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
- How to Make a Closed Terrarium – 5 Easy Steps
- Easy Terrarium Care
- That’s a Wrap
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 exclusively use tropical plants.
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.
Here’s what I chose for my project:
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, and selected two different plants, a pastel-toned Syngonium and a hot-pink Peperomia, (both being reliable genera for terrariums).
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!
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.
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, it 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.
- The necessity of a charcoal layer however, 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.
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).
Oh and not to worry if it doesn’t come with a lid. Custom perspex lids are relatively inexpensive and easy to source online, but cling film (saran wrap) works just fine too.
Of course, you can get some fantastic specialist glass terrariums too if you want to go all out.
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.
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.
Next, add in your hardscape.
Adding this before the substrate helps to 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).
Once you have it placed to your taste, it’s time to add in your substrate.
You’ll need to add enough to comfortably house your plants’ roots. 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.
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 you plants 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; just 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.
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 of 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).
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.
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.
For reference I added about ten sprays to this particular terrarium, but of course you’ll need to customise the amount depending on container size and substrate volume.
You never want your substrate to look wet.
Then just 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.
- Mould – One (super common) problem with fresh 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 to our ever growing terrarium community!