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How to Make a Terrarium In a Few Easy Steps - A Beginner’s Guide

9 min read

Ever wondered what it would be like to craft a world of greenery of your own? Surprisingly, it can be done at home. With DIY terrariums, you could explore nature’s beauty and add a touch of greenery to your home.

Terrariums are ecosystems that are composed of plants and maybe even small animals, within a confined space. They’re versatile, low-maintenance, allow for endless design possibilities and boost more oxygen in your living space. Because terrariums are a living ecosystem, they thrive on self-sustainability and require very minimal attention. 

If you’re interested in testing out your green thumb, this guide on how to make an open terrarium makes a great start for beginners. Read through our easy steps so you can build a terrarium of your own and enjoy a slice of nature’s magic, with minimal effort.

What You'll Need

Before you roll up your sleeves, let’s make sure you have all the supplies you need to get started:

Optional materials are:

Make sure to select a transparent terrarium container through which light can pass such as glass, heavy plastic, reused jars, or even goldfish bowls will do. It should have a wide mouth opening for two reasons: first, to allow access to the plants inside and second so that the terrarium isn’t cramped and touching the sides of the jar.

Choosing practical terrarium plants that fit your choice of container is equally important. Moreover, consider terrarium plants that have similar environmental needs such as preferring low to medium light or those that thrive under humid conditions. Among these, choose an assortment of sizes, textures and colours to your liking. With these essentials, you could get started building a terrarium, brimming with life and charm.

STEP 1: Choose a Container 

Choosing the right container is the first step to learning how to create a terrarium. Open terrarium containers require 2 things: space and clarity. Choosing a wider, shallow container allows proper airflow for your plants. And while open terrariums do not require direct sunlight, prioritising glass clarity maximises light exposure to help them grow. Here are quick tips for choosing the right open terrarium container:

Building a terrarium offers many possibilities like turning everyday items into unique open terrarium containers with these creative ideas:

Choosing to upcycle diverse objects is not only a sustainable choice for your open terrarium, but also adds character to your miniature green world.

STEP 2: Choose a Plant 

Choosing a plant is crucial for your open terrarium because plants thrive differently when exposed to certain environments. While plants in closed terrariums grow in moist, enclosed spaces, open terrariums are the exact opposite. 

Arid plants are the easiest plants to grow in an open terrarium because they thrive in drier conditions. Plants that are perfect for this environment are:

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STEP 3: Build the Base

Learning how to create a terrarium in a jar involves knowing the importance of layers and a good base for your plants. When you layer stones, activated charcoal or moss, make sure there’s optimal drainage and moisture for a balanced ecosystem through these steps:

A lot of beginners ask whether or not you need charcoal in a terrarium, and the answer is no; simply because the open space allows gases to flow outside of the container. However, activated charcoal can benefit your plants by removing toxins and odours, keeping water fresh, controlling drainage, and preventing any bacterial growth in your terrarium.

STEP 4: Add Moss and Potting Soil 

Adding moss enables proper drainage, maintaining clarity in the terrarium. Potting soil provides a suitable medium for plant growth, offering nutrients and stability while regulating moisture levels for optimal plant health. These are simple tips to properly add moss and potting soil into your terrarium:

  1. Choose the right potting soil suitable for your selected plants.

  2. Carefully position sphagnum moss to separate soil and maintain cleanliness.

  3. Layer the chosen potting soil, ensuring enough depth for root growth.

  4. Add water to the soil in gradual amounts to moisten without oversaturating.

  5. Ensure the potting soil is settled before planting to prevent air pockets.

  6. Plant your plants with care, and consider their specific needs.

STEP 5: Prepare the Plants

Terrarium making requires learning how to handle plants with care. To prepare your plants and remove them from their pots, gently tap the pot's sides to loosen the soil and then carefully slide the plant out. Teasing the roots apart can also prevent damage. Do not forget to trim any dead or overgrown parts. 

After doing so, arrange your plants outside the terrarium to plan the layout, ensuring they fit and complement each other. Clean the excess soil from the roots and place them in the terrarium. Simply adjust their position as needed to your desired design and to ensure optimal growth.

STEP 6: Add the Plants

As you put your plants together, be sure to give proper spacing to allow them to grow. Start with taller plants at the back, then layer smaller ones in front. This gives your plants depth. You could also place your focal plants off-centre for visual interest. 

Creating a terrarium is all about creative freedom that’s purposeful. From colour to texture and growth habits, all of these put together will help you create a terrarium that's a balanced and harmonious ecosystem.

Quick tip: You could use a trowel for scooping soil and chopsticks for delicate plant handling. Trowels ensure even soil distribution, while chopsticks assist in precise placement and adjustment of plants within the terrarium.

STEP 7: Decorate the Terrarium

Decorating an terrarium offers endless possibilities for creative personalisation. Beyond the lush greenery, adding decorative elements can enhance your terrarium’s charm. We’ve got a few ideas to get you started: 

  1. For something simple, you could add small stones and pebbles for texture. 

  2. For a whimsical touch, add miniature figurines or themed decorations. 

  3. For a touch of elegance, try adding delicate shells or coloured glass beads. 

  4. For a rustic feel, include natural elements such as driftwood or pine cones.

More importantly, have fun with it. Feel free to experiment with different combinations to reflect your style and create a captivating miniature world within your terrarium.

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STEP 8: Water the Plants

Waterlogging is one of the most common issues terrariums can have because the excess moisture can lead to root rot. Be sure to water your terrarium sparingly using a small watering can or spray bottle to distribute water evenly. Lastly, adjust your watering frequency based on your plants’ needs and environmental conditions for optimal growth.

Tips for Maintaining the Terrarium 

Learning how to make a terrarium is one thing, but maintenance is essential for sustaining its delicate ecosystem. Regular upkeep, such as watering, pruning, and cleaning, ensures your plants’ health and prevents issues like mould or root rot. To help your terrarium thrive, these simple tips can go a long way:

In the case of mould or pests, remove the affected plants and improve airflow. You may also consider using natural remedies like neem oil for pests.

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How long do terrariums last?

With proper care and maintenance, terrariums can last months and even years. Because it is a mini ecosystem, regularly caring for them by monitoring moisture levels, trimming plants, and removing any dead foliage helps sustain their health and longevity.

Starting your own DIY terrarium can be a very fulfilling and creative way to breathe life to your home. With regular care and maintenance, your terrarium can last a long time and thrive in its own ecosystem. 

Have a go and show us how you went! Share on Facebook or on Instagram using the hashtag #InterfloraAU and #AlwaysInterflora.


Does your terrarium need sunlight?

Terrariums require bright, indirect light. This is because direct sunlight and warmth could cause your plants and its contents to overheat, so be sure to keep your terrarium away from radiators and other heat sources. If your space doesn’t get a lot of sun, you could also opt for artificial lights such as fluorescent or LED bulbs.

Do terrariums need air?

Yes, terrariums require air. While closed terrariums can still recycle their own air, open terrariums make use of photosynthesis and airflow to lessen the moisture in their ecosystem, making it ideal for plants that prefer drier conditions. Sunlight promotes the growth of sugars during the process of photosynthesis, which converts carbon dioxide into oxygen, releasing it into the terrarium.

Can you make a terrarium without activated charcoal?

Yes, you can make a terrarium without activated charcoal and use moss instead. However, charcoal can benefit your terrarium by preventing odours and mould as well as helping filter water that circulates inside.

Tip: To make your own charcoal at home, you could burn wood and collect the charcoal that's left over.

Can you make a terrarium without dirt?

Yes, plants can grow in a glass terrarium without soil, however, they will require a different type of growing medium, such as sand, pebbles, or moss. In a soil-free terrarium, plants can absorb water and nutrients through their roots and receive moisture from their environment created inside the glass container.

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Why do your terrariums keep dying?

While terrariums are low-maintenance, they do require specific care to help maintain their balanced ecosystem. If you want to know more about why a terrarium keeps dying, here are a few possible reasons that could help:

  1. Choosing the wrong pot. Terrariums require proper drainage and ventilation to support plant health and create balance in the ecosystem.

  2. Too much water. Excessive moisture causes terrariums to grow mouldy.

  3. Too little water. Soil dehydration causes stress to plants and disrupts the terrarium's delicate ecosystem.

  4. Direct heat and sunlight. Too much heat can cause plants to wilt and eventually lead to its death.

  5. There’s no filter. Without a filter like charcoal or moss, excess water from the roots of plants can cause harmful bacteria, fungus and rot. 

  6. Wrong choice of plant. Choose plants such as succulents, cacti, air plants, pothos and the like for open terrariums.

  7. Lack of nutrients. The best way to ensure your plants grow healthier is to feed your terrarium with a little bit of fertiliser.

Do terrariums get mouldy?

Yes, terrariums can get mouldy. This is because mould can thrive in moist and stagnant conditions, making terrariums, especially an open terrarium, an ideal breeding ground. To prevent moulds, place a filter such as charcoal or moss to absorb any excess water from the roots.

How often should you open the water in a terrarium?

Watering your terrarium will depend on the type of plants inside and the time of year. Always check for water at the bottom rocks of the terrarium before you water. To avoid mould, add water directly into the soil until it is moist, but not soaking wet. 

Interflora Australia has been operating across our country since 1954. Originally based in Adelaide, South Australia, we now operate out of Interflora House in Melbourne, Victoria. Interflora Australia is 100% Australian owned - via a licensing agreement, issued to us from Interflora in the United Kingdom...