Crafting Your Own Terrarium: A Green Oasis at Home

It’s March Break. My 6 yr old fortunately has childcare to keep her busy, but my 12 yr old will be at home in need of activities. When I asked if there was a project he would like to work on over the break, he landed on creating a terrarium. But where to begin?

In the bustling world of indoor gardening, terrariums have emerged as miniature ecosystems that bring nature’s beauty into our homes. Whether you’re a seasoned plant enthusiast or a beginner with a green thumb, creating your own terrarium can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience. In this guide, we’ll explore the differences between open and closed terrariums, the best plant options for each, and present five creative DIY ideas to kickstart your terrarium project.

Open vs. Closed Terrariums: Understanding the Difference

Open Terrariums:

Open terrariums, as the name suggests, have an opening or are partially open to the surrounding environment. This design allows for air circulation and evaporation, creating a drier environment suitable for plants that thrive in well-drained soil. Succulents, cacti, and air plants are popular choices for open terrariums due to their low moisture requirements.

Closed Terrariums:

In contrast, closed terrariums are sealed containers that create a self-sustaining ecosystem. The enclosed environment retains moisture, creating a humid atmosphere ideal for tropical plants that enjoy high humidity levels. Ferns, mosses, and miniature orchids are well-suited for closed terrariums, as they thrive in moist conditions and can adapt to limited airflow.

Choosing the Right Plants for Your Terrarium

Best Plants for Open Terrariums:

  1. Succulents: These water-storing plants come in a variety of shapes and sizes, making them versatile additions to any open terrarium. Opt for varieties like Echeveria, Haworthia, or Jade plants for a striking display.

  2. Cacti: With their unique shapes and minimal water requirements, cacti are excellent choices for open terrariums. Choose compact varieties such as Mammillaria or Gymnocalycium for a desert-inspired landscape.

  3. Air Plants (Tillandsia): These fascinating plants don’t require soil to grow, making them perfect for open terrariums. Display them creatively by attaching them to driftwood or hanging them from decorative hooks.

Best Plants for Closed Terrariums:

  1. Ferns: With their lush foliage and love for humidity, ferns thrive in the moist environment of closed terrariums. Maidenhair ferns, Bird’s Nest ferns, and Rabbit’s Foot ferns are popular choices for their graceful appearance.

  2. Mosses: Delicate and vibrant, mosses add a lush carpet of greenery to closed terrariums. Choose different varieties of moss, such as Sheet Moss or Mood Moss, to create texture and visual interest.

  3. Miniature Orchids: While orchids are often associated with tropical climates, miniature varieties like Phalaenopsis or Oncidium thrive in the controlled environment of closed terrariums. Their exquisite blooms add a touch of elegance to any terrarium display.

My Favourite Local Spots for Plants & Supplies

Of course, you can stop by ANY garden centre, thrift shop or vintage store of your choice, but these are some of my top picks close to Cabbagetown:

Jay’s Garden Centre 358 Gerrard St E, Toronto, ON

Crazy Plant Shop 253 Broadview Avenue, Toronto ON

Double Take 310 Gerrard St E, Toronto, ON

Green’s Antiques 529 Parliament St, Toronto, ON

Plant Society 185 Queen St E, Toronto, ON

The Beastiary 570 Parliament St, Toronto, ON *they also run a great workshop for both adults and kids, $50, Sundays at 6:30

  1. Prepare Your Container: Choose a clear glass container with a wide opening for easy access. Ensure it’s clean and dry before starting.

  2. Create a Drainage Layer: Add a layer of small pebbles or gravel to the bottom of the container. This will help prevent waterlogging and root rot by allowing excess water to drain away from the plant roots. You can get small rocks in fun colours at a fish store, or head on down to your local park or beach!

  3. Add Activated Charcoal: Sprinkle a thin layer of activated charcoal over the gravel. This helps to keep the terrarium environment fresh by absorbing any potential odors and toxins. If you can’t find activated charcoal don’t sweat it.

  4. Add Potting Mix: Pour a layer of well-draining potting mix on top of the charcoal layer. Make sure it’s suitable for the types of plants you’ll be using in your terrarium. I’ve had the same bag of potting mix in my garage for a year now, helpful tip – bake it in the oven at 350 degrees for 15 minutes to kill any critters that have taken up residence.

  5. Plant Your Terrarium: Carefully plant your chosen plants into the potting mix. Use small plants or cuttings that will fit well in the container and won’t outgrow it quickly. Arrange the plants according to your desired design, leaving some space between them for growth. Optionally, add decorative elements like small rocks, moss, or figurines to enhance the terrarium’s appearance. Lego characters work really well!

And that’s it! With these five simple steps, you’ll have created your own beautiful terrarium to enjoy and admire in your home or office. Remember to place your terrarium in an appropriate location with the right amount of light and humidity for the plants you’ve chosen, and enjoy watching your mini ecosystem thrive.

5 Creative DIY Terrarium Ideas
  1. Mason Jar Terrarium: Transform a simple mason jar into a charming terrarium by layering small pebbles, activated charcoal, potting soil, and your choice of plants. Seal the jar with a lid for a closed terrarium or leave it open for an airy display.

  2. Teacup Terrarium: Repurpose vintage teacups or small glass containers as whimsical terrariums. Fill them with miniature plants, mosses, and decorative accents for an enchanting tabletop garden.

  3. Hanging Terrarium: Create a hanging terrarium using glass orbs or geometric terrarium containers. Hang them near windows or from ceiling hooks to add a touch of greenery to any space.

  4. Succulent Terrarium Garden: Arrange a variety of succulents in a shallow dish or tray filled with well-draining soil. Add decorative rocks, sand, or miniature figurines to create a desert-inspired landscape.

  5. Fairy Garden Terrarium: Bring a touch of magic to your terrarium with miniature fairy garden accessories such as tiny houses, bridges, and fairy figurines. Nestle them among lush mosses and ferns for a whimsical display.

Mastering Terrarium Care: Avoiding Common Mistakes

Crafting a terrarium is exciting, but it’s important to avoid mistakes to keep it healthy. Let’s look at some common issues and how to fix them.

Too Much Water: Terrariums don’t need a lot of water. Giving them too much can cause problems like root rot and fungus.

Fix: Water sparingly. Make sure the soil is damp but not soaked. If you notice too much water, leave the lid off for a bit to let it dry out.

Picking the Wrong Plants: Choosing plants with different needs can cause trouble. Some might need more light or water than others.

Fix: Select plants that have similar needs. Don’t mix plants that like dry conditions with ones that like humidity.

Bad Placement: Putting your terrarium in direct sunlight can make it too hot. But too little light can also be a problem.

Fix: Put your terrarium where it gets indirect sunlight. Watch how much light it gets during the day to make sure it’s not too much or too little.

By avoiding these mistakes, you’ll help your terrarium grow healthy and strong. Enjoy watching your mini garden thrive!

So there you have it!

We made 3 terrariums in total, once for each of us. This was a great activity to do with the kids, to get their hands dirty and inspire some creativity and fantasy. The possibilities are endless, whether you opt for an open terrarium filled with succulents or a closed terrarium teeming with ferns and mosses. If you decide to make one of your own I’d love to see it – so roll up your sleeves, gather your supplies, and let the terrarium-making adventure begin!


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