How To Make a (Simple Yet Gorgeous) Easy Terrarium – Guide

Contrary to popular belief, terrariums don’t require complex methods or materials to create captivating results.

In fact, when you know a few trade secrets, creating living art has never been so straightforward.

In this article, we’re going back to basics.

I’ll show you how to create an easy terrarium, take you through every step from the ground up, and tell you everything you need (and don’t).

So let’s dig in!

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Easy Terrarium Materials – What You’ll Need

Closed Terrarium Plants 

Choosing your plants is naturally the most exciting part of the project and possibly the most crucial step too.

Due to the high humidity and temperature in a closed terrarium environment, you’ll need to use tropical plants exclusively. 

That’s right, cowboy, put the succulents and cacti down!

The other thing to consider is size and growth.

Working with such limited space, if you want a terrarium project that’s as easy to maintain as it is to build, then stick to miniature varieties and slower growers. If you don’t mind regular trimming, then the world is your oyster.

To help you make your decision, you can peruse our guides to closed terrarium plants and the best terrarium plants for beginners for an abundance of terrarium-friendly options and inspiration.

Here’s what I chose for my project:

First, Foliage

You’ll need some show-stopping feature plants that will create a vibrant scene. 

I took this opportunity to choose some lovely pink shades for my project. I selected two different plants, a pastel-toned Syngonium and a hot-pink Peperomia (both reliable genera for terrariums). 

Image of a Pink syngonium plant held over a terrarium
The Syngonium Neon Robusta is such a dreamy plant.
Image of a Peperomia Rosso plant held over a terrarium
You can’t quite see the crimson underside here, but Peperomia caperata ‘Rosso’ is stunning from all angles.

Next, Ferns

Ferns almost universally make fantastic terrarium plants. They are the kings and queens of texture, and they adore high humidity and warmth.

Not to mention, there are so many varieties to choose from!

Image of a Silver Ribbon Fern held over a terrarium
The Silver Ribbon Fern I’m using boasts delightful, wispy fronds.

Lastly (But Certainly Not Least), Moss

Terrarium moss is the cherry on top of the terrarium cake and really brings the whole look together spectacularly. 

But not all moss was created equal.

For this build, I recommend choosing an Acrocarpous moss (affectionately known as clumpy mosses). These mosses grow in clumps instead of sheets and, for that reason, are much easier to style in a terrarium. 

The two standout options are Cushion Moss and Mood Moss.

Image of a Mood Moss tuft being held
I’m using some luscious, fluffy Mood Moss (Dicranum scoparium). 

Terrarium Layers – Made Easy

The dreaded terrarium layers. Do I need a charcoal layer? Do I need a drainage layer? What should my soil layer consist of? 

I have answers to your questions. From the ground up:

  • A drainage layer (commonly known as a false bottom) is there to make your life easier, so I’m all for them. Providing space for excess water to drain will act as a failsafe and protect your plants from root rot if you accidentally add too much water to the system. A simple layer of gravel or leca will do the trick.
Image of a bowl of leca
I used leca for my project, it’s lightweight and highly absorbent.
  • The necessity of a charcoal layer is much more debatable. You can read about it in-depth in our article on activated charcoal for terrariums if you like, but the short of it is: it can provide some benefits but for sure isn’t necessary. So to streamline things today, let’s skip it.
  • Next, the all-important soil layer – getting a good quality substrate is imperative. Potting soil is a no-no. We need something that will drain well, retain moisture and provide nutrients. 

To keep things straightforward, I recommend choosing a pre-made bag (why make life difficult ey?).

If you’re unsure, the classic ABG mix is always a winning choice, but honestly, any high-quality tropical, fern or terrarium mix should get the job done. And if you want to create your own substrate mix, we have resources to help.

Image of a terrarium substrate in the hand
I used a premium mix of coco coir, charcoal, pumice, worm castings, and sand – my plants have been thriving!

Glass Container (+ Lid)

Naturally, you’ll need something to put your plants in.

For the sake of simplicity, you’ll want to look for a container with as wide an opening as possible. 

The wider the opening, the easier it is to plant.

It needn’t be fancy – you can get some great glassware from thrift stores, Facebook marketplace, and TK Maxx (TJ Maxx in the States).

Image of a glass terrarium container
I picked up this piece at my local TK Maxx store. You can get some serious bargains there! 

Oh, and not to worry if it doesn’t come with a lid. Custom perspex lids are relatively inexpensive and easy to source online.

👉 Grab a custom-cut lid here on Etsy.

Cling film (saran wrap) works just fine too. 

Image of a cling film lid on a glass terrarium container
It’s surprisingly effective!

Of course, you can also get some fantastic specialist glass terrariums too if you want to go all out.

Hardscape Element

Are rocks and branches really necessary?

ABSOLUTELY YES. It makes all the difference. 

Hear me out for a minute.

A hardscape element will take your terrarium from zero to hero. It will provide much-needed texture and structure to your build. It’s something to draw the eye up, contrast your plants, and bring together a natural look. 

In my experience, rocks can be a little easier to maneuver and anchor in the substrate, but you can choose any terrarium rock or terrarium wood that takes your fancy. 

I went with a lovely chunk of seiryu stone in the end.

How to Make a Closed Terrarium – 5 Easy Steps

1 | Clean Your Materials

First things first, you need to scrub up! Your materials need to be nice and clean before you begin so you don’t accentually add any harmful impurities to your terrarium.

  • Wash your glassware and tools with soap and water.
  • Rinse your leca/gravel.
  • If you’ve chosen to use terrarium wood, you’ll need to boil it.
  • If you’ve opted for a terrarium rock, give it a good scrub and rinse in the sink.

Make sure everything is nice and dry before you start too, otherwise you could have too much water in the system and end up with soil everywhere!

2 | Create Your Base – Drainage, Substrate & Hardscape

Start by pouring your gravel or leca into your glassware. 

Image of a drainage layer in a glass terrarium container.
I roughly added an inch in depth, which should be plenty to create a reservoir for any excess water to drain.

Next, add in your hardscape.

Adding this before the substrate helps anchor your rock or wood more firmly. You can pack the substrate around it instead of underneath (you don’t want it to fall and crush your plants). 

Image of a block of seiryu stone in a terrarium
My beautiful monolithic seiryu stone.

Once you have it placed to your taste, it’s time to add in your substrate. 

You’ll need to add enough to house your plants’ roots comfortably. For reference, mine was around two inches deep where I put my plants, but naturally, this depends on which plants you have.

Then, use your paintbrush to smooth out the surface as desired.

Image of a terrarium substrate being sloped
I like to create a sloped surface as opposed to keeping it flat for maximum visual depth.

3 | Plant Your Plants

At long last, it’s time to plant up. 

Create a depression in the substrate (the end of your paintbrush will do the job nicely) and pop your plant’s roots in, smoothing the substrate around it to keep it in place.

If you find this tricky, you can give the substrate a light, even spray of water. Damp substrate can be easier to work with; don’t soak it.

I recommend starting with your tallest/largest plant and working your way to the smallest. This helps you keep a sense of the scale and create visually stunning levels. 

Image of a planted terrarium
My terrarium is starting to take shape.

4 | Add Your Moss & Make it Pop

Grab your Clumpy Moss and gently tease apart a tuft the size you’d like. Smaller tufts are easier to place.

Then you’ll need to trim off the fibrous excess underneath it, which can get a little finicky. 

In one hand, I tightly hold together the green topside, and with the other, I trim off as much of the brown underside as I can (leaving a little so it won’t fall apart).

An image of a person trimming Mood Moss
You can see me pinching the green clump of Mood Moss together while I snip away the excess fibrous material.

Once you’ve cut off the excess, keep holding the clump together with your hand, grab your tweezers and pinch the moss together from the underside.

Now your tweezers should have the clump held together, and you’ll be able to remove your hand.

Simply place it where you’d like it in your terrarium, with the green bit outwards towards the viewer.

An image of Mood Moss being placed into a terrarium
like to place a few fluffy tufts around my terrarium.
An image of a planted terrarium
Here you have it – the final look! Moss really brings everything together.

5 | Finishing Touches – Spritz and Seal 

Now all that’s left to do is give your plants a drink. 

Just remember to go easy (especially if you added a little water when planting up), you can add water at any point, but it’s extremely challenging to remove it from the system once it’s in. 

An image of a terrarium being watered.
In my experience, I always need less water than I think.

For reference, I added about ten sprays to this particular terrarium, but of course, you’ll need to customize the amount depending on container size and substrate volume.

You never want your substrate to look wet.

Then seal up your terrarium and give yourself a pat on the back – hurrah!

Easy Terrarium Care

  • Light – Keep your terrarium in a spot where it receives plenty of bright yet indirect sunlight. An hour of direct sunlight here and there is fine, but too much will scorch your plants. 
  • Water – If the substrate looks bone dry and/or your plants are wilting, add a couple of extra sprays where needed. You want the substrate to be evenly moist but never sodden.
  • Mold – One (super common) problem with new terrariums is a mold outbreak. Don’t panic if this happens! You can counter this and turn your terrarium bioactive by adding a springtail colony – tiny detritivorous insects that feed off mold – handy, right?

👉 Check out my terrarium care commandments for more details!

That’s a Wrap

Phew, you made it. 

I hope you’ve fallen head over heels in love with your new terrarium. 

If you want to show it off, make sure you post it on Instagram and tag us (@terrariumtribe). We’d love to see it, and we’re always happy to share it with our ever-growing terrarium community!

Next up, why not check out our complete Closed Terrarium Guide for more help with your next project?

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