Monday, December 5, 2011

How to - Make a Terrarium

I'm obsessed with succulents, and buy one pretty much every time I pass through IKEA or Home Depot. So when I started seeing Terrariums pop up all over the internets, and my favorite design blogs, I had to have one. There are some very talented landscape artists who create these wonderful little garden worlds, but true to Julie fashion I thought to myself, "I could do this" - and so I did.

I read a dozen how-tos, watched a few YouTube videos, and got some pointers from my local garden center on how to best create my own terrarium. The following is how I created mine last week, and let's cross our fingers it lives to 2012!

You need a glass vessel to hold your terrarium. If you decide to make a moss terrarium, you can use one that's totally enclosed or has a lid, but when making a succulent terrarium, the vessel needs to have a large enough opening so that the plants can breathe. The one thing I forgot to include in this photo was my little friend - you'll see him shortly...
I added a layer of gravel to my glass bubble bowl from Michael's craft store - $10.00. The gravel will prevent my plants from drowning in excess water. I used one whole bag of these white stones from IKEA - $1.99
Next add activated charcoal - don't ask me what the difference is between this and the stuff you put in your barbecue, but basically it allows the plants to breathe, and masks any odors that the terrarium plants may give off while living in close quarters. Lowe's didn't have any, nor did they know what I was talking about, so I quickly did a bit of iPhone research and found out it was pretty much the same stuff that goes into a fish tank filtration system. As luck would have it, I was right down the street from Pet Smart where I bought a box of Fluval UltraGrade Carbon. I ripped open two of the filter packs to create an even layer - $8.99
I added a deep and even layer of cactus potting soil that I bought from Lowe's. Cactus soil helps to quickly drain the water out of the soil so your cacti and succulents aren't over watered - they hate that. This set me back a whole $4.32
Next comes the fun part - arrange and plant your garden! As you saw above in step one, I purchased four succulents, but the first one on the top left ended up being too tall, so I didn't use it. Plants should be spaced far enough from each other so that they don't crowd. Also, you should leave enough room between the plant and the vessel wall - otherwise as the leaves grow and touch the wall they'll start to spoil and die off. No bueno. I bought all of my succulents from Lowe's as well, and they ranged from $1.99 to $3.85 - so let's call it a total of around $12.00.
This part is my favorite - create a scene and put your terrarium into context. I love to paint; it's not something I get to do often, but when I saw this little dude I knew I wanted him for my terrarium. You know those people who create toy train scenes and villages? Many of them use these HO scale miniatures, which basically means that for every foot in real life, you have 3.5 mm, or a ratio of 1:87. I just used a bit of glue on the end of a toothpick and adhered him to this rock. You can even see the paint drying if you look close enough.

These little guys are perfect for decorating your terrarium. I bought mine from Preiser through Amazon, but you can do a search for HO scale miniatures on Google and a million different places sell them. He was $10.61 total, but the shipping cost me almost as much as he did, so if you can find one locally, they're not that expensive.

After doing the math, I spent a grand total of $47.91 and around 35 minutes - plus I still have some charcoal and soil (and one unused plant) to make another. If anyone knows more specific details or tips on creating a successful terrarium - one that won't die - then please let me know. Also, if you do end up making one, send me pictures!! Good luck and happy green thumbs to all!

All photos by Julie Karatzis


  1. let the roots dry out between waterings, and don't let the roots be standing in water. Your beautiful terrarium should last a long time!

  2. That tends to be my problem with succulents in general - overwatering. So I'll keep that in mind. Thanks Phoebe!

  3. So cute! I love terrariums and how hardy they are. My mom made me one when I was in college and it survived moving to three different cities!

  4. Thanks Callie! Good to know :)

  5. hi julie -- this feels kind of creepy b/c i don't know you but I work with your sister. I've been dying to put together a terrarium for a while and then the other day, I randomly passed your sisters cube and saw hers! you did a great job and not only inspired me to finally do it -- but with your post, you gave me all the info I need. very much appreciated!

  6. Not creepy - that's cool! I'm so happy you're doing it. They last forever and need little care. The only thing I would change about my post is including those three in the last photo on the left. They're meant to hang (I know they have a special name, but I can't remember it right now). Anyway, they didn't do so well. Good luck. Share pics when you're done and I'll post about it!

  7. 百度

  8. or...make him out of fimo or sculptey? or any little miniature person or thing will add interest.

  9. Hi, I loved your post about terrariums!
    I also have a website and put a blog post today about cacti and succulent! I even put your link that teaches how to make a terrarium because I found very helpful, thank you!