How to Build a Terrarium


A terrarium is a type of vivarium (vivarium is a Latin phrase that means “place of life”): a vivarium is a container, which can be either open or closed, for

growing plants and/or raising animals (an aquarium is a type of vivarium) for the purposes of observation, research, or, more commonly, decoration. A terrarium is usually used to create either a temperate woodland type of habitat or a jungle like one. To do this you’ll use leaves and leaf litter, pebbles, and soil. Plants which

would be suitable for a terrarium environment might include, for example, tree seedlings and moss–several kinds of plants that are particularly popular for use in terrariums are African Violets, bromeliads, and Crassulaceae. Today I’ve got an expert here with us, her name is Kacy Paide, who actually makes terrariums professionally and sells them to high-end shops in the Washington, D.C. area. We’re going to take you step-by-step through the whole process of building your own terrarium, including all tools and materials you’ll need.

First, a few tips

  • There are a whole litany of containers that can be used as improvised terrariums, as you can see from the picture above, including cookie jars, large jam/preserves jars, fish tanks, decorative bowls, wine bottles, or olive oil bottles. Amazon has a whole selection of various terrarium containers and kits you can see here.
  • Sometimes tools have to be modified to fit into the container in question–fish tanks are popular for first time terrarium builders because this isn’t necessary. However, with containers with very small openings, such as wine bottles, this will almost definitely be necessary. So if this is your first terrarium you should probably consider something easy to work with that has a large opening.
  • Use distilled, not tap, water. Tap water contains a lot of minerals and other contaminants, such as chlorine and fluoride, that you don’t want to expose your plants to.
  • Watch out for mold and other such fuzzy stuff that you don’t want growing in there (this is one of the most common problems with terrariums), keep in mind that you will need to occasionally clean out your terrarium.
  • If you later want to add an animal, a lizard is usually an excellent choice (make sure the container is big enough and the environment being simulated in your particular terrarium matches the animal’s natural habitat).

Building your terrarium, Part 1: Introduction and necessary materials and equipment

Part 2: Choosing a container

Part 3: how to mix and layer the soil

Part 4: choosing your plants

Part 5: adding and arranging your plants

Part 6: decorating your terrarium (stones, pebbles, driftwood, etc.)

Part 7: watering, caring for, and maintaining your terrarium

Additional Resources and Further Reading

If you’re really interested in terrariums, and especially if you want to make and customize your own, I highly recommend a book called The New Terrarium: Creating Beautiful Displays for Plants and Nature.

Craft Zine has got a really cool article on how they turned an old mason jar into a terrarium, check it out: CRAFT Project: Mason Jar Terrarium

The Garden Helper has got this excellent article on building your own terrarium that includes plant recommendations and other stuff that I would definitely have a look at.


  1. You do absolutely beautiful work. I have always loved terrariums and have created them for many years. Your video was very informative! I would like to see something on drier landscapes as well.

  2. You are welcome, Andrew!
    I do have one question. The last terrarium I made is out of a large pig shaped jar that is meant to stand on it’s side; therefore the opening is on the side as well. I have been having an issue with condensation developing on the glass overnight. The only problem it is causing is the fact that it obscures the view of the plants. Are there any tips or hints to prevent this from happening? Or should I just continue to wipe the glass down every morning?