How To Make a Terrarium In 5 Steps

Succulents are drought tolerant plants, needing little water to thrive. This is what makes them so great for beginners! These plants are truly for forgetful people. Ignore it, and it will likely thrive. They love bright light and will need very little from you. With so many assorted colours, shapes, and sizes, its impossible to pick just one. Creating your own mini succulent terrarium is a great way to to add some interest to your home, without much work. Follow this simple step-by-step guide and create your own.

Lets start with the basics! What is a terrarium? 

A terrarium is a fun and easy way to create your own little ecosystem inside a decorative container. There are two kinds of terrariums; Open & Closed. We will be focusing on an open terrarium because they are better for succulents and cacti. Open terrariums are best suited plants that like less humidity and soil moisture. Closed terrariums are ideal for plants that love humid and sheltered environments. Think mosses, ferns, and tropical plants. Air plants are also great options for a terrarium because they absorb the moisture in the air around them. Check out these ones we created in the store!

So what do I need to get started?

For your terrarium you will only need a few things. We are going to go step-by-step on how to create a terrarium with succulents and cacti, but the same process can be applied to most terrarium builds with some tweaking.

  1. A glass container – As long as it has a big enough opening, you could use anything! This will house your plants. We have a few in the store like these cute geometric ones which can be set on a table, or hung up.
  2. Soil – Potting soil will do, but we recommend cactus soil specially made for cacti and succulents. This will ensure your terrarium has good drainage and will keep it from staying too moist when you water it. Succulents and cacti do not like staying wet. Our NurseryLand Cactus Soil will work great!
  3. Activated charcoal – This will keep your terrarium from growing any unwanted bacteria. For terrariums, especially closed ones, it is important due to the humid environment. Activated charcoal will help with water absorption and is essential for planters without drainage holes, like your terrarium. Buy activated charcoal for $9.99 both in store and online.
  4. Stones, pebbles, or sand – Any of these will also promote good drainage in your terrarium, plus it covers the dirt and may look a little more aesthetically pleasing. We have a variety of sand and pebbles available in store!
  5. Plants – Don’t forget the best part! Select some of your favourite little plants for your terrarium. You want to select plants with similar needs, this is why succulents and cacti are the perfect choice. You can purchase our assorted succulents online and let us choose for you, or come into the store to pick your own for $4.99 each!
  6. Optional – Tiny garden tools and a plastic squeeze bottle. Sometimes its hard for our fingers to get into the small spaces for planting. A set of tiny tools can help you plant and maintain your little garden! The plastic squeeze bottle is ideal for watering your succulents, as it can fit into the small spaces around your plants and will keep you from directly watering onto their leaves.

Now its time to start!

You’ve found a glass container, gotten your supplies, and chosen your plants! Now its time to start your terrarium. Don’t worry, it’s super easy. Building a terrarium is just layering!

  1. Start with some of your pebbles. Cover the bottom of your terrarium with about an inch of pebbles or stones. This will act as drainage. Are you starting to see a pattern here? We love good drainage. If you’re wanting to use your pebbles as a decorative layer on the top as well, make sure you have enough left over.
  2. Add your activated charcoal next. You do not need a lot, just a fine layer will do. Then save the rest for future terrariums, because once you’re done this one you’ll want to build 100’s more.
  3. Now it’s time for soil. You want to add enough so your plants have room for their little roots. Probably about 2 inches worth will do, but it will vary depending on the size of your container. We trust you to make the right call.
  4. Plants! It’s starting to get exciting now, but hold on a minute. Before you start planting things, you should probably plan out how you want your plants arranged. There is really no ‘right’ way to arrange a terrarium, whatever makes you happiest is the right way! But there are some great tips to help you make this difficult choice. To avoid having to replant multiple times, try arranging your plants outside of your terrarium first and see if you like how they fit together. Keep in mind that it will be easiest to plant from the back first, so if your terrariums opening is on the side you will want to start on the opposite wall. Often times terrariums are built around the largest plant. If you’re having a hard time arranging try starting with the largest first and build around it. When you’ve finally decided, you may take your plants out of their containers and prune back their roots to help them fit. Create a little hole in the soil and plop it right in there. Nestle it into the soil nicely, then do the same process again with your next plant.
  5. It’s time to decorate! You’ve got your layers, and your plants are happily arranged in your terrarium. Now you can add some fun extras. Some prefer to cover their soil with decorative pebbles, or sand. You can also add cute little trinkets like minute animals or a gnome. Have fun with it! There are no rules.

I’m DONE! … now what?

You did it! But now how do you keep your terrarium from dying? It’s really quite simple, all you need is bright light and some water. Succulents and cacti need very little water. If you lightly water the base of your terrarium every couple weeks they’ll be happiest. Succulents watering will vary water depending on the season. Let the soil dry out completely and then water, letting all excess water drain. This can be a little tricky with a terrarium, which is why we added all those extra layers to promote good drainage! Succulents do not need to be misted and actually prefer not to be. When misting the water can collect in their leaves and cause them to rot. Always water around your plant and not directly into it. Although they love light, newly planted succulents may be sensitive to direct sunlight, and may need to be gradually introduced to full sun. When succulents aren’t getting enough light they tend to get ‘leggy” and reach towards the nearest light source. Provide at LOTS of bright light and rotate your terrarium frequently to prevent this.

If you followed this tutorial feel free to send us your finished terrariums! We would love to see them.