9 steps to make a terrarium

So you’re keen to try out this terrarium trend but don’t know where to start?

Why not begin your journey to the baby-plant aisle of your local garden centre.

Create your own mini-garden using succulents. Picture: Erinna Giblin

Terrariums are like mini-ecosystems, succulents emulate a desert landscape while indoor plants can look like tiny rainforests.

Better yet, they’re easy to create, seriously low maintenance and offer great architectural aesthetics for the modern home.

What you’ll need

Get your materials ready. Picture: Erinna Giblin

  1. A glass vessel with a wide opening if you are choosing succulents, it can be narrower if not.
  2. Activated charcoal
  3. Soil (either for succulents or for indoor plants)
  4. A chopstick
  5. Tweezers
  6. Fine mist spray bottle
  7. Decorative stones, sand or figurines
  8. Various baby plants

Note: You can buy ready-made soil from a gardening centre that’s perfect for succulents or indoor plants. Activated charcoal is found at pet shops and specialist nurseries.

Top tip: Check out your local charity shop or $2 shop for suitable containers at bargain prices.

Selecting the right plants

  • Find plants that will fit the dimensions of your container;
  • Choose plants that will be good neighbors. Succulents and cacti are perfect together, while indoor plant varieties prefer more water and shade;
  • Avoid plants where growth is thin and pale colored.

You can easily grow cuttings from established plants.

Top tip: Succulents are excellent for beginners because you can grow cuttings from established plants. Just be sure to ask permission before you go raiding your neighbor’s garden.

Let’s get started

Step 1

Start by adding pebbles and sand. Picture: Erinna Giblin

Create the first layer by pouring sand and decorative pebbles into your container.

Good drainage is essential for success. Fill no more than one third high.

Step 2

Add in some charcoal. Picture: Erinna Giblin

Create a thin layer of charcoal over the top of the first layer (0.5-1cm).

Step 3

Be generous when adding soil. Picture: Erinna Giblin

Begin to add the soil into your container. Be more generous with this layer than the first, as your plant needs sufficient soil matter to grow – some plants will actually grow extensive root systems.

Pat it down with your fingers.

Step 4

Using your chopstick or a finger, create indentations in the soil for where you want your plants to go (a long thin tool like a chopstick allows for more control when planting).

Step 5

Carefully remove the plant from the plastic pot. Picture: Erinna Giblin

Remove the plants from their pots and gently loosen their root systems.

Step 6

Pop your plants in.

Place your plant in its new home. Picture: Erinna Giblin

If your plants and container are quite small, the tweezers will help you position all the elements.

Use the fat end of your chopstick to tamp down the soil around the base of your plants.

Use tweezers to help position all the elements.

Be sure to keep the plant away from the sides of your terrarium because they’re liable to burn on a hot day.

Step 7

Miniature figurines look great in terrariums. Picture: Erinna Giblin

Sprinkle a final layer of decorative pebbles or sand, and add some cool figurines for a bit of atmosphere.

Step 8

Succulents will do better in a well-lit area. Picture: Erinna Giblin

Find a well-lit, sheltered location inside your home.

Step 9

Be gone, dirty glass – simply shoot water on the inside walls to wash off residual soil.

A happy healthy terrarium will give you years of joy. Picture: Erinna Giblin

A happy plant is a healthy plant

Now you’re done, here’s how treat your terrarium with care so you can enjoy it for years to come…

  • Succulents thrive in bright light, low moisture conditions so find a place where they can enjoy lots of indirect light – if light is too low, your plants will stretch or become thin and elongated;
  • They need decent air circulation, so avoid vessels with small apertures (I’m looking at to you fish bowls);
  • Indoor plants will do better in spots that are less bright so they don’t dry out too quickly;
  • These varieties will also do better in containers with smaller apertures, you can even put a lid on them so they’re self-sustaining.
  • Your succulents will thrive in bright light, low moisture conditions.
  • Succulents are sensitive to temperature change – many will actually bloom given a cool, dry period;
  • During the growing phase (spring/summer), water only when the soil becomes dry;
  • During the dormant period (autumn/winter), water sparingly;
  • Use a light, gentle formula once a month to fertilize;
  • Check the soil moisture level with your finger regularly;
  • Never use chemical glass cleaner on the inside of the terrarium – this could make your plant sick.

Common terrarium mistakes

Combining succulents with non-desert dwelling plants – standard indoor plants have different nutrient, sun, and water requirements to succulents. I’ve seen many fancy new terrariums, landscaped to look like mini-rainforests that also feature succulents for decoration. Within weeks the plants are dead and the owner is left wondering what they did wrong. Too little sunlight and too much water/humidity are the likely culprits.

Over watering – some plants HATE wet feet. If the roots rot it can kill the entire plant. So let the soil dry out between watering and gently mist around once a week.

Under watering – while succulents can tolerate long periods without water, they do enjoy an infrequent shower. If you notice leaf shrinkage, mist 2-3 times a week. Indoor plants will react badly if they don’t get a drink at least once a week.

Keep an eye on the leaves if you plant succulents. Picture: Erinna Giblin

Growing succulents in closed terrariums – the environment is far too humid. Keep these containers for indoor varieties.

Sunburn/Heatburn – remember, the glass in a terrarium will radiate and amplify the sun’s rays onto your little plants. Sure, plants need light but you’d be surprised how badly a cacti reacts to being cooked. Don’t put them near a heater either. Ensure they get both light and shade in moderate quantities.

With special thanks to Small Worlds.

Originally published as 9 steps to make a terrarium by Caroline Bruckner. Author at realestate.com.au