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Make a Terrarium

Yankee Plus Dec 2015


by in Feb 2011
Make a Terrarium
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Terrariums are easy to put together when you follow these simple instructions.
Photo/Art by Snug Harbor Farm
Terrariums are easy to put together when you follow these simple instructions.

Bring the wonder of nature into your home by creating a terrarium. These miniature, self contained eco-systems not only make beautiful focal points, they also act as a reminder of our connection to the outdoors—even when harsh New England winters force us to take refuge inside.

Terrariums have evolved from the ten-gallon aquariums that were once housed in school science labs. They’ve gone main-stream and and can be found in homes, offices, and businesses. Modern terrariums are one of the latest trends in home décor and plant and flower decorating options.

Greenhouses, florists, garden stores, and flower shows are sure to have a variety of pre-made terrarium options available as spring approaches. Some nurseries, such as Snug Harbor Farm in Kennebunk, create unique terrariums for their customers to purchase and will periodically offer public workshops on making them.

If you’re unable to find or attend a workshop near you, you can easily make a terrarium at home. They’re enjoyable to create, require very little maintenance once established, and can thrive for many years.

The supplies needed to build a terrarium can be found at most garden stores—from the proper plants to the soil and pebbles as well as glass containers and domes of all sizes. Accent pieces such as tiny, handmade red and white faux mushrooms are also available to add a bit of color and whimsy to your encapsulated arrangement.

Three Terrariums

Photo/Art by Shelley Wigglesworth

Directions to Make a Terrarium:


  1. Small rocks or pebbles for drainage and texture.
    NOTE: Do not use beach stones—the salt from the ocean will kill the plants.
  2. Small piece of charcoal (the type found in the pet supply department for aquarium filters.)
  3. Potting soil.
  4. Miniature house plants and mosses. Ivy, ferns, coleus, and cyclamen are great choices.
  5. A glass container with or without a lid. Recycled vases and food jars work well.
  6. Spray mist bottle.
  7. Tiny decorations such as moisture-proof, artificial butterflies, lady bugs, turtles, toad stools, and garden gnomes.


  1. Line the bottom of a glass jar with pebbles—one inch is usually adequate.
  2. Place a small piece of charcoal in the middle of the pebbles. The charcoal helps to keep the soil fresh.
  3. Add a few inches of potting soil to the layer of pebbles and charcoal.
  4. Gently place three or four small plants into the container. Make sure the plants are nestled together but not crowded or root bound. Sprinkle more soil to cover roots.
    NOTE: Most rooted houseplant cuttings work well; however succulents and cacti are NOT suited for terrariums.
  5. Arrange live moss around the plants. The moss adds visual appeal as well as lending support and anchorage for the plants.
  6. Add decorative pieces.
  7. Mist the terrarium and cover.
  8. Place you terrarium in an area with moderate light, making sure that the terrarium is not exposed to direct sunlight.


Photo/Art by Shelley Wigglesworth

Terrarium Maintenance:

Open the lid of the terrarium and feel the soil every week or two. If the dirt is moist to the touch and condensation is built up in the terrarium, it’s fine. You will begin to notice rhizoid growth (mosses reproduce by rhizoids instead of seeds. The rhizoids resemble tiny reddish sprouts) from the moss and new growth on the plants. If the soil feel dry, mist until dew drops appear on the leaves of the plants and on the insides of the glass. Variations of moss may begin to grow on the inside of the glass, mimicking the rain forest eco-system. This tends to give the vessel an aged and timeless appeal. When this happens, you know your terrarium is thriving.


The plant soil should NEVER be wet or muddy or emit an unpleasant odor. If this happens you have over watered your terrarium. You may remedy this by re-potting the container with fresh soil. The scent of your terrarium should be consistent to the smell of a mossy forest; after all, that’s exactly what it is!

Shelley Fleming-Wigglesworth is a certified Maine Master Gardener and award winning newspaper columnist from Kennebunk, Maine. She has been writing for the York County Coast Star for more than a decade as a freelance columnist and features writer. In 2010 she began writing her own gardening column “The Master Gardener’s Notebook” for Tourist News. She also teaches gardening classes at local schools and colleges.

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