Terrariums are ever green (pun intended).
Plants literally bring life and oxygen to any home. Finding more ways to integrate them into your interior design is always going to be a win and a terrarium is the perfect way to bring a little bit of garden into any room.
But they can be daunting! Expensive to buy ready-made, fiddly and small if you’re doing it yourself.
And let’s face it: having a living thing in your home is just the first step to having a dead thing in your home.
So we’re here to relieve your terrarium trepidation. When done correctly, terrariums are simple to make and – with good plant selection and the occasional light squirt of water – they’ll take care of themselves!
Keys to a Happy Terrarium
Before we get started, it’s all about the preparation:
Choose Your Plants Wisely
Best for these little worlds are any plant with a “light” root structure and efficient water usage, which makes two types ideal: succulents and mosses.
Visually, moss works well in a rockier display, showing up verdant and green against darker stones and able to get most of the moisture they need from the air.
We’ve gone with all succulents for this display, in part because of the white “sand” top layer we wanted to use, but also: there are so many succulents to choose from!
The range is really amazing, with some new and incredible looking specie catching our eye every time we visit a plant stall. What more fun way to showcase a selection of them than a terrarium?!
Choose Your Terrarium
There are some fantastic options for what your terrarium might actually be, from the traditional to the really unique. We’ve opted for a purpose designed model from West Elm for this exercise, because we weren’t able to go past its wonderful geometries. On trend, as always, West Elm has a fantastic range of terrarium options, from geometric, to organic to cloche and lantern, but you explore wider options as well: from unique and interesting bottles to the whole worlds that some people have constructed within repurposed aquaria.
If you do opt for an enclosed terrarium, do just keep in mind that you’ll need to refresh the air every once in a while, so be sure to keep the door readily openable.
Get Your Materials
OK – now we’re into the important bit.
Foremost in your mind when contemplating your terrarium design is that a key feature is that it will give you a cross-section of a little world. We want to see every part, but we also want what we see to be beautifully presented.
A bunch of moist, compacted soil smushed up against the glass may not be the look you’re after…
Assuming it’s not, then we’re going to go with the 4 layered approach, which we’ll get to in a second. For this, you’re going to need:
- Nutrient-rich potting mix
- Stones/pebbles – aquarium rocks are always a good option, so check your local pet/fish stores if you have any, otherwise: Amazon! Our personal preference is to go with a contrasting top and bottom layer, so keep your final look in mind, because these are the guys you’re going to be seeing through the glass. Remember that these are going to play a big part in the final look of your terrarium, so find just the right ones to make your design sing.
- Activated carbon (why? Keep reading!)
Once you’ve got all of this together..
You’re Ready! Let’s Terrarium!
Step 1: Prep Your Terrarium
Obvious this may be, but once your plants are in there, you’ll likely struggle to clean the inside glass of your terrarium ever again, so give it a good once over now.
Use sugar water if necessary, but avoid window cleaners or any other soap products. Sure, they may even say they’re all organic etc etc, but we’re not going to be eating off the glass, whereas your plants just might! Let’s keep the surfaces clean, but friendly.
Step 2: Pump Up the Base
This is it! We’re really doing it!
Layer in the stones or pebbles you’re using for your base. You’ll want a good 1-2 inches of this visible from the outside, but keep it higher around the outside edges with a concavity towards the middle: we’re going to be using this layer to conceal the next two layers.
Step 3: Carbon! Activate!
This is actually really important and not completely obvious if you’ve been gung-ho about the whole terrarium-making project.
The carbon serves two important purposes for the health of your plants: it will draw out impurities from the water whenever you water the plants, but it’s also going to help to prevent root rot.
Root rot is a risk in any undrained plant container, so give your plants an extra chance at happiness by including this. (And don’t think that means you can then just over-water them with impunity! The carbon isn’t going to magically soak up an infinite amount of excess water, but it is that extra little help that might make all the difference.)
Activated carbon pellets are quite easy to come by (again, through your friendly neighbourhood aquarium salesperson/Amazon), so a layer just one pellet-width deep should be plenty. Don’t worry about packing them in densely.
Step 4: Soil Yourself!
Right: get your potting mix in there. Depending on the size of the plants you’ll be planting and the extent of their root systems, a half-inch layer of soil will likely be plenty.
Double-check that you can’t see any soil or carbon from the sides.
Step 5: Get Planting
If you’ve chosen prickly succulents (i.e. many species of cacti), then this is the part you’ve been dreading.
There is no trick to not getting pricked. It will happen, so suck it up. The pain will be brief, but hopefully, you’ll be enjoying your gorgeous terrarium for years to come – long after you’ve forgotten just how painful it was to make it.
But seriously, using light-fingers, most spiney cacti at this size shouldn’t cause you too much anguish. If you have a particularly prickly customer you might want to try wadding up some tissues to insulate it and you. But be gentle and remember:
The cactus is more afraid of you than you are of it.
Once your plants are in and standing upright on their own, be sure to dribble in some water over the soil to help the roots bed down.
Step 6: Put Your Top On!
You’re almost there!
Whether you’ve elected to go with a contrasting top layer or more of your same base layer, this will be more stones/pebbles to cover the hard-working-but-not-necessarily-pretty soil.
This should be another half-inch or less in depth and a nice even covering.
And you’re done! How easy was that?!
Assuming you haven’t been gored by a feral cactus, or at the very least, have staunched the bleeding, you can now sit back, pour yourself a well-earned G&T and enjoy your new terrarium.
Got a question or suggestion? Let us know in the comments below.