DIY Indoor Gardens and Terrariums

I’ll bet you’re like me and enjoy spending time outside when you can, taking in the sunshine and the seasonal greenery. Once the temperatures drop where I live, however, only the hardiest vegetation survives freezing temperatures, and I’m not really fond of crystallized nose hairs. So, I do what I can to bring the natural beauty of the outdoors into my home. You, too?

Sure, we adorn the dining room table with a bouquet of store-bought flowers or a corner table with a potted fern. We also hang houseplants in various corners and windows of the house, and that suits many of us just fine. But I like to take indoor gardening further because I really love the way plants add life to a room—particularly plants with personality that make for a great statement piece.

Curious? Below are instructions for how to enhance your living space with a thriving indoor terrarium. Best of all, you can create this garden yourself over a single weekend. Want to give it a go?

Let’s Make a Terrarium

Showcase your taste in exotic flora and don your decorator hat with this straightforward do-it-yourself project. My favorite terrarium contains a beautiful assortment of cacti and other succulent plants, and consists of the following items:

  • Glass or acrylic encasement, such as a fish tank or reptarium cage
  • Collection of clay pellets, charcoal or washed gravel
  • Fiberglass screening or moss
  • Planting medium, like coir or light potting soil
  • Grow light (in the absence of indirect natural light)
  • Personal touches, like statuettes, driftwood, etc.

Setup is fairly simple: 

  1. Decide where to place the terrarium in your home. The lighting conditions of your selected location will influence your selection of plants. Ideally, choose a place where the terrarium can receive indirect natural light every day. If that option is unavailable, plan to install an overhead plant light and select plants that can thrive under an artificial light source. The terrarium will be heavy so be sure to designate a low-traffic area and a sturdy surface, such as an aquarium stand or a solid wood coffee table.
  2. Once the encasement is in position, cover the bottom surface inside with clay pellets or charcoal—either one will absorb water and help keep the soil fresh. You may also use washed gravel as an alternative, which provides drainage for the terrarium.
  3. Place a custom-cut piece of fiberglass window screening or a layer of moss over the clay/charcoal/gravel. This provides a protective barrier between layers and helps filter water.
  4. Add a two- to three-inch layer of coir or light potting soil next. Either of these products is ideal for a terrarium because they both hold enough water for succulent plants, while allowing the water to drain through more easily than does heavy potting soil, which traps too much water for succulents. Smooth out the surface of the soil and pack it down gently.
  5. At this point, you’re ready to add an arrangement of plants. Position them outside of the encasement first so you can choose a desirable layout before placing them in soil. When you’re ready, poke a small hole in the soil for each plant with your finger. Gently remove any existing excess soil from all of the roots, and then add each plant into its assigned spot. Add extra soil as needed to fill in any gaps.
  6. If the terrarium receives inadequate natural light, clamp a flood lamp with an LED grow light above the encasement and aim it directly toward the plants.
  7. As a final (and optional) step, place water-resistant trinkets atop the soil or another layer of gravel. Personally, I like to use a large sandstone rock and a miniature totem pole.

The plants in your impressive, brand-new terrarium will need a minimal amount of water to stay alive. Take your cue to add water by checking through the encasement for signs of moisture in the bottom-most layer and by gauging the condition of the plants. Add only enough water each time to dampen the soil.

Be sure to gather an eclectic range of indoor plants, too, from the stunningly gorgeous to the curiously bizarre. Your DIY terrarium will quickly become your favorite piece of living art and with simple and proper care you’ll be able to enjoy it for years to come, no matter the season. 

What are some other creative ideas that come to mind for this project? What else would work well for an encasement? What trinkets will you add to your terrarium? Please share in the comments!


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