Let’s face it, not everyone has green fingers. Many of us are hesitant to take on the responsibility of caring for a little green friend due to concerns about time and money, despite the well-documented benefits of having plants in our everyday lives. Terrariums provide the perfect alternative to pot plants: they are self-contained, self-sustaining ecosystems, which require little-to-no maintenance and will create a lush jungle feel in that forgotten corner of your room. They are easy to make, and come in a variety of forms (open vs. lidded), types (desert vs. jungle), and sizes (jam jars to fish bowls). You can make them as expensively or cheaply as you’d like to, depending on the materials you choose. Here are five easy steps to explain the basic principles – just add a bit of creativity and the (miniature) world is your oyster!
Step 1: Gather your materials
You will need a glass container, something large enough to fit a few plants as well as some soil. For an affordable option, have a look in your local Vinnies or Salvos. You’ll also need some gravel, sphagnum moss (can be replaced with activated charcoal or wet newspaper), some potting mix, some small rocks or pebbles, and plants. Select two or three plants of varying heights and colours to create interest, and ensure they all have similar water requirements (don’t put a cactus in with something that likes it wet!) Here we used a Syngonium (about $7 from a local garden centre) and two varieties of moss (foraged for free from the garden).
Step 2: Build from the ground up
Add your first couple of layers: on the bottom scatter about an inch of gravel, and then add your sphagnum, charcoal, or newspaper. The second layer will collect excess water and save the soil from getting too wet. Top it off with a thin layer of potting mix.
Step 3: Start building your landscape
Choose your largest plant and shake off as much soil as possible from its roots. Place it towards the back of the terrarium, spreading the roots and ensuring it is low enough that it won’t stick out of the top of the container. Add some more soil around the plant, mounding it to create your miniature landscape. The soil should be deeper around your large plant and shallow at the front of the container.
Step 4: Fill with green
Place in the greenery (such as moss) and rocks – chopsticks may make this easier! Again, aim to have low-growing plants at the front and taller plants towards the back.
Step 5: Final touches
Add in extra decorations – terrariums can tell a story with the right elements.
Water in your plants, being careful to not over-saturate the soil: depending on the size of the container you may only need a third of a cup or so. Try to pour the water down the side of the glass to clean off any grime from the building process. Check back after a few hours and if the soil still looks dry add a bit more water. If your container has a lid (this is recommended for easy upkeep), your little ecosystem will soon start its own water cycle, so you may get some condensation forming on the inside of the glass.
You terrarium will do best in a warm, well-lit spot out of direct sunlight. You may get some algae growth (green grime) in the soil or on the inside of the glass, but this is normal in small amounts.
Monitor for mould; if any should develop, remove the affected leaves and place the terrarium in a sunny position with the lid open for a few days. Some terrariums can go decades without having to be opened, but if any plants get too large go ahead and cut off excess growth.
There’s an amazing sense of satisfaction that comes from watching your plants grow, so give this a go and enjoy your new mini-ecosystem!