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How to Build a Terrarium

Last year I went through a serious gardening kick. Yes– in spite of the fact that I was living in a mainly carpeted residence building, I wanted to garden.

My mom has always nurtured the most beautiful flower beds, tended miniature herb gardens in our kitchen to make the most amazing bruschetta with, reaped bounties from our garden– I’m pretty certain we have photos of my sister and I posing with a wagon overflowing with root vegetables– and recently she added greenhouse gardening to her repertoire of horticultural gifts and experience. Me, on the other hand … I’m not exactly well-endowed in the plant department.

That being said, I have always considered gardening to be one of the most wonderful hobbies. I remember planting sunflower seeds in paper cups at Aggie Days and marveling at the stem that shot out of the soil, reaching towards the sky with every passing week. It’s that sense of wonder that you’d imagine a teenager and certainly an adult would outgrow, but strangely enough, I’ve never found it to dissipate.

The natural choice for me, of course, was to begin a collection of houseplants– cute little flowers that would welcome me home each day and bring some life into the otherwise lifeless space. The catch? They needed to be low-maintenance.

My quest for low-maintenance gardening yielding adorable miniature plants ended when I discovered terrariums. My interest piqued when I discovered that creating your own custom terrarium was a simple, therapeutic art project that was as fun to do alone as it was to do with friends. Now, I am a proud mama to four terrariums, and more recently, a potted tropical plant, and they never fail to greet me cheerfully whenever I return home.

And so, in pursuit of sharing this joyful hobby with others, I have created a straight-forward guide to help you get started in the wonderful world that is terrarium building!

Note about terrarium placement:

- While these are relatively low maintenance plants, they do require specific environments and types of care. Prior to purchasing your plants, decide on where you will be placing your terrarium. Will it be at work or at home? Will it receive full sunlight? Will it have to face gusts of winter air on a regular basis? These factors, among others, are ones to consider when deciding whether you will choose to include succulents or tropicals in your terrarium. And remember: while they’re sure to bring you endless cheer, tropicals and succulents don’t go well together in the same jar. Keep it simple and hassle-free!

What you will need + brief instructions:

1. A glass jar: Any shape or size is permissible, but keep in mind that there is an inverse relationship between glass size and difficulty level. Place a thin layer of miniature gravel in the bottom to prevent root rot.

2. Potting soil: Proper soil is crucial for healthy plants. Push the soil up to form a well in the centre.

3. Plant Plugs: These are miniature plants that have a little rectangle of soil suspending their roots. Prior to planting, I recommend that you gently pinch the soil off of the roots. Lay them against your wall of soil and fill in more dirt, slowly propping the plants up.

4. Natural Landscaping Pieces: Rocks, lichen, big chunks of moss, and sand are great tools for personalizing your jar and creating a miniature garden. Use as you wish!

5. Decorations: One of my favourite parts of terrarium building is adding items that give your terrarium personality and a theme. Be creative!

Here are some themes and suggested items to create the desired scenery:

a. Beach: Tropicals or succulents; white sand, pink sand, white or pink gravel; purple and yellow lichen; sea urchins, starfish, sand dollars, shells, chunks of driftwood.

b. Desert: Succulents; white sand, an assortment of rocks; light green, purple, and yellow lichen; chunks of driftwood, large crystals, dark and smooth pebbles.

c. Forest: Tropicals or succulents, select according to the variety; a large chunk of moss as a backdrop; light brown pebbles; dark green, light green, and red lichen; chunks of driftwood, miniature white spotted mushroom figurines.

Where to get stocked up:

- Walmart has low cost, albeit simple, jars. Most of my terrariums live in fishbowl-like jars I purchased from Walmart and they are both elegant and uncomplicated to work with.

- Plant Shop is one of many reasons why Inglewood is my favourite area in the city to spend an afternoon. If you want a one-stop-shop for your terrarium-building endeavour, there truly is no other place (I’m pretty certain they recognize me whenever I come in…). Here, you will receive personalized service, find a wide range of plugs, decorations, jars, pots, and other gifts. You can even sign up for gardening classes if you want to learn how to develop a green thumb, build a terrarium with expert advice (this one I did with my Mom), or even create beautiful wreaths at Christmas time.

Of course, these are only suggestions to get you started. Part of the fun of this process, as I mentioned earlier, is having the opportunity to use this time as an artistic outlet, bring some life into spaces of your home or office, or even spend some unique, quality time with those you love. And of course, Pinterest is always there to lend you some ideas when you’re not feeling overly inspired. Happy planting!

Sabrina is a self-proclaimed cross-stitch nerd, ABBA fan, and hopeless romantic navigating the ups-and-downs of adulthood. A born-and-raised farm kid with a wicked case of wanderlust, Sabrina finds inspiration from world history, personal experience, and unhinged day-dreams, and hopes she will leave you inspired, deep in thought, or simply smiling.

You can contact her at for questions, comments, or if you happen to know when you’re too old to wear Minnie Mouse ears... (asking for a friend).