DIY Terrariums

No matter how little light, space or time you have, there's a DIY terrarium that's just right for you. Create a modern mini zen zone with these easy ideas.


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In a Good Light

Before you start picking up supplies, think about where you plan to put your finished terrarium. The available natural light—or lack thereof—is an important consideration when choosing plants and vessels.

Low light Moss is best because it can subsist on artificial or ambient light. A closed container, such as an apothecary jar, helps it thrive.

Moderate light Everything from ripple begonias to tiny ficus plants, parlor palms, fittonias and some pileas will thrive here. A cloche is ideal for a plant that loves light and humidity, while an open geometric vessel works if the plant needs a bit of air.

Indirect light Hardy and versatile air plants, like the one shown above in a hanging vessel, take nutrients from the air. Since they have no terrestrial roots, you can use shallow containers.

Bright, indirect light Succulents, including hens-and-chicks, sedums and echeverias, love sunshine. Plant low with lots of room for air to circulate.

Shade Crispy wave/waffle ferns, silver pterises and small maidenhairs look lovely in open containers and glass candle holders—they like a little air.


What You’ll Need

• Plants (based on your lighting)

• A vessel (such as a jar or bowl)

• River stones/rocks (for drainage and aeration)

• Filtration moss, like sheet or sphagnum (provides moisture)

• Soil (depending on plants)

• Decorative accessories, sand, stones (anything nonporous) offers high-quality kits (starting at $25) that contain everything necessary. Or you can get supplies at nurseries and garden centers. Half the fun is scouting decorative vessels—you might luck out at HomeGoods, T.J. Maxx and similar stores. Also try thrift shops and yard sales.

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1. Begin with a 1-inch bottom layer of stones or gravel.

2. Prep filtration moss by soaking in water for a few seconds, then squeeze it out really well. Spread half an inch over rock layer and press down.

3. Add soil, starting with a thin layer on top of the moss. Before adding plants, gently remove some of the soil from their roots to help them anchor and spread. Place plants as desired inside terrarium and fully cover roots with soil, adding more if needed. Carefully press down to remove any air pockets.  

4. Decorate! Use your imagination—unexpected elements like people or animal figures add whimsy. Plastic, glass or hardwood accessories are all totally fine. Just avoid any extras made of porous materials, which will get moldy.


Down and Dirty

Ferns and other terrarium plants love high-quality potting mix—stay away from any blends with moisture-control beads and fertilizer. (Your plants could quickly outgrow their containers!) These plants have traditional root systems, so water once a week. Misting alone won’t provide adequate moisture.

If you’re planting a moss terrarium, use peat moss. It’s pretty much the junk food of potting soil, since it has low nutritional content, but moss loves it. To keep up the green, mist every two to four weeks.

Air of Sophistication

Exotic-looking and super easy to care for, air plants—which get what they need from the air, hence the name—can thrive in shallow or hanging containers with geodes, rocks, sand or pea gravel. Soak once a week in non-chlorinated water for five minutes, then gently shake out excess. Carefully dry off a bit more, as needed. If the air in your house is very dry, mist plants weekly in their vessels. Inward-curving leaves are a sign that they’re parched.


Succulents 101

Trendy succulents, such as sedums and echeverias, are easy to care for and come in an array of colors from yellows and blue-greens to pinks and dark reds, even almost black. They do best in soil that drains well, so purchase succulent soil or create your own, using equal parts potting soil, sand and perlite. Plant in low vessels with lots of air flow and water once a week (or possibly every other week) depending on the natural light and humidity in your home.

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Self-described lifelong plant nerd Michelle Inciarrano (above left) and poet Katy Maslow are lifelong friends and the terrarium-obsessed founders of Twig Terrariums, a funky studio/shop in Brooklyn, NY. We thank them for sharing their expertise!

Photos: (from top)  Michael Partenio, Marty Baldwin, Greg Scheidemann, Cameron Sadeghpour, Jocelyn Baun. Illustration: Hye Jin Chung.