Keeping a low-maintenance terrarium is a great way to add some life to your space, especially if you lack the free time or green thumb to care for a bounty of houseplants.
Terrariums are like aquariums for plants, and you can make them out of just about any type of transparent container. You can splurge on a large glass case complete with a pedestal and lid, or swing by the nearest pet shop and snag a goldfish bowl for a fraction of the price — it’s really up to you. I’ve even seen a terrarium fashioned from a glass coffeepot!
Terrariums make it possible for greenery to thrive in places that aren’t exactly conducive to growth, and they pretty much take care of themselves. (You just have to provide occasional watering, and even more occasional pruning.)
In fact, the first terrarium was actually created by accident. In 1842, botanist Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward forgot to close a jar he was using to observe insect behavior. Inside, a fern spore grew, germinated into a plant, and the rest was history.
Creating a terrarium of your own can be a great way to experiment with new plant varieties. An open terrarium — one that’s not fully encased in glass — provides ample air circulation and low levels of humidity. It’s perfect for assorted succulents and cacti, which thrive in dry, sunny spots.
An enclosed terrarium — one with a removable lid or bottleneck top — provides ample humidity and creates its own tiny ecosystem. It is better suited for plants that are compact and thrive in high humidity, like miniature ferns.
Keep in mind that plants aren’t the only things that can go inside these creative displays. You can also throw in some decorative rocks or miniature figurines — the possibilities really are endless. And the best part? You can find all these components at your local craft store, farmers market, or plant nursery.
Not only are terrariums easy and fun to make, they also provide many of the same physical and mental benefits as traditional plants. The activity of creating a display can decrease your stress and anxiety levels and boost your mood and creativity, while caring for your terrarium can give you a sense of responsibility and strengthen your connection with other living things. And the plants themselves convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and can filter toxins from indoor air.
Convinced? Here’s a list of pro tips from The Sill to help you create and care for a terrarium of your own:
1. Pick your plants. Look for slow-growing varieties that require less trimming and are less likely to outgrow the container quickly.
2. If you’re mixing plant varieties, choose ones that require similar amounts of sunlight and water.
3. Before adding potting soil to your terrarium, spread a half-inch layer of gravel at the bottom of your planter to create drainage. We’d recommend using lava rocks, followed by a thin layer of charcoal, but a mix of gravel, rocks, and sand works too. You can use any natural material that creates crevices for excess water to trickle down into.
4. When you add your potting soil, lightly press down to remove any air pockets.
5. Make sure not to overcrowd the space once you start arranging your plants — you want to leave room for new growth.
6. Once the plants are securely potted, use a paintbrush to remove any excess soil from the sides of the container or the leaves of your plants.
7. Make sure to place your terrarium in a spot that receives indirect light (unless it’s a cacti terrarium). A couple of hours of full sun can fry the contents inside.
8. When watering, try your best to add water directly to the base of the plants. Don’t pour water directly on top of them. An enclosed terrarium can be watered about once every two to three weeks (or even less). You can keep humidity levels high by misting weekly. An open terrarium can also be watered once about every two to three weeks. It is much easier to add water than subtract it, so make sure not to overwater your terrarium!
9. Let an enclosed terrarium breathe every week or two by taking off the lid or keeping it off for a few days.
10. If you see any dead or dying foliage inside, remove it immediately.
11. Rotate your terrarium so plants grow upward and receive equal amounts of sunlight.