• Terrarium Tips & Techniques

    Terrariums are all the rage right now and it's easy to understand why; these micro-environments are easy to make and maintain and they help liven up indoor spaces big and small.  There are lots of how-to's out there and they typically outline the same fundamentals.  The truth is that creating a terrarium is pretty straightforward; the basic rules for creating a terrarium are simple, so we’ll cover those and then I’ll share a few creative tips to help you give yours more visual impact. 


    1. Keep like plants together.  Create either a tropical environment or a dry environment.  Choose one or the other... DO NOT MIX.  These plants have different needs and planting them together will be a disaster.

    2. Glass vessels (either hanging or tabletop) are preferable: they're just plain pretty.

    3. You will need to create a reservoir at the bottom for excess water using a combination of gravel or pebbles and sand.

    4. Always use a good quality soil mix that is tailored to your plant type.


    1. Glass Vessel.  These can be any size, but I find 8” x 8” or 10” x 10”  ideal as they are still small enough to handle with ease and yet provide enough capacity to house a few plants together.

    2. Drainage Materials.  In our experience, nurseries and hardware stores are less than ideal for finding terrarium supplies.  Do yourself the favour of finding a well-stocked aquarium supply shop in your area.  They will have the following items which you will need to create the drainage layers: aquarium gravel, fine sand (in various natural colours) and activated charcoal.

    3. Appropriate soil for the plant type.

    4. Small tools.  Some companies make terrarium tools but forks and spoons will work too.


    First add the drainage layers.  Gravel should be about 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick.  You can now add a thin layer of sand in one or two colours about 1 inch total.  How you choose to layer the sand can have a very pretty effect as seen through the glass; this is when I typically get creative.  You can use different colours for contrast or embed a shell or rock in the sand against the glass.  Have fun and use your imagination.  Make sure you leave enough room for about 2 1/2 to 3 inches of soil.

    Next add a thin layer of charcoal (just enough to cover).  I suggest spooning it in as it tends to be dusty.  This will help keep the terrarium healthy by combating mold and bacterial growth. 

    Now you’re ready for the soil.  Put down a layer of approximately 1 inch of soil and tamp it down with your tools.  Remove the plants from pots and break up the roots to dislodge excess soil.  Arrange the plants inside to see how they look together.  If you’re planting cactus here is where your tools come in very handy.  You can use a spoon to get them out of the pot or “fork” them out by the roots.  For cactus, a strip of doubled up paper towel can be wrapped around the spines to move them without damaging the plants (or your fingertips).  You may need to take a couple of plants out and plant one by one, adding soil around the roots and tamping down as you go. 

    Once your design is set and planted you can use wood, rocks and shells, or more gravel to finish and decorate the surface of the terrarium around the plants.  You can use a soft brush to gently sweep any residual soil off the inner surface of the glass or from the plants themselves.  Voila! You’re finished.


    Terrariums need light, especially dry climate plants like cactus and succulents which will require direct sunlight for at least 4 hours per day.  You will need to supply a light watering about once a week being careful not to soak it.  Be sure to let the terrarium dry out completely before re-watering.  This timing can vary based on the relative environmental humidity.

    You will want to use the same basic methods with a tropical terrarium with the exception that you should never let it completely dry out.  These plants will also benefit from a light misting once a week as will cactus and succulents.  An atomizer or fine-mist spray bottle is ideal for this.

    As this environment has no drainage, it is not recommended that they be left exposed to the elements.  A heavy rain will ruin and drown your terrarium.  Enjoy your mini landscape indoors!

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