Terrarium Making Lesson

copyright Kindra Clineff from The New Terrarium

Okay, here comes the pep talk: You can do this. Your kid can do this. Your grandmother can do this. Your hamster probably can’t.

Why do this? Because this terrarium will rescue your life. You will find peace. The world will be a better place. Nature will seep into all the little nooks and crannies of your existence. Your family will thank you (but I make no promises about the kids ceasing to whine). Creativity will reign. Winter will be bearable. All this from a terrarium.

What do you need to make a terrarium? Just:

  • A glass container (okay, you can use plastic, but it won’t sparkle). Preferably find a container that you can fit your hand into.
  • Terrarium plants
  • 3/8 inch pebbles
  • Horticultural charcoal (acquire at a garden center or aquarium supply store)
  • Potting soil mix (light African violet mix works — I use an organic mix)
  • Watering can
  • Nature objects like seed pods, lichen-covered sticks, seashells, whatever grooves you
  • Gloves (Always wear gloves. Don’t argue with me)

Ready? Here’s how to do it:

  • Put on the gloves
  • Mix some water into the potting soil before you start
  • Pour (or scoop) 1-2 inches of pebbles into the bottom of the glass container
  • Add a small handful of horticultural charcoal
  • Mix it together with the pebbles
  • Add a separate layer of 2-3 inches of soil
  • Dig a hole in the soil to receive your first plant
  • Tuck that baby into the hole, firming it in. Really firm it in. Firm it in again.
  • Repeat for other plants
  • Add the nature objects
  • Water the terrarium lightly
  • Put the lid on
  • See, I told you = Peace
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8 Responses to Terrarium Making Lesson

  1. ashley holmes says:

    Can you give me a few ideas as to what plants go well together in a closed terrarium? I particularly like the one you have shown by the bed. Do you ever do any with miniature trees (natal plum, boxwood, or petite point)? I would like 2 or 3 to use a centerpiece for my dining room. Thank you so much and I love your website!

    • Tovah Martin says:

      You know, using miniature trees to create a mini scene is a really, really brilliant idea, Ashley. I think the Natal plum would probably work. I’ve never tried boxwood, but I bet it would survive just fine. I often use Serissa and I find that works very well plus it often blossoms. I’ll have a blog up on plants for terrariums by tomorrow.Thank you so much for the kind words. I love doing this!

  2. Jennifer says:

    I love this! I saw you on CBS Sunday Morning show and could not wait to try making one myself! I had a few questions… how much light do these need? Can I place anywhere in a room, or do they need to be by a sunny window? Also, I didn’t see you mention watering. How much/often would I need to water? Thanks so much for your help! 🙂

    • Tovah Martin says:

      Hey Jennifer, Thank you so much. The CBS show was REALLY fun to tape. Terrariums prefer indirect light = a bright sunny window will roast them so it’s not good. They need watering very infrequently, depending upon whether they’re closed or open. You’ll have to judge by the weather. For the full scoop, I wrote a book — The New Terrarium!

  3. AUDREY CLIFT says:

    I LIVE IN NORTHERN FLORIDA. MY YARD HAS LIVE OAK TREES, AND I FREQUENTLY FIND LOVELY BRANCHES COVERED WITH LICHEN. IS IT SAFE TO ADD THESE TO A TERRARIUM? WHAT FOUND ITEMS MIGHT BE ADDED THAT WOULD NOT INFECT OR HARM TERRARIUM PLANTS? (I.E. SPANISH MOSS WHICH I’VE HEARD HAS CHIGGERS OR OTHER PARASITES)
    THANK YOU!
    AUDREY

    • Tovah Martin says:

      Lucky you to be in Florida, Audrey. Many Florida gardeners use terrariums to enjoy nature when the weather is too hot outdoors in summer. The lichen on the tree limbs would be lovely in a terrarium and it doesn’t translate into mold. Of course, if you bring insects into a terrarium, they might increase — but there’s less of a chance that they’ll get into your house if you keep them closed in glass. I’m sorry that I’m not familiar with chiggers and their woes (I’m from the North), but it’s always best to collect nature that doesn’t have insects, to be on the safe side.

  4. Michele Anderson says:

    Hello there! I am very new to the terrarium world and I’d like to ask about the use of moss. I have read that it helps to keep the soil put, in other words, limiting the chance of eroding down into the stones and if so, in what order is it placed?
    Thank you

    • Tovah Martin says:

      Welcome to the small world, Michele. I don’t recommend collecting mosses because some are very slow growing and can become endangered. But if fast-growing pioneer mosses are creeping onto your walkways and could cause you to slip and fall, by all means salvage them and put them into your terrarium as a topping over the soil — but it helps to make a bond between moss and soil (in other words, really plant it). I wouldn’t suggest putting a layer of moss between the soil and the pebbles. There’s nothing wrong with a little seepage between layers but I find that they always seem to stay layered for me. Hope this helps.

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