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DIY Terrariums: A Guide to Making Your Own Mini Ecosystem

What is a terrarium?

A terrarium is a container, usually made of glass, that can hold its own little ecosystem. It is a more low-maintenance way of growing houseplants. It can either be open or sealed with a lid, but it will never have drainage holes at the bottom.

Making terrariums is an excellent activity for people of all ages, abilities, and experience levels. This makes it great for families, communities, or solo projects. Not only is it a fun activity, but it also helps to connect you with nature – and you get a beautiful terrarium at the end!

How can you make your own?

What you’ll need

  • The terrarium itself. This could be an old jar, wine bottle, or fish tank – something made of glass or plastic that can fit all the necessary components in.
  • Tweezers to put in your plants and move things around inside your terrarium.
  • Your plants.
  • Your choice of substrate, such as potting mix. What’s in your substrate can vary depending on what plants you’re using. Make sure it doesn’t have any fertiliser already incorporated.
  • Stones or gravel.
  • Activated charcoal.
  • A spray bottle of water.

Picking your plants

Picking the right plants is a crucial part of this process. If you’re making a closed terrarium, go for plants that thrive in high humidity, strictly avoiding cacti and succulents. If you’re leaving your terrarium open, however, you might want to incorporate a cactus or succulent. It’s key to remember to pick plants that have similar needs to be in a terrarium together.

Along with the type of plant, think about the size and growing speed of the plants you’re using. If a plant will grow particularly quickly, make sure it’s small enough to have a lot of room to grow. Larger plants can make a great statement in a terrarium as long as they won’t grow too quickly, or you are prepared to open the terrarium to prune them when necessary.

Humidity-loving plants for closed terrariums:

Plants more suited to open terrariums:

Putting it all together

Here is a step-by-step guide to making your terrarium.

  1. Clean your container.
  2. Add your drainage layer of gravel or stones. The thickness of the layer will depend on the size of your container, but it should generally be about two inches.
  3. Add a similar – if slightly smaller – layer of activated charcoal on top of the drainage layer.
  4. Add your potting mix. Make sure this layer is thick enough to accommodate the roots of your plants.
  5. Prepare the plants by removing any dead or damaged material, teasing the roots apart a bit, and separating plants if necessary. At this point, you can also trim any longer roots to make sure they fit and stunt the growth of the plant so it doesn’t outgrow its new home.
  6. Dig a small hole in the substrate and gently add your plant, using tweezers where necessary to get all of the roots buried properly.
  7. Gently tap down the soil so there aren’t too many air pockets left.
  8. Spray water into the terrarium to water your plants and clean off any excess potting mix from the edges.
  9. Decorate your terrarium as you wish. You could add moss to the top of the soil, decorative rocks, or pieces of wood – anything to add a bit of personality to your new creation.

Taking care of your finished terrarium

Once you’ve made your terrarium, the first thing to do is pick where you’ll put it. Make sure to find a spot that will give it plenty of light. How much light, exactly, will depend on the needs of the plants you’ve used. A good rule of thumb is to give it a lot of bright, indirect light.

Generally, terrariums need much less maintenance than regular potted houseplants, but there are some things you’ll need to do. The ongoing care will depend on whether your terrarium is open or closed. For an open terrarium, you’ll need to water the plants more regularly, but closed terrariums will retain a lot of humidity and stay well-watered for longer.

There may also be some pruning involved. If you’ve used fast-growing plants, you may need to open up your terrarium every now and then and trim down the plants to keep them looking neat and tidy.


Terrariums are a gorgeous way to add some low-maintenance greenery to your home. With this guide, you should be able to confidently make your own. Click here to read more about creating your own indoor jungle.

Updated on October 6, 2023

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