Terrarium: The Ultimate Guide to the Indoor Glass Garden

Terrarium: The Ultimate Guide to the Indoor Glass Garden

Have you ever bought a beautiful (expensive) indoor plant at a farmers market, nursery, or home improvement store?   Intentions are so good.  The plan is to water daily as recommended, keep in sunlight for exactly 65% of the day, and prune the dead leaves when needed. Then, after a couple of weeks of not so careful care for the plant....it has withered beyond recovery.  This is such a common story for houseplants.  Great intentions met with the resistance of a busy life and other priorities.   Don't give up yet, we have the solution.  There is a way to get great greenery and plant life to work long term with very little care and it's super easy!  The small and adorable Terrarium.   

What is a Terrarium and Why is it Unique?

With the exception of the terrarium, all other planters only show the top of a plant (ie: from the top of the soil up).   Terrariums are a little bit different.  They are available as both open or closed glass containers.  the glass container allows you to see each key layer of the plant from the drainage to the soil & roots to the plant life on top.  This provides a depth of colors and helps one appreciate the plant and all aspects of its growth and environment.   Terrariums are also not limited to just soil and plants.  Terrariums can hold air plants, cacti, succulents, and one of our favorites; water plants.

What is the Complete List of Items Needed for a Terrarium?

This part is pretty simple.  Fortunately, growing these amazing little indoor gardens and planters requires very little money and supplies.  Depend on what style terrarium you choose, this is a pretty good list to get you started;

  1. Terrarium container - This can be as simple as a glass jar or wide vase if you are just starting out.  More preferable would be either an open or closed glass terrarium more specifically designed for planting and growing.  
  2. Drainage - A small base layer of  Decorative rocks, peoples, or charcoal are all acceptable.  For a splash of color, use rocks and pebbles sold at pet stores for fish tanks.  If using water plants, this layer is not required.  
  3. Soil - A nice nutrient dense potting soil.  Normally terrariums are not very large so a relatively thin layer should be enough.  Again, if using water plants, this layer is not necessary.
  4. Plant - There are hundreds of options here.  Air plants, mosses, cacti, succulents, etc.  The list is long.  In the next section, we will highlight the best options for open, closed, and water terrariums.  
  5. Light & Water - These two should be pretty simple and pretty much free.  One of the great things about plants as decor is the natural changes and beauty that can happen with light and water. 

So, What Types of Plants Are Best for Each Terrarium and How do I Care for them?


Closed Terrarium - Closed terrarium plants require very little care.  The heat and humidity provided give a greenhouse-like effect.  These plants require the occasional 1/2 of an ounce to 1 ounce of water when the soil is dry (normally every 2-4 weeks).  About once per month its a good idea to clean the inside and outside of the terrarium cover to keep it clean and maximize the greenhouse properties and benefits.  You can also trim the plants at that point if they become too tall or have parts that die off.  A few of our favorite plants are the following: 


Mosses - Mosses are great because they provide excellent ground cover and require little light.  They flourish in the warm humid environment of a closed terrarium.

Terrarium Moss

Ferns - Ferns are great for a closed environment and they are available in a wide range of sizes and colors.  Add a variegated fern for unique color and pattern.

Baby Tears - Great low creeping plant.  Dwarf Baby Tears are great for smaller terrariums.  The grow a maximum of 6" in height.  Baby tears are an incredibly brilliant green plant that looks great with any other plants.


African Violets - Add a splash of color with these attractive plants.  African violets have a huge variety of leaf shapes and colors.  This plant does not grow very tall and will work quite well in smaller terrariums. 


Open Terrarium - Open terrariums are by far the most possible.  The offer easier access for plant maintenance.  This type of terrarium requires slightly more care as the moisture escapes through the opening.  The open terrarium is a slightly better option if you want plants that require a little more light.   It is recommended that the soil has a good base layer for adequate drainage. Like closed terrariums, most of the plants will require a small amount of water. Think of this like a "desert terrarium".  Some very desert like plants can go 3-6 weeks without water.  The following plants are great for open terrariums:


Succulents - These incredibly popular plants can be found everywhere. An enormous variety of colors, sizes, and shapes are available at almost everywhere plants can be bought.  Succulents leaves have a beautiful blooming look to them and are excellent as centerpieces to your terrarium. 


Cacti - It doesn't get more desert-like than this.  Cacti require very little water.  Because of this, it is not recommended to plant cacti with plants that do need constant moisture.  Technically, cacti are considered succulents however they have a completely different look and style.  There are thousands of different types of cacti to pick from so it will be easy to find one that looks perfect.  

Starfish Plant - This might be the coolest looking (and acting) plant ever.  This succulent changes color depending on how much light it gets.   Attractive shoots grow at about 5"-6" in overall height.  

Air Plants - Air Plants are great because they require no soil to grow.  They grab on to anything and use nutrients picked up from the (you guessed it) air.  They can be placed alone on some pebbles, sand or anywhere there is fresh air and something for the roots to grab onto. These adorable little plants do like quite a bit of light to keep them in an area where there is lots of sunlight.  Like succulents and cacti, there are plenty of cool styles and types to pick from.  


Water Terrarium -  Think about this as something comparable to a little fish tank.  Most water plants will require some substrate material in the bottom like gravel, clay or soil.  This base layer should be high in natural organic matter.  Some plants get planted directly in this medium. This helps the plant pull nutrients from the water.  Not much light is needed as aquatic plants grow mostly underwater.  Use very clean clear water to avoid sediment build up that can result from dirty or hard water.  A few ideas of plants you can use:


Water Lettuce - Like the name, this plant is reminiscent of a lettuce plant.  It prefers warmer water and floats.  Its roots hang down below the surface to grab nutrients.  

Dwarf Arrowhead - This is an excellent plant because it cleans and oxygenates the water.  It looks very much like a shiny grass and roots directly in soil or clay at the bottom of a terrarium.  

Water Hyacinth - Water hyacinths are flowering plants that float on the surface of your terrarium.  They are best kept where there is slightly more light, flourishing the most with 6 hours of light per day. 




Terrariums are an incredible option to bring some life to your indoor space.  They are incredibly simple, very inexpensive, and suitable for small and large spaces.  Indoor plants provide cleaner air and a great sense of joy and satisfaction to your living space.  We hope this guide helps start you in the right direction to a perfect terrarium. 


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