Making a Terrarium

You and your child will have fun building a terrarium, with help from this step-by-step guide.

In This Article:

Types of terrariums

Handiwords

A terrarium is a glass case with earth in it, where plants and flowers can grow.

Creating a terrarium – a glass case with earth in it, where plants and flowers can grow – is a super activity to begin during the long winter months, when a bit of greenery perks up anyone's spirits.

Ideas for containers:

Wine jugs Large mayonnaise or pickle jars
Fish bowls Apothecary jars
Clear cookie jars Candy jars
Plastic cake domes Glass canisters
Large plastic salad bowls Distilled-water jugs

If you plan a terrarium with a large-mouthed container or dome, smaller children can easily help. Narrow-necked bottles provide sufficient challenge for older children and adults. Most planters you can plant by hand, but those with smaller openings will require special tools. They take a little practice, but once you learn how to use them they become second nature.

Look for miniature plants in nurseries and grocery-store plant departments. Pick plants that are compatible and that do well in the same environment.

You also need to consider temperature and moisture requirements. Some plants need a closed container with high humidity, some need a partially open one, and some an uncovered one. Generally, the narrower the neck of the container, the less likely the need for a cover.

Location of the terrarium will play a part, too. If it will be in a sunny place, succulents may work best. A succulent is a water retaining plant that does well in arid conditions (e.g., jade plant, Christmas cactus, sedum). If the terrarium will have a lot of shade and moisture, in a bathroom for instance, then ferns and mosses will most likely be a good choice.

It's easy to misjudge size, so take your container along when you go shopping for plants, if possible, to be sure they'll fit. Think about color and texture, too. Work toward creating some dramatic contrasts.

Bet You Didn't Know

The first terrarium came about in 1829. It was invented by Dr. Nathanial Ward, an Englishman, who wanted to watch the adult sphinx moth emerge from its chrysalis. He took the soil where the chrysalis was resting and put it in a glass jar with a metal lid. He discoverd plants grew well in this environment. (No one knows if he ever saw the sphinx moth, though.)

Here are some plants you may want to use:

Small plants:

  • Ferns in the Pteris family
  • Grape ivy
  • Boxwood shoots

Medium plants:

  • Chinese evergreen
  • Peperomia
  • Fittonias
  • Small-leafed ivy
  • Pileas

Ground covers:

  • Baby's tears
  • Mosses
  • Crinkle leaf peperomia
  • Wandering Jew
  • Selaginellas
  • Strawberry begonia

Flowering plants:

  • African violets
  • Miniature orchids
  • Miniature roses
  • Gloxinia
  • Miniature geraniums
  • Pilea
  • Begonias
  • Wintergreen

Desert plants (for a desertarium):

  • Old man cactus
  • Opuntia
  • Bishop's cap
  • Aloes
  • Bunny ear cactus
  • Kalanchoes
  • Tiger jaw cactus
  • Crassulas
  • Sand dollar cactus
  • Echeverias
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