Tips for Building a Terrarium

by Nancy Brenseke 02/14/2021

Image by AndyFaeth from Pixabay

If you're searching for ways to introduce a little extra green into your home and at the same time learn a satisfying hobby consider building a terrarium.

Putting together a terrarium is a learning experience for grown-ups and can draw in kids as well. Not only do you see your handiwork grow and thrive, but you’ll observe a real-life example of a working ecosystem. A terrarium, if it’s a closed one, recycles its oxygen, carbon dioxide and water.

What Is a Terrarium?

In simplest terms, it’s a glass container for growing plants. There’s a variation called a vivarium, a similar construction with small animals, but plants are a great starting point.

Terrariums (either “terrariums” or “terraria” is an acceptable plural) can be either open or closed. Open terrariums are better for plants that can’t tolerate moisture buildup.

How To Build a Terrarium

  • First, find a glass container. For a closed terrarium, any glass container with a removable lid will work. You can order one or find one around the house. It could be a rectangular glass box with a top or a rounded jar with a stopper. A Mason jar, either upright or on its side. A covered fishbowl. A cookie or candy jar. You can also use plastic if it’s clear and resists fogging.

  • Lay down a base. Use rocks, plain or colored gravel, seaglass or other decoratives. This is your drainage layer. It should be about an inch deep, but that can vary depending on the size and shape of your container. The finished product will need enough “headroom” for your little garden. The base layer doesn’t have to be flat; you may shape it to create peaks and valleys.

  • Some sources recommend a ½ inch layer of charcoal next as a water filtrate.

  • Create a barrier for your soil with sphagnum or sheet moss. Soak it briefly, squeeze out the water and mold it into place.

  • Add about two inches of soil. Common potting soil is good for most plants. If your gravel layer is flat your can shape this to make miniature hills and valleys.

  • Now you’re ready to plant. Use slow growing vegetation and dwarfs. Peperomia, ferns (maidenhead, button ferns), pilea and dwarf palms are good choices, as well as miniature coleus, violets, begonias. There are suitable lichens and mosses.

  • As for maintenance, there’s not much. After an initial watering, you have only to keep it moist. For a closed system, which recycles water, a light mist every few weeks is adequate. Once a week, briefly remove the cover to rebalance the air. Trim plants to keep them small. Terrariums do best in indirect sunlight. The glass can magnify direct rays.

  • About the Author

    Nancy Brenseke

    I love the ocean, sand and sunshine! That's why I call Hilton Head Island/Bluffton my home! I relocated to Hilton Head Island over 20 years ago from North Carolina after graduating from East Carolina University - Go Pirates! I continue to be successful in real estate for the past 13 Years and with my experience working with top resorts and gated communities, I have cultivated attention to detail, understand the importance of listening first and have the positive "Can Do" attitude in all situations. I offer my sellers and buyers the BEST advice to achieve their real estate goals. I enjoy spending time with my family boating on the May River, attending festivals along Old Town Bluffton and building sandcastles on HHI beaches.  

    "Nancy Brenseke is the type of realtor that everyone should contract to sell their property. She is very knowledgeable and gave us valuable information when listing the townhome. The whole process went smoothly and Nancy was responsible for that. She always communicated with us which kept us confident that all aspects of the closing were under control and on track. I highly recommend Nancy Brenseke." ~ Deb Bluffton, SC

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    "Nancy went the extra mile on everything around selling the condo. I would use her again and would recommend her to anyone I come in contact with. Our condo sold in 1 day! She was excellent and hardworker. She helped in all aspects of selling, from marketing with great number of pictures, to home inspection with helping us find contractors to fix the inspection issue so were were able to close." Eric - Cumming, GA