Setting up a terrarium


Bioactivity and Me – What to Know Before You Go Bioactive

Many of us strive to keep our pet reptiles or amphibians in a more naturalistic setup – something that reminds them of home, in our home. Live plants, microfauna (aka tank janitors – tiny bugs that help keep the tank clean), and natural tank decor are all hallmarks of a bioactive tank. But you can’t simply throw a bunch of stuff from nature into a glass box and have a blissful bioactive biome. A successful bioactive tank – one that reaps all the benefits of going au naturale – requires a bit of planning and a bit more research. That’s where we come in. At Josh’s Frogs, we’ve kept dart frogs and similar species in bioactive habitats for over a decade. Recent technological advancement, such as our new BioBedding Tropical Substrate, has meshed well with previous vivaria techniques to make setting up a bioactive environment easier than ever.

This blog will not show you exactly how to set up a bioactive environment for a specific species of reptile or amphibian. Instead, we’ll explore the basic ideas behind bioactivity, and what you need to keep in mind before you start.

What exactly is a “bioactive enclosure”?

Keeping something in a bioactive setup is exactly what it sounds like – active life. Microfauna, such as springtails or isopods, are paired with other tank janitors to help keep the environment clean, as well as provide a minor food source for many herps. Fungi play an important role, too. Few of us would get excited about mold or mushrooms in our tanks, but these often overlooked decomposers play an important role in making nutrients (which were at one point waste) available to plants, and help keep a tank cycled and clean. Live plants utilize nutrients present in the tank to grow, while providing humidity and cover for your pets. To sum it up, in a bioactive enclosure you’re utilizing forms of life other than your primary inhabitant (live plants, bacteria, fungi, and invertebrates) to create a more natural, low maintenance habitat for your pet.

What’s all the fuss about?

Bioactive enclosures are all the rage in America. Up to a few years ago, keeping most animals (dart frogs excluded) in naturalistic setups with live plants, fungi, and tank janitors would have seemed an unusual idea. In Europe, this technique has been used for decades, and plays an important role in husbandry and breeding success with many reptiles and amphibians we still struggle to keep and propagate in captivity. When done properly, bioactive tanks are a great way to keep your pets in an environment that more closely resembles what they’d encounter in the wild, and requires less work on our part after the initial setup.

The Bioactive 6

There are 6 primary elements to any functioning bioactive enclosure. These elements work together in harmony to process and reduce waste in the system and promote a stable, healthy environment for your pets.


Start from the ground up. Your substrate provides a place for fungi, bacteria, tank janitors, and plants to live. A proper substrate needs to be able to retain moisture without becoming waterlogged, cavities for your tank janitors to live in, and not break down for a long period of time. Otherwise, those cavities will disappear; the substrate will become anaerobic and grow harmful bacteria and probably kill your plants. Substrate depth is typically deeper in a bioactive enclosure, often 3-4″ deep, to support a large microfauna population. Deeper substrate will also provide plenty of surface area for beneficial fungi and bacteria to grow.

Oftentimes the bioactive substrate is topped with a layer of leaf litter, which provides more nutrients to the substrate, allows the substrate to retain more moisture, and provides niches for microfauna and other tank janitors to dwell. Josh’s Frogs BioBedding Tropical is a great bioactive substrate for tropical or subtropical conditions.


When discussing bioactive enclosures, there’s always a fungus among us! Fungi may not be plants or animals, but they play a vital role in the bioactive enclosure, as they function as decomposers – they render dead things (plants, insects, and the like) and waste down to basic nutrients that plants can use for growth. Some fungi even work in unison with plants to help them take up waste more effectively and help them grow faster. The mushrooms you’ll see pop up in your tank are simply the reproductive portion of the fungus. The bulk of it, known as the mycelium, exist as small, threadlike structures in the soil. The vast majority of fungi are harmless and will show up seemingly out of nowhere over time. To accelerate this and ensure your bioactive tank gets the fungal boost it needs, add a bit of Josh’s Frogs Bioactive Booster.


Bacteria will grow in a bioactive tank. Most species are either benign or beneficial, but some can be harmful. To ensure that healthy bacteria set up shop in your bioactive enclosure, make sure you use a well draining substrate and don’t let it become waterlogged. You want the substrate to stay airy – occasionally turning it over with a fork can help reduce the risk of bad bacteria growing. Bad bacteria often have a sulfur or rotten egg smell to them. If your soil stinks, it’s probably due to a buildup of bacteria. Turn the substrate or replace it. We don’t recommend adding bacteria directly to your substrate – currently, composting bacteria are most often added to bioactive setups, which only serve to break down the substrate faster and are not needed for a healthy environment.

Tank Janitors

Creepy crawlies seldom save the day, but they’re the heros of your bioactive enclosure. Various microfauna / tank janitors / clean up crew species can be added, depending on the environment, to help break down and remove waste, serve as an in-tank food source, and even compete with baddies. Undesirables such as reptile mites require moist places off the host to reproduce, and your tank janitors fill those spots in a well-functioning bioactive setup, making it difficult for parasitic mites to colonize your pets!

Springtails, isopods, superworms and mealworms (and beetles), some roach species, and even earthworms may make up an appropriate clean up crew for your bioactive setup – do your research! Many bioactive keepers collect these animals from the wild, but we recommend captive cultures of inverts to reduce the chance of introducing something harmful to your tank.

Natural Decor

What’s a natural setup without some natural decor? Various rot resistant woods, such as mopani, Malaysian driftwood, manzanita, and cork make great additions to a tank. Inert rocks or cholla wood also make good choices. Natural decor provides more living space for your tank inhabitants, as well as niches and visual barriers and hides. Wood will slowly break down, providing a great source of food for isopods or millipedes.

Live Plants

Something’s gotta use up all those nutrients the bioactive environment is making available. Luckily, photosynthetic protagonists are up to the task! Plus, they look great while doing it! Plants will remove nutrients from the system while they grow, which can then be removed from the enclosure when you trim them. They’ll contribute to a higher humidity, and provide plenty of natural cover for your animals to take advantage of. Did I mention live plants look amazing in an enclosure?

Intrigued? You should be! A bioactive approach to animal keeping opens up a whole new world! No longer are you keeping a pet, you’re suddenly recreating one of the earth’s great biomes on a nano scale. It is helpful in this pursuit to have a basic understanding of ecology and biology. If you don’t understand the basic ecological concepts surrounding nutrient cycling before you start a bioactive terrarium, you sure will afterwards!

Remember, a properly functioning bioactive enclosure is an amazing chance to provide your pet with a healthy environment. Once established, the habitats are visually appealing, easy to care for, and about as natural as your pet is likely to see in captivity. If, however, a bioactive enclosure is not set up properly, it can become dangerous to your animals’ well being quite rapidly. Do your research, but trust me, it’s time well spent.

Watch some of our YouTube videos on assembling a bioactive enclosure:

The term bioactive is one that has been thrown around a lot amongst the reptile groups and forums over the past few years, even though it’s methods have been around for much longer (many of the various frog keepers can tell you this!).

In a nut-shell, using a suitably sized vivarium for your Royal, you create a natural living space, from substrate, to foliage. Where the use of various organisms (clean-up crew), such as, woodlice, earthworms, and European and tropical springtails, will proceed to help maintain the vivarium by breaking down any organic matter that occur (faecal). Also, they will prevent any forms of mould or fungal growth within the space.

More so, the movement of the clean-up crew inside your vivarium will keep the substrate breathing, alive, and full of nutrients. Which in-turn, aids plant growth, along with the natural growth of these organisms in population numbers. The populations will maintain themselves of course. If there is not enough food for them, some will die off, leaving only the amounts that are able to be sustained.

You can often find booms in clean-up crew populations, and the odd low too. But it’s all relative to the ecosystem have created.

Luckily for us though, we are able to purchase the likes of springtails and woodlice commercially from Northampton Reptile Centre if you ever feel a top-up is needed ().

What’s Needed?

Assuming you already have the appropriate sized royal python setup. You will also need;

  • Aquarium sealant
  • Pond liner
  • Play sand
  • Sterilised Topsoil
  • Coco fibre, or orchid bark
  • leaf litter
  • Natural bark and wood
  • and of course, the clean-up crew (woodlice, earthworms, & springtails etc.)

The drainage layer used in wetter setups (like my chameleon‘s) are not needed. Due to the Royal’s natural environment being dryer than other species. You will find, with the leaf-litter, and substrate mix, along with the odd spray, humidity is easily achieved to the correct levels anyway.

The Setup

First off you are going to want to seal the vivarium’s internal joins. This will not only protect from any moisture damage, but also any wannabe escaping bugs. Once the Aquarium sealant is dry (I usually leave 24 hours), you can move onto the pond liner.

You are going to want to cut the pond liner a good 4 or 5 inches bigger than your actual vivarium floor space. Reason being, this will provide a protective barrier between the wooden vivarium surface, and substrate. Which will obviously be a few inches in depth. What I did, was actually use the sealant to secure the pond-liner around the top, to the walls of the vivarium. This will stop and substrate being pushed down between the liner and viv walls. If you ever decide for some reason you want to remove it all, it will not ruin your vivarium as removal is very easy. Again, you will need to allow this to dry out for 24 hours.

Once dry, check for any gaps between liner and walls. If any, seal them up. Once good, onto the substrate mix.

Mixing the Substrate

You can do this directly inside the vivarium if you wish. Or, use a bucket. I found the vivarium method far easier. I have no real ratio levels to speak of regarding this part. Initially I just mixed up the sand and topsoil. But it was definitely more topsoil heavy. And I stuck with that. At a guess, I’d say a 60/40 ratio. Then I added the coco fibre, and a little orchard bark for added texture. Again, I just added until it felt and looked natural. Once all that is in, and you are happy, It’s time to add the leaf-litter and clean-up crew.

I added the leaf litter first, although I don’t believe the order matters at all. I make sure I have a nice even spread, just enough to cover the surface, it’s only going to get moved around anyway when your Royal is out for a wander! Then I roughly spread out what clean-up crew I have. Once you get hides, and a water bowl etc. inside the vivarium, your clean-up crew will find areas to shelter and congregate, and venture about where needed. Once that is done. Its a case of strategically placing your natural woods and branches, for maximum stimulation for your Royal.

Ready mixed substrate is available in the form of ProRep Bio Life forest substrate.

Finishing Comments

It will take time for the vivarium to establish it’s self. So any Snake waste produced, for the first few times, it may be worth removing some. And then leaving some in for the clean-up crew to deal with. (can bury just under the surface if you wish). But once established, it can be easily gone in hours. As well as any shed.

The rewards for going bioctive are that you get a vivarium that is extremely aesthetically pleasing, plus I also found that it was clear to see my Royal showed enhanced natural behaviours. Particularly when compared to what he was showing on plain lignocel, aspen, etc.

amy.gizienski/Flickr Sometimes you simply want to enjoy the benefits of a garden without having to mow, prune, and fertilize. Terrariums are popular thanks to their fuss-free maintenance, beauty, and minimal space requirements, meaning they’re also good options for those who want to garden but lack the outdoor space.

Before making a terrarium, consider where it will live in your home. For most plants, you’ll want a spot that receives indirect sunlight because the glass container will magnify the sun’s rays. (You also don’t want to put it where there’s no sunshine, such as in the basement.) A good rule of thumb is to let a plant’s nursery tag be your guide. It will tell you, for example, that boxwood basil prefers some sunshine while a miniature fern would be happier in a shadier locale.

Once you’ve found the proper place, you’ll need the following supplies to make a terrarium:

• Glass container

• Rocks (polished pebbles, sea glass, marbles, etc.)

• Sphagnum or sheet moss

• Soil

• Plants that won’t overgrow (good choices include boxwood, croton, Joseph’s coat, pineapple verbena and twiggy spikemoss for sun-loving plants and gnome ivy, golden club moss, Irish or Scottish club moss and miniature ferns for shade-loving plants.)

• Basic tools (spoons or a funnel for placing soil, long tweezers for putting materials into the vessel, scissors for clipping greenery, and paper towels or cotton swabs for cleaning the glass.)

Step 1. Choose a glass container. It can be anything from a clean, reused pickle jar to a vintage vase. Just make sure the container is clear and not colored glass, which could hinder growth.

Consider the size of the opening as well. Making a terrarium out of a vintage perfume bottle may seem like a creative idea, but the narrow opening may prove problematic when you go to place greenery inside. For beginners, it’s best to use a vessel with an opening wide enough to accommodate the width your hand so that you can easily place and move materials as needed.

Step 2. Place a handful of rocks at the bottom of the container. This layer helps to shape the terrain while aiding drainage and aeration. Vary the layer’s thickness by the size of the container. The smaller the vessel, the thinner the rock layer; you’ll want to leave enough “head space” at the top of the terrarium when you’re finished that the setup doesn’t look cramped.

Step 3. Soak dried sphagnum or sheet moss in water for a few seconds and squeeze out any excess liquid. Place the slightly damp moss onto the rocks, patting it down so that it fills the entire surface area and forms a barrier that keeps the soil from falling into the rocks.

Step 4. Scoop the soil into a funnel and fill the container with several inches of it. The greenery you’ll be planting will determine the type of soil you use. For moss, use a peat moss mixture, which is less likely to mold. For other plants, non-moisture-control potting mix should work. If a plant’s nursery tag indicates that it needs a specific type of soil, use that.

Keep in mind that this layer doesn’t have to be perfectly flat. Hills and valleys give the landscape character. Again, don’t fill the container too high with soil, since you’ll want to have enough “head space” for the greenery to grow.

Step 5. Plant your plants. If you’re using moss that you snagged from nature, make sure to first give it a blast of pesticide to debug it. Use scissors to trim it into shape and place it into the container. Make sure to press it down firmly to prevent air pockets. For other plants, plant them as you would in your outdoor garden. Loosen the root ball, place in a shallow layer of soil, add soil around it, and pat down.

Step 6. Give the plant some water to help prevent transplant shock, keeping in mind that the container doesn’t have drainage holes like a potted plant would. The rocks layer will aid with drainage.

Maintaining a terrarium is easy. For moss terrariums, a light misting of water every two to four weeks should suffice. For plant terrariums, heed watering instructions on the plant’s nursery tag. Just don’t over-water!

How to make your own green terrarium to keep or give away for the holidays

If you have a green thumb but minimal garden space, why not create your own mini-world full of lush and beautiful plants by making your own terrarium? If you’re in the southern hemisphere instead, remember that having green plants around is a surefire way to keep away the winter blues, plus plants are certain to help improve your indoor air quality. Terrariums are easy-to-make, low-maintenance gardens, and can last almost indefinitely with minimal water. Don’t believe us? We assembled seven terrariums of various shapes and sizes in a single weekend, and they’re all adorable. Read on for our easy terrarium DIY to learn how to make your own to keep or give away for the holidays.


A clear glass jar, vase, bowl, glass, or whatever interesting glass container you have on hand
Rocks, pebbles or recycled glass chunks
Activated charcoal (sometimes called activated carbon)
Potting soil appropriate for your plants
Moss (optional)
Figurines, sticks or decorative items (optional)
Various small plants
A scoop, spoon or shovel

Source your containers from a thrift store or an antique store, or just scrounge around your house for an old jar. Even simple jelly jars or canning jars can make beautiful terrariums. They can be left open or closed—it’s totally up to you. All other supplies can be bought at your local gardening center.

As for the plants, the sky is the limit, but generally speaking look for small plants that you can fit inside your jar and won’t grow too tall. Some plants will have multiple stems so you can break them up even further. To ensure that your terrarium will be successful, keep succulents and cacti together, and keep fern and tropical plants together, because they require different amounts of water and soil. You’ll want cactus soil for the succulents and regular old potting soil for everything else. The rocks are used as a false drainage layer while the activated charcoal helps keep the terrarium healthy, and the moss can be used for decoration and to help soak up and retain water.

STEP 1: Prepare the Container

Remove any price tags or stickers from your vessel and wash both the interior and exterior thoroughly to ensure that there are no unwanted residues that could affect the health of your plants. Envision how you want to arrange your plants inside the jar.

STEP 2: Add Your Drainage Layers

Once the container is ready, fill the bottom with rocks or pebbles. This is to create a false drainage layer so water can settle and not flood the plant. The depth of the rocks totally depends on the size of your container, but aim for 1/2″ to 2″.

STEP 3: Add the Activated Charcoal

The charcoal looks exactly like what you would expect it to and it’s messy. Sometimes it comes as small granules and other times it comes as shards—either works. You don’t need much, just enough to cover the rocks. The charcoal will improve the quality of your little world including reducing bacteria, fungi and odors.

Related: How to Make a Recycled Glass Terrarium

STEP 4: Add Soil

Again, cactus and succulents need a special soil compared to most other plants, so be sure to get the appropriate bag depending on which plants you’re using. Add enough soil so the plant roots will have plenty of room to fit and then grow. Aim for a depth slightly greater than the height of the plant’s pot.

STEP 5: Plant

Take your plant out of the pot and break up the hard soil ball until you get down to the roots. If you’re breaking the plant into multiple parts, be gentle. You may also want to trim the roots if they are especially long; don’t worry, they’ll grow back. Using a spoon, your fingers, the end of a brush, or even a pencil, dig a well to place your plants roots in. Add more soil around the top and compact the soil down around the base of the plant. Continue placing your little plants in the container and try to keep them away from the edges. The leaves are likely to touch the sides but aim to keep them away as much as possible.

STEP 6: Add Accessories

After you’re done planting you can add little accessories like a blanket of moss (dried or living), little figurines, old toys, glass beads, shiny metal object, sticks, stones, or even a layer or rocks. This is your little world and you can put whatever you’d like in there.

Related: 7 Eco-Friendly Summer Crafts for Creative Adults (and Kids!)

STEP 7: Clean and Water

You’ll likely have dirt all over the sides of the container, so wipe them down so you can enjoy the beautiful living world inside. Give the terrarium a little bit of water. Unlike most of your house plants, a terrarium doesn’t need to soaked: just a couple of shots of water should get it started.

Tips & Tricks

– Over time, monitor your terrarium’s water needs based on how dry the soil is. For terrariums with closed lids, if water is dripping down from the top, open the lid to let some evaporate. Likewise, you may need to add more if it looks parched. You shouldn’t need to water them very often.

– If leaves die or wilt, remove them from the terrarium immediately to maintain the health of the little eco system. If an entire plant dies, take it out.

– Don’t place in direct sunlight. Remember that these are essentially little greenhouses and direct sunlight through the glass will trap heat and scorch the plants. Place in indirect light for best results.

– Afterwards, enjoy your little world or give it away and make another!

Lead image via . All other images ©Bridgette Meinhold

Creating a terrarium is a fun way to add a touch of greenery to your indoor living space. Today I’m showing you how I put together a simple terrarium for my home.

A couple of weeks ago I was at HomeGoods and came across this large glass jar that I thought would make an excellent terrarium. I assumed it would be $30+, but to my surprise. it was only $14.99 so, of course, into my cart it went.

DIY Terrarium:

After sourcing other materials and plants and spending a little time planting, this is how my terrarium turned out:

Isn’t it pretty?

With thoughts of spring and all-things-green, this little terrarium is just what I need to get me through these last few weeks of winter.

Let me show you how I put it together!

What do you need to make a terrarium?

Surprisingly, you don’t much to put together a beautiful terrarium. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Glass container (with or without a lid)
  • Pebbles
  • horticultural charcoal
  • Soil
  • Plants
  • Stone and moss (optional)

How do you make a terrarium?

It all starts with a glass container. The container can have a lid, but that’s not a must.

Just an F.Y.I.: If you do find or choose a lidded container, once your mini-garden is planted and placed in the proper location, very little attention will be needed since it will water itself.

I actually had one of these last year (See image below.), and it did well on its own. In fact, because of my lack of attention, one of the plants in it sort of took over. The terrarium still looked great, but I decided to empty it when I moved because I wanted to start afresh in my new home.

A disadvantage with a lidded container is that the inside will often fill with condensation, making it harder to see your plants.

For my new terrarium, obviously, I went with the glass container I scored at HomeGoods. Since it doesn’t have a lid, I’ll have to be vigilant about watering. However, if I want the terrarium to be self-sufficient, I can always place a dish or plate on top of the jar occasionally.

Once you’ve selected your container, you’ll want to add a layer of pebbles for drainage. (I found mine here.)That means the pebbles should be pretty small in diameter.

Next, comes a layer of horticultural charcoal. About 1/2 inch will do. The charcoal pulls toxins and bacteria from the soil in the terrarium and helps keep the environment in the container fresh and mold free.

Now you’re ready for put in the soil. I used Miracle-Gro potting mix I had on hand. I found that 3 inches of soil was the right amount in the glass container I bought.

At this point, it’s time for plants!

What plants are good for a terrarium?

Since my knowledge of plants is limited, I went to my local plant shop – City Grows in Pittsburgh – and asked them for advice.

Their helpful staff helped me choose plants that would work for my particular terrarium based on its size and the light in my home.

Over the years I’ve found that it’s smart to consult experts when investing in house plants. They know the lighting needs, watering requirements, etc. of any plant you’re considering.

The plants I selected were ones that work well in terrariums. I don’t recall the names of the plants, but if you are interested in the specifics, I could contact the plant shop I visited. Please let me know in the comments, and I will update this post.

In doing research for this post, I discovered this Etsy shop which sells a set of 6 mini plants designed for terrariums. If you don’t have a local plant shop, this might be another option.

You can also create terrariums with cactuses and succulents, but they will require a drier setting. If you’re a long-time IBC follower, you might remember my tabletop cactus garden. It thrived for years with hardly any attention or water. Sadly, I had to get rid of it when I sold my former house last year, but it was still thriving at the time.

Anywho, back to this new terrarium. With the soil in place, I tucked in my plants to fill the space.

To finish things off, I added larger stones and reindeer moss. These elements are optional and mostly serve as decor. However, depending on how the rocks are placed, they can encourage your plants to grow (or not grow) in certain spots.

And with that, my new terrarium is complete.

The plant store staff told me that to keep the container moist I should add enough water to reach about halfway up the pebbles at the bottom of the container.

Misting the plants with a sprayer from time to time is likewise recommended.

So cute, right? All inspired by a $15 glass jar. I’m loving it!

If you liked this terrarium project, you might love these too:

  • Kitchen Herb Garden
  • Succulent Garden Bowl
  • Tabletop Cactus Garden
  • DIY Vertical Herb Garden
  • Mounted Staghorn Fern Tutorial

I haven’t figured out exactly where this DIY terrarium is going to live, but I’m thinking my family room might be an ideal location.

I hope this post inspires you to add a little green to your home. Happy plant parenting!

Indoor gardening with terrariums is a fun and attractive way to incorporate plants into any home décor.

A close-up of a lush terrarium featuring clubmoss “pine trees.”

In Victorian times, renowned physician Nathanial Bagshaw Ward was pursuing a passion for botany and conducting an experiment with moths, when he discovered that he could cultivate rare ferns inside a bottle.

This led him to develop a glass vessel for nurturing imported plant specimens. The “Wardian case” is the predecessor of the terrarium.

Traditionally made of curved glass with a tight-fitting lid, a terrarium has a base of gravel, charcoal, moss, and soil, and supports a miniature garden of moisture-loving plants.

Water droplets form on the sides of a glass container, creating a humid growing environment.

The plants draw moisture from the soil and evaporate it through their leaves, in a process known as transpiration. Water droplets form and drip down the sides of the container, returning to the soil. This process mimics nature’s rain cycle, and sustains plant life.

In addition to the closed container in which the rain cycle creates a self-supporting mini garden, there are other types of plant arrangements that fall under the terrarium umbrella.

Some folks place potted plants in a closed tank-type container resembling a Wardian case.

Cheviot Glass Terrarium by Gracie Oaks

A glass terrarium that’s just right for this type of display is available on Wayfair. This is a great container for moisture-loving varieties like orchids, which we will mention again a bit later.

Another is the glass cloche, a bell-shaped cover that also dates to Victorian days.

CYS Clear Glass Cloche

The cloche was often used to protect tender plants in the garden. Used indoors today, it is an attractive and functional enclosure for nurturing moisture-loving plants.

A glass cloche bell jar is available from Amazon. It promotes the rain cycle when placed over a dish garden consisting of layers of gravel, charcoal, moss, and potting medium.

Hanging Terrarium

And then there are small open globes suspended by twine or fishing line that are great for displaying a tiny plant or two. These are available on Amazon, conveniently packaged in a set of 12.

Air plants, cacti, and succulents are good low-maintenance choices for this modern-style terrarium.

We’ve learned that plants that require a humid environment do best in a closed or partially closed container, where moisture builds up inside.

Plants that like drier conditions do best in more open containers, where air circulates and the humidity is low.

With this knowledge, we can choose the right container for the right plants.

Let’s get started!

Imaginary Landscapes

Think back to elementary school. Did you ever make a diorama project?

I remember finding a shoebox and making a three-dimensional scene from a story to present to the class. Well, a terrarium can tell a story, too.

Think of it as a miniature landscape you’d love to step inside and explore.

Four of my favorite themes are:

  • Fairy Garden
  • Woodland Hike
  • Island Getaway
  • Southwest Scene

Read on to visualize each theme, collect supplies, and make your own mini garden!

Fairy Garden

Imagine a magical place with surprises around every bend. Pebble paths, toadstools on mossy hills, tucked-away cottages, and animals peering through lush foliage set the stage for a fanciful theme.

A closed-style fairy garden features a charming cottage and polka-dot plant.

For a Fairy Garden, use plants like:

  • Goldfish plant (Alloplectus nummularia)
  • Job’s tears (Pilea depressa)
  • Lemon button fern (Nephrolepsis cordifolia ‘Duffii’)
  • Meadow spikemoss (Selaginella apoda)
  • Polka dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya)
  • Rockfoils (Saxifraga)

These moisture-loving plants thrive self-sufficiently in a closed container. If you choose an open vessel, mist the soil thoroughly whenever it feels dry.

Woodland Hike

Picture yourself clad in hiking gear, using your walking stick to climb rocky outcroppings between whispering pines, while a swift river flows below. These are the images evoked with a woodland hike theme.

A woodland scene inside a closed jar, with a wicker plate to prevent rolling.

For a Woodland Hike, use plants like:

  • Baby tears (Helxine soleirolii)
  • Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)
  • Pennsylvania clubmoss (Lycopodium hickeyi)
  • Peperomia (Peperomia perciliata)
  • Mini English ivy (Hedera helix)
  • Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum)

These plants do well in a closed container. If you choose an open one, mist thoroughly whenever the soil is dry to the touch.

Island Getaway

Have you vacationed in a tropical paradise where dense exotic plants give way to turquoise oceans and white sand beaches littered with shells? Bear this scene in mind when you create your island getaway.

An imaginative container with a tropical feel.

For an Island Getaway, use plants like:

  • Alpine balsam (Erinus alpinus)
  • Dwarf creeping fig (Ficus pumila ‘minima’)
  • Dwarf Western maidenhair fern (Adiantum aleuticum ‘Imbricatum’)
  • Earth star bromeliad (Cryptanthus)
  • Inch plant (Tradescantia zebrina)
  • Purple waffle (Hemigraphis alternata)

Purple waffle is one of five “clean air” plants discussed in our article on nontoxic houseplants.

A Note on Moss

For lush, moist arrangements like the fairy garden, woodland hike, and island getaway themes, moss makes a great ground cover between plants. Its texture and color variations are perfect for replicating hills and valleys.

The Moss Acres company is a wonderful source of all things moss. They offer a terrarium moss kit that contains three types of “landscape-quality” moss, for a total of one square foot of plant material.

Terrarium Moss Kit

The fern is another plant that’s great for creating mini landscapes. Its fronds add height, to give the illusion of a canopy of foliage.

Mini Ferns for Terrariums

A mini fern assortment with five different varieties in two-inch pots is available on Amazon.

Southwest Scene

Astride a palomino on a pebbly, parched riverbed, cacti and succulents dot the landscape as you pass. Use this vision to fashion a Southwest scene so realistic you can feel the sun on your back as you ride.

A Southwest scene with succulents in an open container.

For a Southwest scene, use plants like:

  • Air plants (Tillandsia)
  • Blossfeldia cactus (Blossfeldia liliputana)
  • Dwarf agave (Agave desmettiana)
  • Dwarf chin cactus (Gymnocalycium baldianum)
  • Hens and chicks (Echeveria)
  • Stonecrop (Sedum)

This arrangement is perfect for an open container. Mist occasionally.

Creative Terrariums: 33 Modern Mini-Gardens for Your Home, available on Amazon

For even more mini garden projects to create at home, we suggest checking out Creative Terrariums: 33 Modern Mini-Gardens for Your Home by Enid G. Svymbersky. This book includes tips for getting started and maintaining your terrariums, as well as a collection of DIY projects with illustrated step-by-step instructions, thorough materials lists, and helpful tips.

How to Make a Terrarium

Now that you’ve chosen your theme and plants, decide where you’ll place your mini garden when it’s finished.

An assortment of open and closed container arrangements.

If it will be viewed from all sides, keep this in mind as you arrange your plants in a way that is pleasing to look at from every angle.

If your container will be seen only from the front and sides, be sure to have these sides show to best advantage.

Let’s begin! For all projects, you will need:


  • Activated filtering charcoal
  • Chopstick or pencil
  • Close-fitting surgical gloves (optional)
  • Container with a tight-fitting lid, or an open container
  • Decorative sand (optional)
  • Figurines (optional)
  • Long tweezers
  • Modeling clay (optional)
  • Newspaper
  • Pebbles or pea gravel
  • Plants (see above)
  • Potting soil appropriate for your plants
  • Sphagnum moss
  • Tiny trowel or long-handled spoon
  • Water mist spray bottle

Activated filtering charcoal is used to kill bacteria, and to deodorize your arrangement.

Hoffman Horticultural Charcoal

We like Hoffman Horticultural Charcoal, available on Amazon.

Decorative sand is optional for surface decorations, and miniature figurines are an optional decorative addition that’s great for setting the scene.

Modeling clay is great to have on hand to create a base for containers that are likely to roll.

Newspaper is an excellent asset for any gardening craft project. I like to keep it on hand to spread out before I get started, to protect my work surface.

To help your plants to thrive, it’s important to set up your terrarium with the appropriate soil.

African violet potting mix is a great choice if this is what you’ll be planting, or cactus mixtures that are light and loose work well for planting southwestern favorites like succulents and cacti. (And speaking of African violets, you can learn more about propagating them here…)

Sphagnum moss is perfect for layering, and it comes in handy for surface planting as well.


1. Choose a theme and select appropriate plants (see below) and accessories.

2. Wash container, tools, pebbles/stones, and figurines with mild dish soap and water before assembly. Rinse thoroughly and dry with paper towels.

3. Spread newspaper over your work surface.

4. Decide whether you will use your container horizontally or vertically.

5. Cover the bottom of the container with a layer of pebbles.

6. Cover the pebbles with about an inch of activated charcoal.

7. Cover activated charcoal with a layer of sphagnum moss.

8. Cover the moss with about two inches of potting soil appropriate for your plants.

9. Decide where you want your plants, and use your spoon to make a small hole for your first plant.

10. Select a plant for the first hole. Grasp it gently with tweezers or fingers. Trim off all but an inch of root length, and place it into the first hole. Gently nestle it into the soil, covering the roots, and tamping the soil down with the pencil or chopstick.

Be sure to place plants so that they do not touch the sides of the container, and do not reach the lid.

11. Continue planting until all plants are in the soil.

12. If desired, fill in areas between plants with pieces of sphagnum moss, tamping gently.

13. Add decorative sand, pebbles, stones, and figurines to define your chosen theme.

14. Mist plants and soil lightly.

15. Close lid securely for closed arrangements.

16. Place away from direct sunlight.

It’s important to keep an eye on your new miniature garden.

If a closed container becomes completely fogged, you may have overwatered.

Simply remove the lid, and wipe the inside of the glass dry with cotton swabs or a small sponge paintbrush. Air it out for several hours before replacing the lid.

On the other hand, if your open container plants are wilting or turning brown, you may have underwatered. Prune away damaged material and thoroughly mist the soil and plant leaves.

Stabilizing a Horizontal Jar Arrangement

In addition to vessels like old fish bowls and brandy snifters, glass and plastic food jars also make great reclaimed containers, provided you wash them well.

If you’d like to use a jar on its side instead of upright, place a plate or shallow basket beneath it for stability.

Or, you can make supports to keep it from rolling around. This is easy with air-dry modeling clay.

Air-Dry Modeling Clay

We like the offerings available from Jovi. This air-dry modeling clay is paintable and it won’t stain surfaces. You’ll find these on Amazon.

Here’s how to use it to make a stabilizing base for your mini garden.

How to Make Jar Supports:

1. Using air-dry modeling clay, form two balls of between two and four inches in diameter, depending upon the size of the jar you wish to stabilize.

2. Roll each ball into an elongated tube. These will support the jar. Place them four to six inches apart, depending upon the jar’s size.

3. Press the jar down upon the clay tubes until it makes an imprint.

4. Remove the jar and let the clay dry. Paint clay if desired, and let it dry.

5. Place the jar on the clay supports for a stable display.

A Word on Tillandsia and Orchids

Tillandsia and orchids are two types of epiphytes, air plants that grow on other plants for support, without harm to their hosts.

Tillandsia are commonly referred to as air plants. They don’t require soil and need very little moisture.

If you’d like to include them in an arrangement, be sure to use an open container, and place them decoratively on stones, shells, or other plants, where air can circulate around them.

Similarly, tropical orchids are generally grown in a soilless potting mix. If you’d like to use them, be sure to plant them in their own pot, with their own growing medium, within the larger container. They love humidity, but will rot if their roots become saturated.

Miniature Masterpieces

Terrariums are perfect for the whole family. They make great gifts, and add an intriguing natural element to any room.

Gardening as a family.

How about showing the kids how to make their own mini gardens at your child’s next birthday party?

Children love gardening, and making a terrarium to take home is a party favor they’re sure to remember.

See our article on gardening in small spaces for more scaled-down planting projects.

What clever ideas do you have for making miniature gardens? Share them with our readers in the comments section below.


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Product photos via Moss Acres, Wayfair, CYS Excel, Hoffman, Modern Vase & Gift, Hirt’s Garden, Jovi. Uncredited photos: .

About Nan Schiller

Nan Schiller is a writer with deep roots in the soil of southeastern Pennsylvania. Her background includes landscape and floral design, a BS in business from Villanova University, and a Certificate of Merit in floral design from Longwood Gardens. An advocate of organic gardening with native plants, she’s always got dirt under her nails and freckles on her nose. With wit and hopefully some wisdom, she shares what she’s learned and is always ready to dig into a new project!

When it comes to sprucing up a home, one item in particular is a home décor staple: plants. But if you’re like me and don’t exactly possess a green thumb, then learning how to make a terrarium can be a great green alternative to the typical houseplant.

Terrariums, or tiny plant ecosystems built in a bottle or other glass container, have long been enjoyed as low-maintenance indoor gardens. According to some sources, ferns were kept in glass cases as early as 500 B.C. But a London doctor with a love of botany first invented the terrarium in its modern form in 1827 to protect his ferns from dying in his backyard thanks to some nasty factory pollution.

While the terrarium has enjoyed a lengthy history, they are part of an ongoing trend. Consumers are spending more and more on home décor, and terrariums certainly fall into this category. According to one projection from Research and Markets, the décor market is expected to garner $664 billion by 2020. And what motivated maker wouldn’t want to get a slice of that massive pie?

As far as handmade décor goes, terrariums are one of the low-cost, low-maintenance items you can create in your home to resell. For prospective business owners looking for a new product idea or crafty makers who want another income stream, terrariums are a potential solution.

Here, we’ll examine the ins and outs of how to make a terrarium. We’ll also take a deep dive into how to market and sell your hand-crafted items to potential customers both online and offline. So, if you’re ready to hear more about how to use terrariums to get a slice of the décor market, read on.

WANT THE FULL INFOGRAPHIC? This article features an infographic with instructions for a gumball terrarium. Download the full infographic here.

Now you have the info to get started with a viable business that also scratches your creative itch. It’s time to move forward and start selling!

Now that you’ve learned how to make a terrarium (and sell them), it’s time to put your best foot forward. Have you ever made a terrarium? If so, do you have any hot tips for newbie indoor gardeners? Share your advice in the comments below.

View the full infographic from this article and share it on your website using this embed code:

<div style=”clear: both;”><a href=””><img src=”” title=”How to a Terrarium” alt=” The Ultimate Guide to Building a Terrarium Business ” border=”0″ /></a></div>
<div>Courtesy of: <a href=””>Shopify</a></div> Expand me!

If you’re interested in testing out your green thumb, but don’t have the space to do so, a DIY terrarium is just what you need. These mini tabletop gardens are fun to create and are a great way to perk up your indoor space.

In addition to being enjoyable and decorative, terrariums are also easy to care for and simply beautiful. It’s a DIY win-win. Whether you’re looking for a decor element to bring the outdoors in or a unique gift idea, consider making a DIY terrarium.

Before you get started creating your own, you may be wondering: what exactly is a terrarium?

What is a Terrarium?

A terrarium is a collection of small, decorative plants growing in an enclosed environment. Terrarium containers are typically transparent and provide an opening big enough to allow the gardener to access the plants inside. The best part about a DIY terrarium is that you get to create something one-of-a-kind.

We’ve got you covered with everything you need to know about how to make a terrarium. From definition and inspiration to creation and care, you’ll be enjoying your miniature garden in no time at all. Before you roll up your sleeves, let’s make sure you have all the supplies you’ll need to get started.

DIY Terrarium Supplies

  • Glass Vessel – You’ll need some sort of glass vessel to create your terrarium. There are plenty of unique containers from which to choose. Just make sure that the vessel is made of a transparent material so you can enjoy your mini-garden.
  • Small Stones or Pebbles – Small stones or pebbles will be used as the base of your terrarium. The small pebbles act as water drainage for the plants’ roots to ensure that excess water doesn’t stay in the soil and cause rot.
  • Activated Charcoal – You won’t need much; a thin layer of activated charcoal keeps water fresh and helps to fight off bacterial growth in your terrarium.
  • Potting Soil – Potting soil will act as an important layer for your DIY terrarium. Any type of soil should do the trick, although there are special mixes available if you’re planting cacti or succulents.
  • Plants – It wouldn’t be a terrarium without the greenery. Pick out a few of your favorite pint-sized plants to use in your terrarium. Air plants, succulents and mini-cacti are all viable options. See our complete list of recommended terrarium plants below.
  • Small Gardening Tools – Having small tools handy will help you create and situate all of the items in your DIY terrarium.

Best Plants for Your DIY Terrarium

When selecting plants to use for your DIY terrarium, there are a few things you should keep in mind:

  • Select plants that are small enough for your glass vessel. You won’t want any greenery touching the sides of your container and making your terrarium feel cramped.
  • Plants that do well with humidity are most likely to thrive in your terrarium. Although succulents and cacti aren’t humidity’s biggest fans, you can compensate by using a glass container with a slight opening, like the one we used for this tutorial.

Whatever plants you select, you can keep them healthy by mimicking their natural environment in your terrarium. We recommend choosing a few from the list below:

  • Air plant Tillandsia stricta
  • Moon Valley Pilea involucrata
  • Starfish plant Cypthathus bivittatus
  • Nerve plant Fittonia verschaffeltii var. argyoneura
  • Assorted succulents
  • Assorted cacti

Once you’ve picked out the perfect plants, it’s time to get started. Follow our step-by-step guidelines below and you’ll be on your way to creating your own decorative garden in no time at all.

How to Make a Terrarium Step-by-Step

Project Time: 30 mins

Step 1: Cover the bottom of your terrarium with a 1 ½ inch-thick layer of small stones or pebbles.

The bottom layer of small pebbles will act as drainage for your terrarium.

Step 2: Add a very thin layer of activated charcoal.

The activated charcoal will keep water fresh and fight off any bacterial growth in your terrarium.

Step 3: Add a layer of potting soil.

As we mentioned, any potting soil mix will do, although if you’re planting succulents or cacti there are specialized mixes you can use. You’ll want to add enough potting soil so that it’s deep enough for your plants to root into it. We recommend a layer that’s about 2 ½ inches. For this particular terrarium, we used 2 inches of potting soil.

Step 4: Now it’s time to add your plants.

  • Start by planting your largest plant first. Remove the plant from its container and prune the roots as you would when repotting any plant.
  • Then, make a hole in the soil large enough to fit the plants’ roots.
  • Next, nestle the plant into the soil. It’s easiest to work your way from the back to the front of your terrarium. There’s no rhyme or reason to the design of your terrarium, play around with the arrangement and don’t forget to have fun!

Pro Tip: Use gloves when handling cactus or any other prickly plant.

Step 5: After all of your plants are arranged in your glass vessel, complete the look with a layer of pebbles.

You can also opt to add some personality to your terrarium with miniature gnomes or trinkets.

Once your terrarium is complete, you’ll need to take proper care of it. Sunlight and water are two essential items for the success of your terrarium.

  • Be sure to lightly water the base every two weeks or once the soil looks like it has dried out.
  • You should also display your terrarium in an area that receives a lot of bright, indirect sunlight.

Terrariums look great displayed among a variety of houseplants or on their own. If you don’t feel like gathering the supplies to create your own, you can use our charming terrarium kit to help you create a whimsical scene.

If only the rest of life were as simple as growing succulents in an open terrarium. All you have to do is find a few like-minded plants, introduce them to each other, and place them in an environment they like. Then leave them alone to get to know each other. That’s pretty much all there is to creating an open terrarium. Here are step-by-step, no-fail instructions:

Photographs by John Merkl.

Need to know: There are two kinds of terrariums, open vessels (for succulents and cacti) and closed containers for humidity-loving plants. An open terrarium will dry out quickly; it’s suitable for growing plants that love sun and don’t require a moist environment.

Keep it simple: The only materials you need in addition to a container are pebbles, charcoal, soil, small succulents, and herb snips to trim them.

Step 1: Spread a 1- to 2-inch base of pebbles at the bottom of the container. This will aid drainage in the event that you water the terrarium (which, by the way you should not do except once a month–and then, with teaspoonfuls of water).

Step 2: Sprinkle a 1-inch layer of charcoal on top of the pebbles to filter the soil.

Step 3: Add a 2-inch layer of cactus potting soil (it’s specially formulated for succulents and other plants that like a dry environment).

Step 4: Before planting them, arrange the succulents in the container with plenty of room to grow. Don’t overcrowd them. Trim with herb snips, if necessary, to give them room to breathe.

Step 5: Hollow out a spot in the potting soil for the plants. Firmly pat soil to cover their roots. Give each plant a teaspoonful of water but don’t overwater.

Above: If your terrarium is going to house ferns or other humidity-loving plants (instead of succulents), see Gardening 101: How to Plant a Closed Terrarium.

See 15 more Gardening 101 posts, including How to Water an Air Plant and How to Draw a Garden Plan.

Everything You Need to Know About Making a DIY Terrarium

You don’t need lots of space or even a seasoned green thumb to have a totally insta-worthy greenspace. You just have to think small. A DIY terrarium lets you create an entire garden — a whole mini ecosystem, even — within the walls of a glass container. Plus, it’s super easy to make and care for. Win!

How to make a terrarium

What you’ll need:

  • Glass container
  • Pebbles or stones
  • Activated charcoal
  • Potting soil
  • Plants
  • Spray bottle

Step 1: Pick your terrarium type

There are two main types of terrariums: open and closed. The difference being, somewhat obviously, whether the container has a lid or not. Open terrariums are better for dry-weather plants like cacti and succulents, and will need to be misted with water a few times a week. A closed terrarium has a lid that will allow moisture to build up inside, creating its own tiny and self-sufficient ecosystem. It works best for humidity-loving plants.

Step 2: Decide on a container

Only rule is that it’s glass. After that, get creative! You can make teeny-tiny plant habitats in salt and pepper shakers or lightbulbs. Or upcycle an old glass pitcher, lantern, or teapot. Of course, you can also play it straight and pick up a glass jar or bowl to use. (Make sure whatever you go with has a lid if you want a closed version.)

Step 3: Layer your soil

Get to work with the dirt: Cover the bottom inch or two of your container with a layer of pebbles or stones, which will provide a drainage and keep your plant’s roots from rotting. Next, put a thin layer of activated charcoal (get it at a garden center) on top of the stones to ward off bacteria and mold. Lastly, add an inch or two of potting soil. (Different types of plants require different soils. If you’re planting desert types like cacti or succulents, get soil that’s specifically labeled for them.) Your container should now be about a quarter full. If the level is off, adjust the amount of potting soil to correct it.

Step 4: Choose and add your plants

Your plants are about to live in some seriously close quarters, so make sure the ones you go with have the same light and moisture needs. For a closed terrarium, pick plants that can tolerate low to moderate light and need humid conditions. A few good options: ferns, ivy, thyme, creeping fig, moss, and baby’s tears. Open terrariums, on the other hand, need heat-loving sprouts like succulents, aloe, cacti, sedum, and air plants. Once you’ve gotten your greens, plant them in the terrarium starting with the largest ones first and then adding the smaller ones around them.

Step 5: Jazz it up

It’s also fun to add decorative items like shells, stones, or little figurines to your terrarium.

Step 6: Care for it — carefully!

Repeat after us: Resist the urge to overwater! All you need to do here is lightly mist your plants with a spray bottle. Do this every week for an open terrarium. For a closed one, you actually only need to water it a few times and then it should maintain its own water after that. (Some terrariums have gone decades without being watered. Whoa!) Keep the terrarium near a window where it gets indirect sunlight. Prune the plants frequently to cut off dead pieces and cut back on plants growing too vigorously. Within a few weeks your new terrarium should be thriving!

Terrarium Building Guide: How To Set Up A Terrarium

There’s something magical about a terrarium, a miniature landscape tucked into a glass container. Building a terrarium is easy, inexpensive and allows plenty of opportunities for creativity and self-expression for gardeners of all ages.

Terrarium Supplies

Nearly any clear glass container is suitable and you might find the perfect container at your local thrift shop. For example, look for a goldfish bowl, a one-gallon jar or an old aquarium. A one-quart canning jar or brandy snifter is large enough for a small landscape with one or two plants.

You don’t need a lot of potting soil, but it should be lightweight and porous. A good-quality, peat-based commercial potting mix works well. Even better, add a small handful of sand to improve drainage.

You’ll also need enough gravel or pebbles to make a layer in the bottom of the container,

along with a small amount of activated charcoal to keep the terrarium fresh.

Terrarium Building Guide

Learning how to set up a terrarium is simple. Begin by arranging 1 to 2 inches of gravel or pebbles in the bottom of the container, which provides a place for excess water to drain. Remember that terrariums don’t have drainage holes and soggy soil is likely to kill your plants.

Top the gravel with a thin layer of activated charcoal to keep the terrarium air fresh and sweet-smelling.

Add a few inches of potting soil, enough to accommodate the root balls of the small plants. You may want to vary the depth to create interest. For example, it works well to mound the potting mix at the back of the container, especially if the miniature landscape will be viewed from the front.

At this point, your terrarium is ready to plant. Arrange the terrarium with tall plants in the back and shorter plants at the front. Look for slow-growing plants in a variety of sizes and textures. Include one plant that adds a splash of color. Be sure to allow space for air circulation between plants.

Terrarium Ideas

Don’t be afraid to experiment and have fun with your terrarium. For instance, arrange interesting rocks, bark or seashells amidst the plants, or create a miniature world with small animals or figurines.

A layer of moss pressed on the soil between the plants creates a velvety ground cover for the terrarium.

Terrarium environments are a great way to enjoy plants year round.

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