There are so many potential terrarium containers, the choice is almost overwhelming. Do I want it square or round, big or small, glass or plastic? And so on.
After all, pretty much anything fully transparent can function as a terrarium container. But does that mean all terrarium containers are equal? Not by a long shot.
Some are challenging to build with, and others simply aren’t shaped for proper plant support.
Read on to find out what to look for when finding the perfect terrarium container for your home!
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Terrarium Shapes & Sizes
Terrariums really do run in all shapes and sizes.
Though if you run a Google image search for the word “terrarium,” there’s a good chance half the photos that pop up will be geometric. Contrary to what Urban Outfitters might suggest, there is more to terrariums than the copper pyramid.
The truth is that technically, any glass container capable of holding the necessary components of a terrarium will work. All the weird and wonderfully shaped vessels in the world are potential terrarium containers.
As you go on your hunt for your terrarium container of choice, here are a few things to consider.
1. The Size of the Container
There’s no maximum size for a terrarium – the sky’s the limit – but there’s definitely a minimum size for a fully functioning terrarium. Teeny tiny terrariums are a thing, but they tend to be just a little bit of moss or a single small plant.
Not a full ecosystem.
The size of the container will obviously be dictated by where it’s going in your house, but I’d definitely recommend going as big as you can.
Not just because bigger is generally better, but it’s actually better to give your plants more space. It’s recommended to be able to give the plants at least ⅓ of the terrarium as free space.
You’ve more freedom with a bigger container too. More space for plants, more decorations, interesting features and creative elements.
2. The Shape of the Container
You can get super creative with terrarium shapes (hell, it’s part of the fun!) but it’s important to remember that you still need a strong foundation and enough space for plants.
Containers with a uniform shape (e.g. a box or cylinder) or a broad curve (e.g. a globe) tend to provide a consistent shape, so everything is nice and proportional.
Whereas something with a narrow base may not provide enough drainage or enough substrate for the plants to thrive.
It’s just something you’ll have to eyeball at the time.
3. The Size of the Opening
Experienced terrarium builders can like a challenge and sometimes opt for containers with a very narrow opening.
Just like building a ship in a bottle.. well you can build terrariums in bottles (see my Bottle Terrarium Guide to see how!)
The likes of the demijohn terrarium are a classic too, but still involve planting through a very narrow opening.
If you’re just getting started with terrariums, I’d recommend going for a container with a nice wide opening to give you lots of space to maneuver.
Trust me, it can be super frustrating to try to plant effectively when you can barely fit your terrarium tools in.
One thing to note, you will often find that wide containers such as these don’t come with lids – but don’t let that put you off using them.
It’s very easy to create a makeshift terrarium lid with some cling film, and then source a cut-to-size acrylic disc or cork stopper online.
👉 Check out these custom-cut perspex lids on Etsy.
Terrarium Container Materials
Terrariums tend to be made from just a few select materials, as they need to be robust, non-reactive, and fully transparent. That basically just leaves us glass and plastic.
They need to be fully transparent so we can see the plants (that’s the point after all) but also because plants need sunlight for photosynthesis. To be more specific, plants use the visible spectrum of light for photosynthesis.
Except for green, which they reflect – which is why they appear green to us.
Glass Terrarium Containers
Glass terrariums are the most common kind and the ones I’d recommend.
They’re great for all of the above practical reasons, but also because terrariums are ornaments too. And frankly, aesthetics count in this department. If I’ve created a beautiful plant ecosystem to display, I want it housed in an equally beautiful container.
*One thing to note is colored glass filters out parts of the visible spectrum, so can reduce the amount of light your plants receive. Plus, you won’t be able to see them so well.
Common Types of Glass Terrarium Containers:
- Mason jars (check out our Jar Terrarium DIY Guide!)
- Wardian cases (see our favorite Wardian Cases for sale).
- Geometric terrariums.
Plastic Terrarium Containers
If you’re wanting to do this DIY style (or if you find yourself building so many terrariums that the glass bill really starts to rack up) then upcycling a plastic container is an option.
With that being said, finding cheap glassware to upcycle is much easier than you might think. You can find some hidden gems in thrift stores and there’s often a free fish tank on Facebook Marketplace.
👉 For more thrifty tips, check out my guide to creating a cheap terrarium.
You can always upcycle a wine bottle too? A reason to buy more wine is always something I can get behind!
The other thing to consider with plastic is that depending on the type of plastic used, there’s a possibility of toxic compounds leaching into the terrarium environment.
We’ve been warned by authorities not to leave plastic bottles in the sunlight due to leaching, surely a plastic terrarium full of water is going to leach chemicals if left for years?
Interestingly, this 2015 study found that BPA actually increased the growth rate of plants, but extra plant growth isn’t exactly desirable in terrariums. Plus the growth was correlated with high levels of stress hormone in the plants, so the actual health of the plants was adversely affected.
Where to Buy Terrarium Containers?
I swear, you can buy suitable terrarium containers from almost anywhere these days.
Of course, you can hop online to Etsy and very quickly find yourself a beautiful piece of custom glassware.
If you’re after a small terrarium, there are lots to choose from. Whereas choice is limited for larger terrariums.
Any homeware store is likely to stock some sort of glass vase or jar. In fact, if you love to hunt for a bargain, my favorite place to go is TK Maxx (TJ Maxx in the states). I regularly find gems in there along with other terrarium supplies.
Or, you could just buy a bottle of your favorite wine or bourbon and go from there… just saying.
Now, Over to You
Hopefully, you’re feeling better equipped to pick the right terrarium container for you and your home.
Sure, there are a few things to consider, but don’t overthink it and get bogged down. Generally, if you get a large(ish) glass container that’s square or round – it’ll work!
See our Essential Guide to Tropical Terrariums to make sure your terrarium is as wonderful as your new container!
Or, you can get started with our beginner’s DIY Terrarium Guide.
7 thoughts on “How to Choose the Right DIY Terrarium Containers”
I have found some really great glass containers for terrariums at local thrift shops and want to sterilize them before use. Is this necessary and if yes, what is the best way to do this to kill any germs but not harm future plants? (same question for used flower pots)
Hey Michael, yeah it’s always a good idea to clean down any new glass terrarium containers. Wiping down with isopropyl alcohol works to sterilise it, then you can finish with a microfiber cloth to remove any remaining debris.
I was under the impression that to make a true terrarium you need to have the container air tight. If that is so, don’t you need to only be looking at containers with lids?
Hi Lorrie, that’s right – tropical terrariums do need to sealed up to build humidity and function properly. Though I tend to find it easier to buy whatever glassware I find and get a custom acrylic disk cut to size instead (as nice things rarely come with lids in my experience).
I have an old round fish bowl and I was going to make a lid from wine corks but I’m not sure what glue to use so I won’t kill the plants inside. Any ideas? Thanks.
Superglue is perfectly fine to use with plants! Gorilla Glue seems to be popular, but anything cyanoacrylate-based should do the trick.
My age is well beyond outdoor gardening so I’m excited to find terrariums as a new hobby. Perfect for ‘little old ladies”. Thanks for sharing your expertise!
Now I’m off to find a container. I’ll be back for more of your suggestions soon.