Fittonia are a truly classic terrarium plant.
Loving warmth, moisture and humidity; they thrive in a closed terrarium environment.
With characteristic bold colours and deeply veined leaves (hence, Nerve Plants) they draw the eye and demand your attention.
Much like the Polka Dot Plant, I think of the Fittonia species as more of an ornamental plant. Though stunning, they don’t look particularly natural in a terrarium. Fittonia can often contrast a little too harshly with other plants for my liking.
Which is why I think for terrariums, Fittonia work well as the main – and sole – feature plant. They shine when given center stage and plenty of room to show their foliage.
In this guide, we’re going to be making a very simple and elegant Fittonia terrarium to really show them off and light up a part of your home.
Let’s get started!
- Fittonia albevenis (Nerve Plant)
- Sheet moss (e.g. Hypnum Moss or Fern Moss)
- Terrarium container
- Substrate (e.g. aquatic soil)
- Gravel or loose stones
- Long tweezers
- Spray bottle
- Long (ideally curved) scissors
Step 1: Terrarium Materials
Let’s gather all the supplies and materials we’ll be needing. This terrarium is very simple, so it won’t require much beyond the bare necessities of a container, substrate and gravel.
For this project, I chose a terrarium container with a wide bottom and tapering spout.
Vessels shaped like this can be challenging to plant as the outside edges have very little headroom. Anything other than moss or micro-ferns is quickly going to grow right into the sloping glass (which plants really don’t like).
That’s why these kinds of terrariums are best planted like you would a vase, rather than a true natural environment.
Using a central feature plant and plenty of natural space around the edges.
A container with a lid would be best – as Fittonia do enjoy high humidity – but narrow spouted containers like these vases and bottles do naturally trap some humidity anyway.
Besides, I’ve also successfully grown my Fittonia as houseplants before this build. So they can definitely adapt to lower humidity if they need to.
Fittonia are prone to dramatically fainting at the slightest sign of dry soil, so be sure to pick a substrate with good water retention.
We’re using aquarium soil in this build, but there are a lot of good options here from standard tropical ABG mixes, to peat moss blends. Just make sure it drains well too, Fittonia will rot if left in soggy substrate.
Aquarium soil is great as it’s made of baked soil pellets which resist compaction and provide excellent drainage.
We’re making a straightforward false bottom here. Using some aquarium gravel to provide a drainage space for water to collect at the bottom of the terrarium.
This particular gravel is typically used in aquascaping, and it has small and irregular volcanic stones. So there’s no chance of the aquarium soil pellets getting in and clogging it up.
For this section, you can substitute the gravel with just about any kind of rock or stone. Generally, whatever you think looks nice!
Step 2: Fittonia Terrarium Plants
Sourcing the plants for this terrarium should be very easy indeed. All that’s required is a handful of Fittonia plants and enough moss to cover the soil. Simple!
Don’t worry about getting any specific type of Fittonia.
There are a couple of main varieties but it’s not critical to get any one in particular.
You’re much more likely to find one of the verschaffeltii varieties. They’re identified by their smaller leaves when compared with the broad-leaved superba. Both are beautiful though!
I have three verschaffeltii varieties here of differing colours.
I’d try to get at least two colours here. Enough to provide lots of vibrancy and a nice degree of contrast.
After de-potting the plants, i gently teased them apart to produce a number of smaller plants.
This will make the planting much more manageable, though the biggest green Fittonia on the left may still be too big.
We’re using Fern Moss (as that’s what we have on hand) but any lush carpeting moss will do fine.
You need enough moss to cover the entirety of the soil. Though not nearly as much as I have…
Or if you’re short on moss (but full of patience) you can place it in patches and let it grow in itself.
Sheet Moss would be excellent choice here, and it should be easy to source.
Step 3: Fittonia Terrarium Build
Now we build our elegant Fittonia Terrarium! It’s probably the easiest terrarium you’ll ever put together, but the devil is in the details.
Starting with a thin gravel layer, we can begin to lay the foundation for the terrarium.
We will be adding quite a lot of water to this terrarium to keep the water-hungry Fittonia happy, so it’s important to have somewhere for it to drain.
This isn’t going to be a deep and substantial terrarium, so I’m only using a thin gravel layer.
Fittonia have quite shallow roots, so you really don’t need a lot of of depth to your chosen substrate.
In fact, as it’s a very simple piece, I prefer to keep the foundation as minimal as possible. 3 inches of substrate should be plenty.
I use a radiator brush to even out the substrate as best I can.
Planting the Fittonia
Planting the Fittonia themselves is straightforward.
They’re quite strong plants, and will easily support themselves once loosely planted.
To account for their shallow roots, you only need to dig a small depression for them. Generally, the roots will spread horizontally rather than down.
If you dig too deep, you’ll quickly reach the gravel layer. So try to gauge it according to the size of the plant and its existing root system.
My largest Fittonia also happened to be growing at a weird angle from the root, making it extra tricky to plant properly.
Nerve Plants can have a real bushy growth pattern, so you’ll run into some irregular shapes every now and again.
Composition attempt #1: I wanted to try to get the different coloured leaves of the plants to mix somewhat, so it doesn’t feel too arranged.
To me, it looked far too crowded though. They’ll need more space than that to grow in.
Composition attempt #2: For starters, I sprayed down the substrate this time. Aquarium gravel seems hard to plant in when it’s bone dry.
I’ve also removed a bunch of plants. These ones may be small but they’ll grow bigger and bushier in time.
Adding the Moss
Finally, you’ll want to add sheets of moss to cover any exposed earth. Gently placing it underneath and around the Fittonia to soften up the rough edges.
You can gently press the moss into the soil to help it make contact and attach itself.
To be honest, I think the Fern Moss is a little too straggly here. I’ll definitely try trimming it down once it’s settled in properly.
Or I think I’ll probably swap this out for a neater Sheet Moss later down the line.
But for now, it’s finished!
Give it a Good Watering
To finish, you’ll want to liberally spray down the entire terrarium with a suitably purified water.
Enough to fully saturate the moss and the growing medium, but not enough to make it soggy.
Don’t worry about getting the balance perfect first time. It’s better to add to little at first and top it up later. Fittonia will quickly let you know if they’re dry.
Step 4: Fittonia Terrarium Care
So, how do you look after your wonderful new creation?
Light: For best results, Nerve Plants should be placed in an area with bright, indirect sunlight. They can adapt to lower light placements, but their colours can fade a little.
On a whole, your new Fittonia terrarium is quite versatile in where it can be positioned. Just keep it out of direct sunlight to avoid scorching.
Water: Your Fittonia (and the moss) like a high degree of consistent moisture. However, if you fully saturate your substrate with water during the build, you’re unlikely to need many/any further waterings.
Humidity: Generally, the higher the better. Both your Fittonia and whichever tropical moss species you choose, both appreciate high humidity.
Fittonia can quickly grow bushy, and will need regular trimming to keep their foliage neat.
They can also bloom with flower “spikes” which some people prefer to trim. I think they fit in just fine with the foliage, but if you prefer you can remove them at their source.
Removing the flowers probably does help to keep their foliage lush and vibrant instead.
Over to You
How’d it go?! Are you happy with your elegant new Fittonia terrarium? Let us know in the comments.