Terrariums are a stylish way to bring the outdoors in. You can create your own mini landscape in a beautiful vessel that is worthy of display anywhere in the home – even as a dining room centerpiece. We’ll take you through six simple steps to creating your own terrarium masterpiece.

Select Your Vessel

A beautiful terrarium design starts with the vessel. Whether you choose one of our glass containers, or use one that you have from home, make certain the opening is big enough to fit your hand through. The smaller the opening, the smaller the plants and the more time (and tools) it will take to place the materials inside.

An open-air terrarium is different than a closed terrarium. Closed terrariums have a lid to seal the vessel and work as a self-contained ecosystem. This type of terrarium works best with moisture loving plants, such as ferns and other tropical plants. For this tutorial, we will be focusing on open-air terrariums that do not contain a lid. Open air terrariums utilize a more arid soil best suited for desert plants such as succulents.

Terrarium Base

Since most glass containers do not have a drainage hole, terrariums need a base layer of pebbles that provide a place for excess water to drain. Any type of pebbles will work, but smaller pebbles work best with smaller containers. Regardless of container size, avoid using large stones in the base as they can create gaps that planting material can fall into. Plus they make your container heavy and difficult to move. The depth of your pebble layer will depend on how deep your container is, usually between 1/4 inch to 1 inch.

Optional: Cut a piece of landscape fabric or screen mesh to the size of the container and place on top of your pebbles to prevent the top layers from mixing with your base layer.

Sphagnum Moss vs. Peat Moss

Sphagnum moss is not the same as sphagnum peat moss (a.k.a., peat moss). Even though they are both harvested from the same plant, their properties and uses are very different. Do not use peat moss instead of sphagnum moss for this layer.

Sphagnum Moss Layer

Sphagnum moss is great for absorbing moisture, which makes it an important layer to have between your soil and base.  When you water your terrarium, the sphagnum moss will soak up excess moisture as it drains through the soil and prevent it from going directly to the base.

Most natural landscapes are not completely flat, so you can use the sphagnum moss to help form the landscape of your terrarium. Place the sphagnum moss thicker in some spots and thinner in others to add visual interest to your terrarium. The sphagnum moss layer should be thick enough to separate the soil from the base and provide a visible layer in your terrarium.

Pro tip: Soak your sphagnum moss in a small bowl of water prior to placing it into your terrarium.  Make certain to squeeze the excess water out before using.

Soil Layer

The soil layer contains the medium in which your terrarium plants will grow. Our TGP Potting Mix or Espoma Cactus Mix are both great choices to use for open-air terrarium plants, such as succulents. Make certain your soil layer is thick enough to accommodate the size of your plants. The depth of the soil layer doesn’t necessarily have to be as deep as the container your plant is currently in. You can remove some of the plant’s soil to expose the roots, or if the plant is root bound in the pot, you can horizontally cut off the bottom 1/3 of the roots before planting.

Plant Layer

There is a wide range of plants to choose from for your terrarium. It’s important to note that you should choose plants that prefer the same moisture and light conditions. As mentioned before, a closed terrarium is great for ferns and other tropical plants that prefer the consistent humidity and moisture a closed system can provide. Whereas, succulents are a great choice for open-air terrariums as they don’t mind the lower humidity naturally found indoors and the soil is able to dry out between watering. Make sure to choose the size and quantity of plants that is appropriate for your container.

Note: It’s not all about the plants. Remember to leave room for the decorative layer!

Decorative Layer

This is where you get to have fun! Add preserved moss, rocks, sand, twigs, shells, pine cones, tree bark…the possibilities are endless when it comes to how you want to finish off your landscape scene. Even though this is the last layer, it does help if you have a plan where some of the decorative items will go before planting so you know how it will all fit.

DIY Terrarium Kits

Want something quick and easy? We also have terrarium kits to help you get started (they also make a great gift). Just choose a container, soil and plants and the kit provides the rest (complete with instructions).