It goes without saying we all want our 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 Pinterest-perfect terrariums will last longer than a few weeks. Sorry, everyone!
I mean, sure, they might look the part at the beginning, but terrariums with a poor choice of plants or improper setup only have one way to go… Not to mention that they simply won’t thrive if they’re not given the right conditions.
In this post, you’ll learn how long terrariums can live and the best ways to make sure they have the best chance of living long, healthy lives.
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The Lifespan of a Terrarium
Honestly, the lifetime of a terrarium is hard to gauge.
After all, it’s not an isolated plant – it’s a terrarium ecosystem. There are far more factors at play here, but ecosystems do have their advantages.
- Closed terrariums water – and generally look after – themselves. So, they’re more resilient to some environmental factors (underwatering being the obvious one here).
- An ecosystem has a natural buffer. In that, it can often handle the decay of old plants and still continue to function.
- 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 systems are usually held in a delicate balance, and terrariums have a lot of dynamic moving parts to consider. So being a system comes with its disadvantages too.
- 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.
- Interactions between plants can be detrimental. Some plants may outcompete others for nutrients, and mosses may get starved of light at the bottom.
- If one plant starts to head downhill, it can set off a cascade that harms the other plants.
In reality, 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? (+ The Oldest Terrarium)
In theory, a perfectly balanced closed terrarium – under the right conditions – should continue to thrive indefinitely.
In fact, the longest-living sealed terrarium (built by David Latimer) has lasted on its own for over 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.
That’s because 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.
If it all goes wrong, you can simply use it as an opportunity to start anew.
Tips for a Long-Living Terrarium
- Do your research first – Anybody can throw together a bunch of plants and have a pretty terrarium, but that approach puts everything down to chance. Instead, take the time to choose a selection of plants that will thrive together and in whichever environment you put them in. Starting with a terrarium kit is a good way to get get it right the first time.
- Set up the terrarium properly – It’s easy to get excited and rush into a new DIY 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. You can grab a Springtails Master Culture here from our partners, Rubber Ducky Isopods (shipping included).
- 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?