8 Easy Steps for Planting Terrariums

Terrariums are a growing trend. Why has this 70’s floral favorite made such a popular comeback?

Plant enthusiasts are intrigued by the little greenhouses. Millennials love the retro vibe. Urban gardeners enjoy the hands-on ‘playing in the dirt’ experience.

Miniature plants under glass are perfect for consumers who want a low maintenance plant that doesn’t take up a lot of space.

Glass containers with sealed lids on top offer great climate control for the mini ecosystems. Terrariums are eye-catching examples of how easily nature can support itself.

These plants-in-a-bottle require almost zero maintenance.

If humidity is a challenge, choose an open container to allow air movement. Succulents work well for this environment. You can create a fun desert motif using succulents and sand.

How do you plant a terrarium?

Planting a terrarium is as much about inspiration as it is installation. Half the fun is in personalizing the design to your own signature style or the preference of your customer.

Consider creating a potting bar of necessary terrarium-planting materials so your clients can create their own terrariums in your floral business.

Post written instructions and material prices for the customer to follow as they design.

Follow these eight simple steps to create terrariums that can sell in your floral business.

  1. Start with a transparent container, like glass
  2. Add a couple of inches of small stones, gravel or aquarium gravel for drainage
  3. Cover with a thin layer of activated charcoal to reduce bacteria growth
  4. Place a thin filter, like window screen, between the gravel and soil
  5. Add a couple of inches of potting soil that is soft and will hold moisture
  6. Position soil, sand, bark, stones, or décor to establish your landscape
  7. Water the soil before adding plants, steps, walls or decorative items
  8. Install selected miniature plants that require the same amount of moisture

Using a thin filter, like a piece fiberglass window screen, above the gravel prevents the soil from sifting down into the gravel, hardening around the roots, or the plants getting root-rot from standing in water.

How does a closed terrarium work?

Like a little rainforest

Moisture builds up, sometimes causing the jars to fog up. Moisture-hungry plants enjoy the fog. When the damp air condenses it begins to ‘rain’ back down onto the plants.

As the plants age, leaves rot and fall which produces the carbon dioxide needed for their nutrition. This creates a natural atmosphere where thriving plants grow in a natural cycle of life.

Water inside the jar is recycled. The plant roots absorb water and transpire it into the air. The water condenses and falls back onto the interior landscape to evaporate again.  

This water cycle repeats itself continually, creating a miniature ecosystem that is self-sustaining.

The environment lives and grows through plant photosynthesis and the recycling of necessary nutrients.

It just needs a little magic

The only thing needed externally is light. Like magic, indirect sunlight provides the necessary energy for plant food and growth.  

When light shines onto plant leaves it’s taken in by a protein that contains the green colored pigment - chlorophyll.  

A portion of the light in stored in the plant as ATP (adenosine triphosphate) for energy. The remainder of light is used by plant roots to rid excess electrons from the water.

The electrons release oxygen that is converted to carbon dioxide and then carbohydrates. This feeds the plants.

Dead and decaying leaves become the organic material the ecosystem uses for cellular respiration.  Bacteria takes in the waste oxygen and releases carbon dioxide to help the plants grow.

A similar process of cellular respiration helps the plant to break down stored nutrients at night when there is no sunlight.

Prefer an open container?

A succulent terrarium needs little attention and doesn’t require a lid. Sand, stones, and driftwood make interesting decor for creating a desert-like environment.

Plants like tillandsia, air plants, and succulents can be left open and misted occasionally.

The desert forms early morning dew so succulents have evolved to enjoy a little mist of water.

Quick tips for planting your terrariums

For a self-sufficient terrarium choose a container with a lid

  • If too much moisture builds up, take the lid off and allow to dry out some
  • Your base level of gravel should be about ¾ of your substrate (base material)
  • You may need long tweezers to work inside a narrow-mouth container
  • A turkey baster is good for watering the right amount of water to individual plant.
  • Choose small plants in proportion to the size of your container
  • Plants that love moisture like ferns and baby tears are excellent choices
  • Pieces of broken terracotta pots make great walls and stairways
  • Place a terrarium near a window, but never in direct hot sun
  • Turn the terrarium periodically to prevent the plants from angling toward the sun

Easy as child’s play!

Terrariums are a fun way to introduce plants to children.

Planting a terrarium is a playful, DIY activity for little hands. Once the work is done there no upkeep to their new foliage friend unless it occasionally needs a little water.

Consider offering both child and adult terrarium planting classes in your floral business.

  • Stock a collection of containers for attendees to choose from
  • Offer a varied selection of small plants and decorative materials
  • Create a sales display of ‘grab & go’ DIY terrarium building materials
  • Have students create their own designs for a fee
  • Post photos online of attendees making their own terrariums

Offer a line of pre-made terrariums for purchase and delivery along with your traditional potted plant and cut flower designs.

Are you offering terrariums in your floral business? What suggestions do you have to offer to those who are just getting started?

Please post pictures of some of your favorite terrarium designs.


Aside from having low maintenance plants as you mentioned, the main reason why I want to have my own terrarium is for my pet to have a home. I recently watched Atypical on Netflix and the lead character has a pet turtle that got me really worked out about having one. I guess I should start shopping for terrariums soon so I can have my own.

Zoe Campos November 28, 2020

Thank you, Divya Malhotra! Please share our posts with your floral friends and encourage them to subscribe to the Oasis Idea Weekly Blog.

Sharon McGukin December 18, 2019

I love to have Moore informacion
If is possible video.

Néstor Lopez December 18, 2019

Sorry, Nestor Lopez, I don’t have a video that I’ve made myself to share. My guess is that you can google terrariums on YouTube and find some. If you find a really good one, please share the link in these comments.

Here’s one I know of – https://www.pbs.org/video/terrariums-life-under-glass-wlr6xr/.

Readers, do you have a terrarium video to suggest?

Sharon McGukin December 18, 2019

Nobody can touch the kind of knowledge that you cater over here. Loved your post.

Divya Malhotra December 18, 2019

Great information to take in. Always searching for ways to bring in customers. I love this idea.

Melanie Schloss December 18, 2019

Thanks, Melanie Schloss! This is a great forum for sharing ideas to bring in new customers. Readers, anyone else with helpful suggestions?

Sharon McGukin December 18, 2019

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published