How Long Do Terrariums Last?

It goes without saying, we all want our vibrant new terrariums to go the distance. They’re full of life when we first plant them, but how long do terrariums last?

When done right, terrariums can live a very long time (we’ll help make sure of that) but the truth is, not all those perfect Pinterest terrariums will last longer than a few weeks. Sorry everyone!

They might look great at the beginning, but a poor choice of plants or improper setup are a ticking time bomb. Others simply won’t thrive if they’re not given the right conditions.

Here at Terrarium Tribe we’re all about making beautiful, healthy terrariums. So, in this post you’ll learn how long terrariums can live for, and the best ways to make sure they go the distance.

How Long do Terrariums Last

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How Long do Plants Live Normally?

Houseplants die all the time, we’ve all done it… Which makes it hard to get an accurate gauge of how long they should have lived for.

In the past when I’d see the withered remains of a plant (that I’d probably forgotten to water), I’d put it down to being “nature’s way”.

It’s not my fault, that plants’ time had come.

But, I was surprised to learn that contrary to our typical experience of being a houseplant parent, most plants naturally have enormous lifespan potential.

Like hundreds or even THOUSANDS of years.

Aspidistra for example often gets called the “cast iron” plant because they’re virtually indestructible.

Sorry, none of your houseplants have ever died of old age! So, our countless houseplant casualties are likely down to the many environmental factors at play… and sadly us.

plants dying gif

Of course, some houseplants are far easier to keep alive. So you’d be forgiven for thinking they’re the ones who naturally live the longest.

It’s great news really. Assuming you can reconcile the guilt from previous plant failures, it means that we can practically keep our plants forever if we care for them properly.

The Lifespan of a Terrarium

The lifetime of a terrarium is much harder to gauge. After all, a terrarium is not an isolated plant – it’s an ecosystem.

Which has its advantages:

  1. Closed terrariums water – and generally look after – themselves. So, they’re more resilient to some environmental factors (and me forgetting to care for them).
  2. An ecosystem has a natural buffer. In that, it can often handle the death of a plant and still continue to function. 
  3. Terrariums are set to support new growth, so there are always new opportunities to thrive.

So the lifespan of a single plant becomes less important for terrariums, they’re more about how long the system can support itself.

But, being a system comes with its disadvantages too.

Systems are usually held in a delicate balance, and terrariums bring in a host of new factors to consider.

  1. Terrariums are more of a pseudo-ecosystem. There’s little to no wildlife and different levels/types of microbes, so we can’t assume they’ll function exactly as their real-world counterparts do.
  2. Interactions between plants can be detrimental. Some plants may outcompete others for nutrients, and mosses may get starved of light at the bottom.
  3. The death or disease of a plant can set off a cascade that harms the other plants.

There’s a lot to consider when judging the health and lifespan of a terrarium, and no one terrarium is ever the same as another.

I do think it’s important to say though, that I’ve personally seen many cases of terrariums living for several years or more, so at the very least, that’s what I’d be aiming for.

Can a Terrarium Last Forever?

In theory, a perfectly balanced closed terrarium – under the right conditions – should continue to thrive indefinitely. The longest known terrarium lasted on its own for 53 years. They may even outlast us!

But to be honest, a perfectly balanced terrarium really only exists in theory.

There are so many factors in creating an eternally healthy terrarium. Light, temperature, moisture, space, plant species, and more. They all have their part to play.

Many terrariums eventually run afoul of rot. Terrarium soil lacks the biodiversity of our natural woodland, and without nature’s decomposition microorganisms it’s hard to effectively complete the cycle. Unless of course, you’re actively trying to create a bioactive terrarium and you’re adding these components.

So I wouldn’t fret if your terrarium doesn’t last 53 years or even a fraction of that, it doesn’t make you a terrible plant parent.

Plants inevitably die. So when that day happens, you can start your terrarium anew. But that doesn’t mean we won’t get a few good years out of them first!

Tips for a Long Living Terrarium

  • Do your research first – anybody can throw together a bunch of plants and have a pretty terrarium. But taking that approach, whether they last longer than a week is down to chance. Take the time to choose a selection of plants that will thrive together, and in whichever environment you put them in (i.e. tropical terrarium plants, low light terrarium plants, etc).
  • Set up the terrarium properly – it’s easy to get excited and rush into a new terrarium build, but so many problems can be avoided by doing your due diligence at the beginning and setting them up properly. 
  • Check your terrarium (semi) regularly – a lot of potential problems can be easily identified and rectified with a simple once-over. Whether it’s excessive condensation on the glass or mold spores in the soil, there are a number of red flags you can look out for (here’s how to deal with mold).
  • Add some beneficial insects like springtails to help fight mold and recycle decaying plant matter – see springtails on Etsy.
Springtails Culture
You might be surprised by how effective these springtails can be!
  • Perform some maintenance (when required) – terrariums don’t often need maintenance, but they’ll sometimes require a little pruning or removal of decaying matter. See my article on Terrarium Care Tips for more help on that.
  • Get our Essential Guide to Tropical Terrariums! – We’ve done all of the research for you. We’ll walk you through absolutely everything you need, including plant selection, set-up, prep, and care.

What’s Your Experience?

Do you have a terrarium that’s going to outlive us all?

If you have any expert tips for a thriving terrarium, please share them with the tribe so we can all benefit.

Let me know in the comments!

Also, if you want to really understand the ins and outs of these natural processes, check out my scientific guide on How Do Terrariums Work?

6 thoughts on “How Long Do Terrariums Last?”

  1. Hi there, i wanted to know if i need to replace the plants in my terrarium or if its ok as is. Ive had it for over a year now. They aren’t succulents. If someone can get back to me ill email pic of plant

    1. Hey Jessica, if you post this along with your photos in the Terrarium Tribe Facebook Group we’d be happy to take a look and help!

  2. Great article! I have a terrarium that is 50+ years old with the original plants. The roots are growing up the side to the point that it has become difficult to see the plants. While it pains me to disturb the system, the time has come to clean out the container, which happens to be a pig with a cork nose. Of course, the original plants that are salvageable will be going back.

  3. Hi and greetings from Singapore!

    Your website has been a wealth of info especially for me who’s a total newbie! Building one with my child and wonder if you can tell me if I can use bamboo charcoal for the terrarium?

    Thank you very much!

    1. Hi! First I’ve heard of bamboo charcoal to be honest, but after a quick check I’d imagine the “raw bamboo charcoal” should be fine but the “bamboo briquette charcoal” might not be (it has all sorts of other stuff bound in it).

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