Tips to Make a Healthy Terrarium

Posted by on Oct 24, 2022

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Pexels / Bianca Jelezniac


Creating a delicate green ecosystem inside of a glass container can be easy, but you need to understand how to cultivate it. Almost any jar or fishbowl can be turned into a terrarium, as long as it has a lid of some kind. But choices regarding plants, soil, watering and light all need to be carefully considered.

To create the ideal terrarium for your space, you may want to consider a variety of unique design terrariums with low light requirements. Some terrarium foliage requires a lot of light to be happy, but too much light can also attract bugs. Keep these things in mind before you start your terrarium build.

Soil and Drainage
Line the bottom of the jar with drainage material such as a little over an inch of gravel. Add a layer of substrate design specifically for a terrarium. Consider shaping the soil into a gradient with one side being higher than the other. Terrarium substrate needs to be a little different than standard soil for several reasons. The bottom of a terrarium needs to retain enough water to keep the plants moist, but not drown the roots. 

The substrate’s composition should already have a good amount of nutrients naturally included to support the health of the foliage. Most standard soil will compact after several waterings. The substrate in a terrarium should ideally have elements such as perlite or pumice to maintain aeration.


While many types of plants can thrive in a terrarium, you should first opt for ones that you want to look at every day. If you just grab ones that will survive, you may not care for them as closely as ones you truly love.

You also need to make sure the plants and container match well with each other. You don’t want plants that are too large for the container or you may need to do a lot of regular pruning. If that’s not your thing, you may want to get plants that don’t grow too high. Many of the plants that do well in a terrarium originate from countries with tropical climates. 

— Vietnam’s aluminum plant has white, shiny markings. It also grows fairly quickly, so you may have to occasionally trim leaves and branches. — Polka dot plants come in pink, red and silver varietals and are relatively easy to grow. 

— The red-veined prayer plant earned its name because its leaves fold up at night, as if praying. 

— Baby tears is a small plant also known as angel's tears, mind your own business, Pollyanna vine, mother of thousands, and the Corsican's curse. In some conditions, baby's tears can be invasive and take over your entire garden. In a terrarium, they usually behave well. 

— Creeping fig is a perennial climbing vine and you can encourage its heart-shaped leaves to grow around structures. 

— Most succulents are great terrarium plants because they remain small. Hens and chicks plants form small rosettes and offshoots and look wonderful in a terrarium. 

There are plenty more great options, including Sphagnum Moss, Tillandsia, African Violets and others. Installing the plants is as easy as digging a divot with your finger, placing the roots into the terrarium oil and covering them up as much as possible without getting too much on the plant. Some plants, like the Peperomia Rotundifoilia can be placed just as cuttings in a specific area of the terrarium.


Don't place your terrarium in a bookcase or section of the room where it won’t receive natural light. If it doesn’t have natural light, then make sure there’s a nearby light. If you opt for natural light, use a north facing window since it typically won't receive direct sunlight.

Your terrarium will require about 100 foot candles of light. Some plants need more. Be sure to research each varietal you place in your ecosystem. Most terrariums don't require a specific grow light. A warm white light can suffice. You can even get away with an 8 watt bulb. To be sure you have enough shine, download a light meter app to your phone that will tell you how much foot candles an area is receiving.

You don’t need to water a terrarium every day or week. Overwatering is one of the biggest beginner mistakes of a terrarium owner. Some terrariums can last a year without watering. 

Check when the terrarium needs moisture, and only add water then. To check if your terrarium needs a swig, poke your finger into the soil and check. The dirt should be just moist, not dry nor waterlogged. Think of a damp sponge that’s had all of the water squeezed out, but is still a bit wet. If you need a visual guide, soil tends to be lighter when it’s dry and darker when moist. Use a spray bottle on mist setting to water. 

About once every two weeks you should remove the lid to let fresh air in. While the soil, water and light helps make the plants self sufficient, they will need some fresh air.

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