Gallery: How to Make Your Own Terrarium

Making your own terrarium is fun and easy to do, and you can get super-creative with figurines of all shapes and sizes.
Making your own terrarium is fun and easy to do, and you can get super-creative with figurines of all shapes and sizes.

I’ve always coveted my friend Melissa’s fabulous terrarium, which is the centerpiece of her stylish, cozy Brooklyn apartment. I’ve secretly wanted one of my own for ages, and recently realizing that some artsy ones can sell for thousands of dollars, I decided it was high time to learn how to make my own on the cheap. After much pleading, I finally managed to convince Melissa to spill her terrarium secrets, which she was kind enough to share in this post! Read on to learn how you can make your own at home:

How to make a container garden terrarium – by Melissa Cotton

I found a large, clear, sphere-shaped glass bowl at a floral supply shop. A glass vessel of this shape is called a “rose bowl”, and they come in many different sizes—mine happens to have a 15″ diameter at the widest point. Part of the success of these types of container gardens is providing for good drainage because glass containers don’t have bottom drainage holes like regular flower pots. You can use any size glass container to make yours, ranging from a jar or brandy snifter to a fish tank.

1. Start with a 1 1/2″ layer of small pebbles on the floor of the container.

2. Cover the pebbles with a thin layer of loose charcoal, which will help keep the water in your garden from stagnating.

3. Cover the charcoal with an inch layer of sphagnum moss. Look in the aquarium/terrarium section of a pet store for the pebbles, charcoal, and moss.

4. Now, add enough potting soil so that the total contents occupy about 1/4 of the container. There will be some settling of the layers. Mine settled about 3/4″ over about 6 months, so add extra soil to account for this.

5. Choose small or miniature plant varieties so they don’t overtake the container. I have tried lots of different types of plants over the two years my garden has existed, and some have done well while others have died. You’ll have to experiment to see what type of plants do well for you. The plants that have found to be the best suited are:

Once the plants are in, add rocks, driftwood, etc. to create the atmosphere of your choice. I couldn’t resist adding some “fauna” to my garden, which include a very cute, tiny ceramic turtle and a plastic 8-point buck. These happen to be the favorite additions for most guests. (Jill adds: “The miniature animals are crucial! Otherwise it’s just a garden in a glass bowl.”)

You can find miniature plastic animals on Amazon (or most toy stores) and ceramic animals at If you’d like to add people to your terrarium scene, check out stores that sell model train supplies.

Related: 10 Amazing Terrariums You Can Build

The most important thing about the care of this type of garden is to avoid over-watering. As I mentioned before, there’s no drainage hole, so add enough water so that the soil is just moist. It’s best to err on the dry side because too much water will cause your plants to rot: there should never be a pool of standing water in the bottom pebble layer. I also recommend not fertilizing the plants in order to ensure that they remain small. My garden is placed on a coffee table in the center of a medium-sized room that has two windows, which seem to provide enough light to keep it alive and well.

Happy terrariuming!

Photos by the author, and via Josh Leo on Flickr Creative Commons


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  1. henni October 16, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    Yeah, terrarium building can be very rewarding. I would be careful of using an asparagus fern in one though. They don’t like to be constantly wet so they are totally prone to overwatering. I just recently posted an article on how to create your own maidenhair fern terrarium here.

  2. Faça um terrário! Ele... August 30, 2014 at 8:20 am
  3. Rat in my Kitchen August 18, 2012 at 5:12 am

    Cool post! I recently did a post on my blog on how to make a terrarium on a budget. I found some little deer figurines similar to the one in your first pic. I find that introducing a scale figure that matches the miniature stature of the plants can really set off the whole terrarium and make it more of a small little world.

  4. Paradice March 10, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    This is a very cute idea, and I love the pictures. I recently made a cute terrarium with shark teeth instead of pebbles, and did it all for under 5 bucks that you can check out here!
    Very informative, good read, thank you!

  5. bubble July 31, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    can you make one of these with water in it? and plants and stuff of course.

  6. defined benefit plan April 7, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    Very nice. beautiful. thanks

  7. lara October 13, 2009 at 4:55 am

    your terrarium was so great.i really like it. i hope and i think that your terrarium will inspire me a lot……

  8. kareen October 8, 2009 at 2:56 am

    thank u………..i will start to make a terrarium…………….

  9. myrtille August 21, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    Thankyou, I will begin mine in a few day! (-:

  10. nolita July 31, 2009 at 7:37 pm

    I cannot get any sphangum moss in my country, for some reason, can I use another type of moss?

  11. naturelady January 2, 2009 at 10:55 am

    This needed a more positive ending response. The definition of terrarium is “a …container, partially or wholly enclosed, to grow plants in. What a beautiful centerpiece!

  12. Chibbie May 12, 2008 at 7:02 pm

    This is not a true terrarium since it is not sealed. It is simply a container garden. A true terrarium is self sufficient in all it’s needs except for light. That is why it is sealed so the humidity will condense and water the plants. I am surprised this web site would print this article as an information source for making a terrarium since it is obviously NOT a terrarium.

  13. marta March 26, 2008 at 7:14 pm

    Use activated charcoal, like you would for a fish filter. Most mega-markets have them in milk-llike cartons in the pet section. If you can\’t find any; try a pet store. It is about $3 for a pints worth. You will get hooked on trerrariums.

  14. Mary Lynn February 27, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    Great information for a terrarium. After much web searching, I found a great on-line source for a large 16″ Bubble Bowl. Try The cost for the clear 16″ Bubble Bowl is $19.99. Shipping was $9. It weighs 8 lbs. I am putting a plastic baby sea turtle in my terrarium!
    Mary Lynn

  15. Kyle Grimm February 11, 2008 at 5:27 pm


  16. Bill Murray January 13, 2008 at 3:16 pm

    Where can I get a supply of charcoal for a reasonable price?

  17. organism: making art wi... December 5, 2007 at 4:01 am

    […] turn plants into air filtration machines – miniature ecosystems put to work. Somewhere between a terrarium and biotechnology. The designer himself describes the filter as “a vegetal brain enclosed in […]

  18. Chris? June 19, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    What type of Charcoal?Do you mean the ones you use to grill food? 😡

  19. mehrzad April 20, 2007 at 2:36 am

    can i grow rose in terrarium?

  20. Guest post: budget DIY ... March 9, 2007 at 12:05 am

    […] any room will give it a fresher, lighter feel, as well as add a point of interest. All you need is Inhabitat’s fantastic how to guide, and a trip to your local garden centre. For some of the coolest and most interesting terrariums […]

  21. reena November 20, 2006 at 3:31 am


  22. Robin October 27, 2006 at 6:08 pm

    I love this idea. I tried to make one myself but the plants kept dying, so I researched and found a website that shows step-by-step instructions on proper soil, plants, animals, and how to maintain and clean it. Check out this cool site…

  23. Linda Winchell September 18, 2006 at 12:02 am

    Looked up how to make a terrarium and I love what you have done with yours. I have some little frogs and Salamanders I collected from my woods and for the Grandkids decided to make something low maintance. I place at the bottom of mine, Charcoal as you had suggested and then some wood chips, moss, and baby ferns, all from my woods. I love looking at all the life inside my little zoo. I will be feeding them some baby crickets this winter and I know my grandchildrens will enjoy watching the little guys grow and move around and eat. Thanks for the tips.

  24. Gardening for lazies at... September 13, 2006 at 1:50 am

    […] I wanna terrarium. I once killed a cactus, but these seem easier. InHabitat and HGTV have directions. Share and Enjoy:These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. […]

  25. Ramona Norwood July 12, 2006 at 2:56 pm

    Can some potential containers be considered too large for this type of project? I have two 25 gallon glass jugs that I want to use for this purpose. Any advice or information would be genuinely appreciated.

  26. Inhabitat » Blog ... June 26, 2006 at 4:37 am

    […] We just can’t get enough of our friend Melissa Cotton’s designs. Melissa has been featured several times on Inhabitat now – most famously as the author of the ever popular How-To-Make-a-Terrarium article that we ran last year, but the girl is more than just a creative green-thumb. […]

  27. Danna January 29, 2006 at 4:03 pm

    Thanks – yours looks great. I did this a while back and have wanted to make another with my kids. The info was really helpful.

  28. mona January 27, 2006 at 8:50 am

    wonderful information! I can’t wait to get started. I am going to make one for a very special friend and one for myself. Thank you for making it sound so easy and I am sure I will have fun doing it and giving one away. Best to YOU!

  29. Carla January 27, 2006 at 12:36 am

    Thank you for the great idea! I am going to use my old 3/4 gallon fish bowl and cute miniture hippo handmade in Kenya. If I’m successful I can show it to my biology majors class and hope for more points as someone else suggested!

  30. maddie January 25, 2006 at 2:33 pm

    thanks for the help! i hope it helps my grade out in botany!

  31. chris January 13, 2006 at 2:22 pm

    hello i love your art

  32. JrRider December 11, 2005 at 8:12 pm

    Nice Job! I been wanting to set up a terarium and a small microcontroller to log the air and water temp.,& CO2 levels. Can anyone suggest any hardware?

  33. Karen November 18, 2005 at 3:43 pm

    I’m going to try this with a group of elementary students. Thanks for the details!

  34. James November 14, 2005 at 3:38 am

    This is a great site, thanks for all the help!!!

  35. Tessa September 12, 2005 at 12:14 am

    Super cool! Thanks for the inspiration!

  36. Tessa September 12, 2005 at 12:12 am

    Your terrarium is so cool! Thanks for the inspiation!

  37. Bart August 25, 2005 at 1:10 pm

    Awesome! I got the link to this page from the MAKE blog. Would it be possible to use live animals (turtles, worms for the dirt, etc.)?

  38. Leslie Fandrich August 24, 2005 at 5:19 pm

    Ah, finally I have the secrets. I asked Melissa once, after I had admired her terrarium, to tell me how to make one. All I could remember was: get a bowl somewhere in Chinatown, add dirt and some small plants, then ta da! But oh no… it’s not that simple. Now I have it all in point form! Thanks Melissa, there is nothing better than making beautiful things on your own. PS. What was that you said about turning fabric into art?

  39. Ck August 24, 2005 at 4:37 pm

    It’s all about creating your own Forest of Endor…complete with AT-AT?

  40. Bob August 24, 2005 at 2:55 pm

    : a usually transparent enclosure for keeping or raising plants or usually small animals (as turtles) indoors.

    Seeing as an enclosure doesn’t have to be airtight (a fence can be an enclosure), it doesn’t appear that being sealed is a necessity.

  41. Michelle August 24, 2005 at 11:10 am

    I thought terrariums were supposed to be sealed – so that the water would evaporate and condense over and over?

  42. Stefan August 24, 2005 at 3:39 am

    Do you water by pouring from a can/cup or with a spray bottle? I’d think a bottle would work pretty well for making sure you only get as much moisture as you need in the tank.

  43. Scott August 24, 2005 at 2:01 am

    Awesome… I’m going to put dinosaurs in mine!

  44. Patricia Ross August 23, 2005 at 9:27 pm

    Normally, I don’t really get into sites because I am a lone wolf that pretty much goes my own way, but I am very creative and love aquariums and terrariums as well as painting, scetching, paper macheing, latchhooking, looming, interior designing and various other mediums of my own choosing.

    This is a very nice way of expressing one’s own creativity. Thank you for the tour!

  45. JeremyT August 23, 2005 at 8:29 pm

    For those who would not be satisfied with ordinary plants, you can order carnivorous ones online. I’m planning to make one of these with pitcher plants.

  46. Rachel Knowles August 23, 2005 at 5:47 pm

    I love Melissa’s terrarium! I think the personal and particularly creative details (like the deer) are part of what makes it so supercool.

  47. ashley badgwell August 23, 2005 at 5:21 pm

    Fabulous. Now can we convince Melissa “earth-mama” Cotton to tell us how to make air-plant art?

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