How to Make a Terrarium Bottle Garden (Best Plants & Ideas)

The bottle terrarium is a true thrifty classic.

Everyone has a bottle, right? Whether you prefer water or wine (or my personal favorite, whisky), a potential terrarium is but a few sips away.

That being said, a terrarium bottle garden can range from an easy project to an expert build, depending on your container of choice… and how much you’ve had to drink.

Stick with me as we cover how to make a bottle terrarium from the ground up. Touching on the best plants, containers, and some fun ideas for your first project.

Bottoms up!

Bottle terrarium

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Bottle Terrarium – DIY Overview

What I love about making a bottle terrarium is that they often make use of an up-cycled container.

A way to (quite literally) breathe new life into a gorgeous glass bottle, or to reuse a common plastic product that was destined for recycling.

Plus, they come in all shapes and sizes. 

From elegant glass decanters to funky spirit bottles, they offer a huge degree of versatility.

Truly, even the classic carboy and demijohn bottles – each long favored by the terrarium industry – were originally made to brew beer and wine. Bottle terrariums are the epitome of style + function.

Regardless of what you choose for your project, each container will no doubt come with its unique nuances and challenges.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Width – Quite simply, the narrower the bottle and the neck, the more challenging the build! Opt for a wide-necked bottle if you want to be able to operate your tools inside and have a chance at a normal planting process. 
  • Overall size – The volume and shape of the bottle will determine the kinds of plants you can use and how you use them. The larger the better, if you want more plants and greater versatility.
  • Color – Sure, a lovely green or amber bottle has instant aesthetic appeal, but it’s also going to reduce the amount of light that your plants inside can receive. Not to mention somewhat blocking your view of the plants. Stick to clear bottles and you can’t go wrong.

When it comes to the kinds of plants and environment, bottles are a natural choice for a closed terrarium.

So having a lid is ideal in sealing it up. But, the shape of a bottle does trap humidity very well on its own. So if you’ve lost the lid, you’re in luck!

Ikea glass bottle terrarium
Ikea has some lovely glass bottles with lids attached.

Glass Bottle Terrarium vs Plastic Bottle Terrarium

Glass vs plastic – seems like a basic choice, right?

Often it just comes down to whatever you have to hand, or which container you’re desperate to find a use for in the house.

But in practice, a glass bottle terrarium is generally a very different build to a plastic bottle terrarium.

Seeing as plastic bottles can be creatively “accessed” with a pair of scissors during the build, they lend themselves well to kids’ projects and beginner terrarium builds. 

Snip the top off, do your thing and then reattach. Easy peasy!

Glass bottles, on the other hand, you can’t be doing that… So, they end up being more challenging builds as you try your best to create the most beautiful terrarium possible through an opening that often doesn’t allow for typical planting.

For those up to the task, next, we have some common bottles that translate well to bottle terrariums.

Common Bottle Terrarium Ideas

Now, I’m sure we’ve all had that one bottle that we believe is crying out to be planted up.

It’s usually the tall thin ones too, right?

But for those who don’t have anything to hand, here are some great options to consider.

1 | Wine Bottle Terrarium – Though you’ll need to find a clear wine bottle for this one (they’re not the norm, but they do exist), wine bottles are inexpensive and plentiful. The thin necks can prove challenging, but the standard shape tends to provide lots of volume for plants to grow.

2 | Plastic Water/Soda Bottle Terrarium – A great one to do with the kids, plastic soda bottles are cheap and super easy to get started with. For maximum volume and versatility, start with a 2 liter bottle.

3 | Patron Tequila Bottle Terrarium – Perhaps the easiest of all the glass bottles, Patron tequila has a flat base, a short wide neck, and lots of volume. Perfect for a classic bottle garden with shorter plants.

Patron terrarium
Here’s a lovely mini Patron terrarium made by Joe of ome terrariums.

4 | Whisky Bottle Terrarium – Whether it’s the square bottle of Jack Daniels or the rounded thin bottle of Woodford Reserve, there are lots of shapes (and drinks) to explore here.

5 | Carboy Terrarium – The carboy is a quintessential terrarium bottle. With its vast rounded shape, it provides maximum space for planting. Though the combination of a comparatively tiny neck and a large internal volume makes it one of the most difficult to pull off.

Best Bottle Terrarium Plants

So, being a closed terrarium (or at least a humid container), you’ll be wanting plants of a tropical nature.

Those that are really going to thrive in a hot and humid environment. 

But not thrive too well!

Honestly, it’s challenging to maintain plants in a tricky bottle container. You might have some success with long aquascaping scissors, but most of the time you won’t be able to trim anything.

So it’s best to choose plants that won’t outgrow the space.

But then, finding tall and narrow plants that can fit in the space and fit through the opening is the real challenge. Honestly, with the super narrow neck bottles, you often have to resort to carefully dropping in your plants.

There are two main approaches to planting up a bottle terrarium.

1 | Upright – Standing your bottle up means you’ll typically use a tall feature plant or two to maximize the vertical space. Then you can use smaller accent plants and mosses to highlight them.

2 | Sideways – Like a classic ship in a bottle, you can lay your bottle on its side and carefully plant up a layer of shorter plants and mosses. This method maximizes planting surface area and lets you capitalize more on the volume of the space.

Either way, I’d like to stress how helpful it is to pick plants that are easy to plant. The kind that can be either just dropped in or planted in a single fell swoop.

Compact root balls and sturdy stems are your best friends.

Feature Plants

Mainly used in the classic upright bottle gardens, we’re looking for one or two foliage plants that can occupy the center of the bottle.

For maximum visual appeal, you’ll want a plant that’s tall enough to fill most of the vertical space (but still has some wiggle room).

Ferns can be great choices here. Or more specifically, parts of ferns. 

You see, full ferns in all their splendid glory are typically too wide and bushy. Instead, we’re going to select ferns that can be separated into single frond plants

The trident-shaped leaves of the Pteris ferns or the heart-shaped leaves of the Heart Leaf Fern both come on long thing stems. Or, a single leaf of the Crocodile Fern adds enough color and texture to command your attention.

Alternatively, a compact full-leafed plant can work. Something like a baby Calathea musaica could be a good choice as the leaves grow on tall stems.

Calathea musaica
It might be tricky to isolate a single leaf, but the Calathea musaica has plenty of character to show off.

I also quite like the idea of adding a miniature vine via a central pole.

By lowering a bamboo pole (or maybe even a bamboo skewer for the smaller bottles) into the center of the bottle, you can wrap an epiphytic vine around and have it be the star of the show. Something like Ficus pumila should do the trick.

The best thing about this step is that it’s much easier to plant the base of a pole vs a delicate root ball.

Good idea right?

Accent Plants

Accent plants are the smaller plants that can be placed around your feature plant(s).

Designed to highlight your main plants, and generally “fill the space.”

For this, you’ll want something that’s small and can easily spread across the substrate area.

  • Moss – Clumpy mosses bring a lot of initial texture and depth, and they don’t tend to grow too much (Mood Moss is a personal favorite of mine, with its long-leafed windswept look). Or, you could opt for a sheet moss (e.g. Hypnum Moss) which isn’t all that impressive at first but can grow to fill the space. 
Cushion moss
Cushion moss makes a great accent plant too.
  • Selaginella – A unique genus of plants that’s somewhere between moss and a fern. These low-growing beauties love a humid environment and can quickly grow to fill a space. Check out the iridescent blue Selaginella uncinata or the classic Golden Clubmoss.
  • Vines – Miniature vines can add a real sense of scale and an element of wild growth to a bottle terrarium. The String of Turtles is always a good choice, or Pilea glauca is my go-to tiny vine.
Peperomia prostata
I love to add little cuttings of Peperomia prostata.

The best thing about these accent plants is that you can generally trim them down to tiny cuttings and just sprinkle them in.

They’ll root up readily in a humid environment – ideal for the most challenging of containers!

Tools and Bottle Terrarium Kits?

Plant choice and tool availability are more important with bottle terrariums than perhaps any other kind.

So, here’s what I’d recommend.

  • Something to help you plant – Tweezers or chopsticks can help you lower plants into position. But sometimes you don’t even have space for that, and simply need a long stick (like a bamboo skewer) to push the roots into the substrate.
  • Something to direct the materials – Naturally, a funnel is an obvious choice to direct substrate into the bottle base. Alternatively, a rolled sheet of paper works just fine.

If you want everything taken care of, why not check out one of the many bottle terrarium kits?

👉 Shop Bottle Terrarium Kits on Etsy.

Over to You

There we have it.

The bottle terrarium can be as easy or as difficult as you want to make it, but following these principles and tips, I’m sure you can pull it off. Next, you’ll be needing to find out how to care for your new terrarium.

I’m curious, what’s your favorite bottle?

Let me know in the comments.

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