absolute boon for beginners. However, you may find these kits a little expensive. Plus, they take away a lot of the fun, adventure, and creativity of learning how to create a terrarium.
Can I just buy a terrarium for sale?
Maybe you don’t want to learn how to create a terrarium? Many stores also offer a variety of fully grown terrariums for consumers who don’t want to make a homemade terrarium. Several stores also offer seasonal sales on a variety of terrariums, small hanging and bulb terrariums, and black jungle terrarium habitats. If you want, you can always opt for these terrariums for your home. However, you will miss out on the experience and fun that you will get to enjoy while making one all by yourself.
There is some really great work out there though, so you may want to search for terrariums on sale now. At the least you may get some inspiration.
Steps to Building your Terrarium
Clean Container: As you will be growing plants in this container, you need to ensure that the container is clean and residue free. Wipe the glass jar or vessel with a wet cloth and then with a dry cloth. This will help preventing any bacterial growth.
Carefully place a thin layer of gravel, pebbles or small stones about an inch thick in the bottom of the container. You can place a piece of cardboard to act as a funnel and prevent the material from hitting the sides of the glass and also to keep the glass clean. This material will help with draining of water.
- You can add a layer of activated charcoal here.
- Depending what material you acquired for the planting layer, you can cut a sheet of fiberglass screen the area size to cover the layer of drainage material or you can add a thin layer of sphagnum or Spanish moss on top of the drainage material or you can use the Coir bricks for this same purpose as well. This should be about 2-3″, this helps prevent the soil from eroding into the drainage materials.
- Next add a thick layer of potting soil. You can also slope the soil to give it a different view. This depends of course on your container size.
- Before you remove your plants from their plastic pots, arrange them on the table to see what looks good or pleasing to the eye, or if you have room, you can try to arrange them in the container. Keep taller plants in the “back” of your terrarium. Remove the plants from their plastic pots and arrange them in your terrarium. Once they’re in the arrangement you like fill the rest of the container with potting soil. Push the soil gently until the plants are firm.
- View all sides of your new garden to see if everything looks right and it captures the “scene” that you desire.
- Add your landscape accents or accessories.
- Water to moistened the soil – don’t over water, should not be soggy.
- Care and maintenance for your terrarium is very easy. Closed terrariums require little watering – it mimics what happens in nature, the cycle of water. Check the condensation on the glass. If you see droplets open the container for awhile so the excess water will evaporate.
- If the soil feels dry then water it – but not too much.
- Trim and prune your plants to keep them looking great. Occasionally plants grow too big, you can break it apart or replace them.
- Remove any dead leaves or plants immediately.
Even if terrariums need minimal maintenance, you will have to follow some basic maintenance steps for proper care of the plants. Here are a few of the important steps that you will need to consider for maintaining terrarium plants.
Watering: Terrarium plants need some water in 1 to 2 times a week. You should spray the plant with some water every week. Remember not to water it regularly as you would in your garden. For moss and air plants, you just need to spray them with water once a week. All you need to remember is to leave the terrarium soil semi moist at all times. Closed terrariums never need water.
Sunlight: Most of the terrarium plants require minimal sunlight. Hence, you can keep them in low light areas. However, if your choose high-light terrarium plants, you will have to expose your plants to indirect sunlight everyday. You can also place them near to a window or a patio in your home.
Pruning: To prevent rotting, you can prune the over-grown plants in your terrarium. Prune those dead leaves and foliage to keep your plant healthy.
Avoid heat: As terrariums grow well in indirect sunlight and humid conditions, avoid placing them directly under sunlight. In this case, you may burn your terrarium plants.
Insects and other pests: Most of the time, you don’t need any pesticides or insecticides to maintain your terrariums. If you maintain your terrarium by following these basic steps, the plants will stay healthy. As terrariums are indoor plants, they are hardly attacked by pests and insects. If you see any sea weeds, molds, or sick plants, remove them immediately.
Lastly, consider airing out the jar if you have a closed terrarium. In all cases, terrariums need minimal maintenance. That means you can easily grow these beautiful indoor plants inside a closed or open glass chamber without any hassle. Certainly, this is a great option for apartment gardening and hassle-free gardening for beginners.