How to Create a Succulent Terrarium

How to Create a Succulent Terrarium
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How to Create a Succulent Terrarium

Step-by-step Instructions and Plant Selections, Too

A terrarium is a closed glass container in which a gardener grows small and usually slow-growing plants. Essentially, it is a mini-indoor garden. Just a couple of helpful garden supplies are needed to make your terrarium, although you may want to purchase a glass container made specifically for them. You can use any glass such as a Mason jar, a large bowl or a repurposed fish tank.

succulent terrariumsucculent terrarium

Once planted, a good terrarium should need almost no additional care other than very occasional watering. The plants will give off water which drips down the sides and returns to the soil to be taken up by the roots. The terrarium will form its own ecosystem within the container. 

The original terrariums were planted in bottles. Much like a ship in a bottle, people were amazed when they saw these gardens. How could these plants get into the bottle and be planted when the neck of the bottle was so narrow that a human hand couldn’t possibly fit? That can be part of the charm of the terrarium.

Your terrarium can have a theme. Terrarium plants may be chosen to look like miniature jungle plants or desert plants. Your terrarium could be a fairy garden or a cottage in the woods. If you don’t want a theme, choose plants that contrast with each other in shape and color to add interest.

How to Make a Succulent Terrarium

The most difficult part of growing a succulent garden is that succulents prefer soil that dries out between minimal watering, and they want low humidity. This means, once planted, your care must border on neglect. Making a succulent terrarium is not difficult if you follow these steps:

1. Choose a Container — Your container should be glass or clear plastic to allow light to reach the plants it will contain. There should be no drainage hole in the bottom of the container. Because the terrarium will be composed of succulents, it would be better if the container is not sealed. 

Succulents need very little water and prefer low humidity so an open container will provide good air exchange. As mentioned earlier, you can use a container that you repurpose, but there are many containers made specifically for terrariums that you could purchase instead.

2. Clean Your Container — Wash your container well with soap and water to remove any chemical residue or residue from its previous function. Once totally dry, you are ready to start to assemble your terrarium.

3. Add Drainage Layers — Since your container has no drainage hole, this drainage layer is very important. Add about 2 inches of gravel or crushed stone. You could also use decorative sand if you prefer. Next, add a ¼ to ½ inch layer of activated charcoal. 

The charcoal will be good for drainage and eliminate any odors. Note: There should not be any unpleasant odor from your terrarium. If you notice an odor, it could be root rot due to overwatering.

4. Add a Filter for Separation — This can be as simple as a coffee filter or cheesecloth. The purpose is to keep the soil from mixing into the drainage material. Many gardeners like to use a layer of sheet moss. It can be cut to fit and adds visual interest as another layer of natural material. Whatever you choose, make sure it will drain well.

5. Add Potting Soil — In most cases, the soil should be sterile potting soil with no added fertilizer. Since this will be a succulent garden, you may want to use a succulent potting mix. Add water and mix it into the soil using just enough to make the soil barely damp. Add about two inches of the moistened soil on top of your filter. 

The soil can be kept level in the container, or you can sculpt the terrain to have high and low spots. Just remember that the root ball of each plant needs to be covered and still have room for the plant to grow.

6. Add Your Plants — Lay your plants out before you plant to decide the arrangement you prefer. Decide where the tall plant will be and what plants should be next to each other. Once you have decided on a pleasing arrangement, you can start planting. Remove the plant from its pot and loosen the roots. Trim the roots if the plant is root bound as this will slow the plant’s growth, which is what you want in a terrarium. 

Make a last check of each plant for any signs of disease or pests. Remove any yellowed or damaged leaves. Shake off any remaining loose soil and lightly mist the roots before you plant the succulent in your terrarium. Press the plant into the soil and add just enough soil to cover the root ball. Continue until all the succulents are planted. 

If you are planting in a container with an opening that is too small to put your hand through, you will need special indoor gardening supplies to plant with. There are long-handled tools available that can help. You also could repurpose items you have around the house. 

Be creative and look for items with length that you can repurpose. Things like chopsticks, tongs or the sticks you use to roast marshmallows on the campfire will work well.

7. Ensure Good Light — Your terrarium will do best in filtered light. If you can’t provide enough light, use grow lights. Do not place your terrarium in full sun. Not only will the plants get sunburned, they could also actually cook in a closed or partially closed glass or plastic container.

8. Add Decorative Pieces — This can be natural objects like a branch with a unique shape or a decorative small rock. Maybe you envisioned a fairy garden and want to add some very small figurines. Your terrarium can be a very personal reflection of your personality by adding just a few objects.

9. Maintain Good Watering — Terrariums need far less frequent watering than your regular houseplants. Check your soil once a week and only water when dry. You can add a very small amount of water to the soil, or many terrarium owners find that misting the terrarium works well and usually eliminates the problem of excess water. 

If you should accidentally overwater, open the terrarium until the soil dries. An indicator of excess water is large amounts of moisture on the sides of the terrarium.

10. Avoid Fertilizer — Never fertilize the plants in your terrarium. The plants will receive adequate nutrients through the potting soil’s normal breakdown.

This is a different type of gardening but it’s fun! Remember that if a plant doesn’t work out, or becomes too large, it can easily be replaced. You may find that you really enjoy terrariums and want to make more as they also make for great gifts. The best part is they are so easy to care for that even a casual gardener will be successful.

hens and chicks succulentshens and chicks succulents

Succulent Plant Ideas for Your Terrarium

Succulents are all plants that are dwarf or grow so slow that it will be years before they outgrow their space. If you still aren’t sure, there are pre-planted terrariums available for purchase. If you aren’t very familiar with succulents, the following list should get you started, including:

1. Agave — This plant forms rosettes of pointed leaves. Agave comes in lovely colors of blue green to bright green. Some agaves can grow quite large so be careful about the variety you choose.

2. Lithops — Also known as Living Stones, this is a great choice for an open terrarium. These plants only grow two leaves with a split between them from which a flower could grow, but not until the plant is at least four years old. 

The succulent survives by camouflaging itself among the stones. It requires very little water and, in fact, it should not be watered at all during the winter.

3. Hens and Chicks — These succulents also have the rosette form and will develop off-shoots of little baby plants around the mother plant, hence the name. Hens and Chicks come in a wide variety of colors from a blue grey to green to mahogany.

4. Zebra Plant — This succulent is visually interesting because of its striped appearance. This plant is small, making it perfect for the open terrarium.

5. Panda Plant — This is a Kalanchoe variety that has fuzzy, soft green oval-shaped leaves. The edges of the leaves are a deep brown. This gives a nice contrast to the smooth shiny surface of many succulents.

6. Dwarf Aloe — Aloe is a plant that many people know for its medicinal value. The milky sap is especially effective on burns. Hybridizers have been working with aloe for some time and one of the traits they have concentrated on is size. The dwarf size aloe is one of the results. This plant is three inches across or less making it perfect for your terrarium.

7. Jade Plant — This succulent has oval-shaped leaves held on a woody stem giving it the appearance of a miniature tree. Commonly called the Money Plant, it is sometimes used in Feng Shui to promote wealth and prosperity. This led it to becoming a popular housewarming gift. Jade is a slow grower but can live a very long time and is sometimes handed down to the next generation.

8. Aeonium — These succulents come in a wide variety of colorful daisy-shaped plants. They range in color from a creamy white to almost black, striped and magenta-colored. These are interesting succulents that are worth a try in your terrarium as they are easy to propagate. 

When they become too leggy, simply cut the top off with about two inches of stem. This will be your new plant so discard the remaining original plant, including the root. Simply stick the stem of the top part of the plant into the soil with the leaves just above the soil. The stem will grow new roots and you will have a new plant.

9. Echeveria — This is a more difficult plant to grow indoors. The biggest problem is this plant likes a lot of light. If you can provide that with your terrarium, it could be worth a try. This plant has been highly hybridized resulting in some beautiful varieties, especially those with a ruffled edge. 

The colors are also beautiful including pink, grey-green, black and crimson. Then, there are many more that are edged in a contrasting color. These succulents are stunning and would be a great addition to your terrarium if you can provide it with what it needs.

10. Burro’s Tail — This succulent may seem like an odd choice for a terrarium. It produces stems that are covered with small, rounded leaves. The stems can grow quite long over time. This will work if you have a hanging terrarium, and the tail is allowed to grow out through the opening. That is not your typical approach to a terrarium, but it can be a fun and challenging alternative.

11. Tiger Jaws — This plant is also sometimes called “Shark Jaws” because its leaves are edged with spiny teeth. But its “bark is worse than its bite.” In fact, the spiny teeth are quite soft and flexible. This plant has low rosettes of triangular leaves and grows very slowly, making it perfect for a terrarium plant.

12. Kalanchoe — There are so many varieties of Kalanchoe that these plants almost have to be included. Kalanchoes are easy to care for and will last a long time in your terrarium. They come in so many colors and shapes and you could build your whole terrarium garden with different varieties. Many Kalanchoes are dwarf size but some grow quite large so be careful when choosing.

Creating a succulent terrarium can be both easy and fun and bring a very different but noticeable change to the look of your indoor plants and flowers.