It’s typical of humans, really. We’ve managed to encapsulate the beauty of nature’s ecosystems and house it inside a little glass world, so what do we do next?
Make it even smaller!
In many ways; the tinier a terrarium the more intriguing it becomes. Not only does it become cuter (smaller = cuter) but the science becomes more fascinating.
In how small a space are we still able to replicate some sort of self-sustaining ecosystem?
We’ll not only answer this question and more, but show you exactly how to do it. But first, let’s get started with some miniature terrarium inspiration!
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Five Miniature Terrarium and Micro Terrarium Ideas
You’ll notice we’ve differentiated between mini and micro terrariums.
Now, this isn’t a scientific distinction but on the grand scale of terrarium size it’s important to have some delimitations.
Miniature terrariums refer to those that are small enough to be called such while still housing room for all of the ecosystem essentials seen in larger terrariums (layering, plants, etc). Whereas their micro cousins are the truly teeny tiny that maximise minimization while still retaining a striking beauty.
We’ll start at the larger end of our truly unscientific scale and move down towards the titchy depths.
1 | Bottle Terrarium
The key to any handmade or upcycled terrarium is keeping your eyes peeled for any goodies lying around your house that could contain or enhance your design.
The old tequila carafe I’m using today is a perfect vessel in which to create something new. Used booze bottles are a perfect choice as they’re usually quite sturdy and give you a good reason to polish off a drink or two (as if you needed another reason, you hound!)
There’s enough room in here to house the ecological essentials and the shape of the neck is a bonus; it’s so slim that moisture will easily be retained inside even without a cork stopper.
2 | Candle Terrarium
Now, this one is probably more accurately described as a planter. Though, we didn’t want to leave out a whole sub-genre of the terrarium world when considering puny possibilities.
Candle holders or small vases are another common household item whose relative depth and open top make the perfect basis for a desert terrarium.
Some colourful layering and a simple succulent or cacti goes a long way to make a gorgeous addition to your mantlepiece.
If you’re interested in the best practices and care guide for the above, please check out my article on how to make a desert terrarium.
If you want to create some funky sand layers as I have; ensure the gravel layer onto which your sand is being poured is fine enough that it won’t let the sand pass through.
If you’re using a black gravel for your base, use a black aquarium sand first so that your subsequent layers remain crisp.
3 | Spice Jar Terrarium
Old jars are another household staple. This could be something that once held herbs, spices, sauce, or as in our case today: pesto.
Personally, I love the shape of these sorts of jars as they allow you to create a 360º design.
These jars often come labelled, but some hot water and some steel wool will make short work of it.
If you’re feeling crafty you could even paint the screw top lid to personalise your design even further.
Given how often one goes through pesto (that’s not just me, right?) you could create a whole range of these terrariums – each glass jar with a different design on the lid and inside!
4 | Mason Jar Terrarium
When one thinks of a mason jar your mind may jump straight to those big containers of cookies or spaghetti.
I on the other hand think of these little swing-top olive oil bottles that are a common – and never unappreciated – Christmas gift. They’re similar in size to our spice jars, though they can come in such a variety of interesting shapes the vessel alone really adds something to the look and feel.
And as well, these containers are seldom acquired individually – you’ll often have a few to play with.
As we’re working in a smaller space you’ll want to consider reducing the volume of each of your components.
If you’re going for a mossarium design (that means moss only, folks) you could cut your gravel layer completely and simply enter in and pat down some soil on which your moss can rest.
You can even compact the soil at an angle or up the side of your glass to establish a vertical aesthetic.
5 | Tiny Jar Terrarium
We’ve now truly departed from the miniature and are diving deep into the experimental waters of the micro terrarium – something so small you’ll need that extra touch of ingenuity. These little jars are available in most craft and hobby shops as well as being readily available online, too.
So, let’s talk ideas. You could insert your classic layering levels and go for a moss-based design or even have little Ficus fronds growing inside. We however have gone for two separate designs to really highlight the possibilities.
First we have the moss world terrarium. For this we’ve taken and cut up some hydrated forest or sheet moss and carefully placed in just enough to keep is luscious while also allowing light to pass through so you still see all those wonderful greens.
A little water inside of this one every now and again if it dries out and you’re good to go.
Secondly is the super popular mini marimo bottles.
So simple to make and I think one of the more elegant ways to show off your marimo moss balls.
All you need to do is pinch off a small bit of marimo from a larger ball, gently roll it up into a ball shape once more and poke it down into your container.
Fill this up with filtered water and you’ve done it! Just change the water every couple of weeks and you can enjoy to your heart’s content.
BONUS: The Nano Terrarium
We couldn’t help ourselves.
There’s really not much to say about this other than it is really, really, really small. All you need is to find a bit of moss, a tiny little piece of corked glassware and cuteness automatically ensues.
Tiny DIY Terrarium Kit: What You’ll Need
Hopefully you’re feeling inspired to make a tiny terrarium (or a hundred), so now it’s time to look at exactly what you’re going to need to create your terrarium. Just know that depending on your set up, not all of the below are necessarily essential.
#1: Glassware. Although we’ve given some examples above these are far from an exhaustive list. Be creative. Once you start looking for terrarium vessels, you’ll find them everywhere. An old pickle jar, coffee decanter, fish tank, bottles… the possibilities are endless.
#2: Plants. Well, duh! We’ll get into more depth on your best options below…
#3: Moss. An infinitely popular addition to most closed terrarium set ups. Perfect to create a wild grasslands or rainforest aesthetic. See moss on Etsy.
#4: Substrate. It’s up to you which substrate to choose from, whether you’re using a pre-made substrate like the the classic ABG mix, or creating your own. Each potential ingredient has its benefits – read more about it in our article on the best substrates to use in your terrarium.
#5: Drainage material. This is to create a layer of pebbles, gravel, sand or Leca which will act as a drainage layer to prevent your terrarium from becoming oversaturated by allowing excess water to pass through your soil, preventing root rot. See aquarium gravel on Etsy.
#6: Tool Kit. For a tiny terrarium, my recommendation is for you to have on hand:
- A paint brush (use the end for creating holes and the brush for cleaning the glass and patting down soil).
- A pair of tweezers (a great aid in placing your plants).
- A water mister (to water your terrarium).
- A funnel to prevent a substrate mudslide.
* Bonus Activated Charcoal. There’s a little bit of contention when it comes to whether activated horticultural charcoal is an essential. Some incorporate it into their drainage or substrate layers, others layer it separately, and some ignore it all together. Personally, I prefer to include a layer as its filtration capabilities are undeniable and it has the potential to add years of life to your ecosystem. See activated charcoal on Etsy.
* Bonus Sphagnum Moss. Arguably not an essential yet very popular among terrarium creators. This again can either be considered a separate layer or incorporated into your substrate. Its water retention properties aid in nurturing your plants and promoting an aerobic environment. See sphagnum moss on Etsy.
Top Tiny Terrarium Plants
Finding the right flora to befit your tiny ecosystem can be tricky.
Generally, it’s quite hard to find suitably small plants in plant nurseries or garden centres. But, to navigate this issue there’s a few things you can consider. Before we get into that let us quickly talk about what kind of plants you’ll want in your terrariums.
How to Choose the Right Type of Terrarium Plants
Plants that prefer a higher humidity and evenly moist, well drained soil will be your go-to for almost any closed terrarium set up. They will tend to prefer indirect lighting, too.
You can peruse your options in our Terrarium Plant Index (just make sure to avoid the “large” category for obvious reasons), and be sure to check out the Definitive List of Closed Terrarium Plants too!
Now, lets talk sourcing.
Buy Miniature Plants
I know I said it’s uncommon to find the right size plant in a nursery, but they’re readily available online if you know where to look!
There are plenty of micro ferns and baby plants, sometimes even sold together in a terrarium-ready group. We’ve curated a selection of our favourite tiny plants on Etsy – some less than two inches in size and quite inexpensive.
Propagate from Larger Plants
You can always use a small cutting from a larger plant!
It’s one of the easiest ways to get a good-looking plant at the right size. I, for example, have a healthy Pilea peperomioides that is popping out babies like there’s no tomorrow.
Each time a new one pops up it’s either getting split and housed in a new pot or joining some other plant pals in a new terrarium design.
This method is very inexpensive, though it does require you to have healthy plants and quite possibly may only be possible at the right time of year. But, if you know what you’re doing it’s a no-brainer.
How to Make a Miniature Terrarium DIY
Taking care of your tiny terrariums couldn’t be simpler. As always, I recommend taking your chosen plants into consideration and carry out research on their specific care requirements. Though, closed terrariums generally prefer the following conditions:
- Mid-high indirect light. This means a sunny room but no direct sunlight onto the terrarium.
- High humidity. This should be achieved simply with an initial light watering and / or misting, and then with a closed lid your terrarium will self-regulate its water supply.
- Evenly moist, well drained soil. To achieve this I recommend ensuring your soil is moist to begin with but that your drainage layer isn’t soaked with water. It can be a tricky balance to strike, so just be gentle with your watering.
- Keep away from sources of artificial heat. This means radiators, heaters and hobs. You don’t want your plants to cook now, do you?
Now it’s Your Turn!
Which tiny terrarium build have you chosen for your next project? Let us know in the comments!