Healthy, Green Design: How to Make a Terrarium

Reader Contribution by Stephanie Nickolson
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Stephanie Nickolson has designed residential, commercial and eco-conscious environments for more than 24 years. Her firm, Stephanie Nickolson Design, promotes the use of sustainable, non-toxic, recyclable and environmentally-friendly products and services. The firm works largely with clients who have allergies, chemical sensitivies or who have children with special needs.

In honor of Earth Day month, I thought I’d share the art of creating  terrariums, small little indoor gardens typically enclosed in glass bowls or jars. They are beautiful in any room on a table or shelf, and they are also a great activity for kids to participate in. To make a terrarium, you can use a goldfish bowl, fish tank, large bottle or jar. The only requirements is that it have a restricted neck or opening that can be covered with glass or clear plastic. Some plant suggestions are the following:

• Acorus
• Begonia rex (small leaved)
• Calathea
• Cryptanthus
• Dracaena sanderiana
• Ferns
• Ficus pumila
• Fittonia
• Hedera helix (small-leaved)
• Maranta
• Neanthe bella
• Pellionia
• Peperomia
• Pilea
• Saxifraga sarmentosa
• Selaginella

A fabulous site to obtain information as well as supplies to build a terrarium is Teresa’s Plants & More Store.

Bring nature inside with a homemade terrarium. Photo By Monica Müller/Courtesy Flickr.

Materials needed

The materials that you’ll need to get started are:

A clean, dry glass container
River rocks or gravel
Dechlorinated or distilled water
Pointed knife to help with construction
Approximately 6 small plants (adjust amount according to glass size; have at least one tree-like specimen and one “trailer”, a plant that trails a bit.)
Charcoal (may not be needed, it depends on the plants used)
Peat moss or lichens
Organic soil

Different shaped glass jars add interest to your terrarium. Photo By fsamuels/Courtesy Flickr.

Steps to building a terrarium:

1. First, start the bottom layer with small river rocks or gravel.

2. Add a thin layer of charcoal (if needed).

3. Add a small amount of pre-moistened, shredded moss.

4. Lay organic soil.

5. Add moss (and/or lichens if using) on top of soil.

6. You may landscape the ground by pushing it around to create hills and valleys for added interest.

7. Place the plants, allowing enough room for each to spread out and grow.

8. Water the plants only initially.

Gather together all the supplies you’ll need for your terrarium. Photo By Teresa Kessler.

Some terrarium tips: 

• Terrariums do best in a cooler environment and not placed directly in the sun.

• Don’t overwater plants. Instead, use a spray bottle with distilled water and mist them. (Water initially right after planting.)

• If using ferns, wrap moss around it to keep the roots moist.

• You may put earthworms in the terrarium.

• If incorporating lichens, remove the lid on terrarium weekly for a few hours.

• Room temperature at 65 to 85 degrees is ideal for most terrariums.

• Remove any dead plants and prune plants if necessary. This will help the live plants propagate.

~ENJOY PLANTING!  And, Happy Earth Day~

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