The Terrarium Fad

Terrariums have made a significant comeback recently as succulents and other hardy house plants have increased in popularity.

Indoor Wardian Case
Indoor Wardian Case (Photo by:

What many people don’t know, however, is that terrariums have been used since 500 B.C. when plants were kept indoors in bell-shaped glass containers for viewing. Since then, botanists and other scientists have perfected portable terrariums to travel with plant specimens for their research. You can read a little history on terrariums and learn about why these glass boxes have become so popular over the generations.

As the plant trend expands, so does the diversity of glass planters. Now its almost impossible to walk into a craft or gardening store without seeing some variation of a terrarium, and for good reason! Terrariums are extremely beneficial to gardeners, indoor and out. The hardest part is deciding which one is best for you, thankfully has a helpful info-graphic about the different types of glass planters and which are best for certain plants.

I’ve learned that open-system terrariums are best for succulents and other drought-resistant plants. This is because these plants require adequate air flow and dry soil in order to flourish. Closed-system terrariums are ideal for ferns and other moisture-loving plants that need heat and humidity to thrive. So, today I’ll discuss how to build an open, dry ecosystem for succulents and other arid plants.

Tillandsia in Open Terrarium
Photo by: Selina Quick

I currently have four air plants (Tillandsia) in my glass planters and they are growing tremendously in their mini-ecosystems. Something that I love about building these environments for my arid plants is that they are so easy to make and customize. However, keep in mind that the goal is to mimic their natural environment so that they stay healthy. So with that, let’s get started:

  1. Choose your container. (Remember: succulents and other dry plants need to have airflow, so make sure there is a wide enough opening to allow your plant to breathe!)
  2. Gather supplies. — Here’s where the customizing comes in!
    • Activated Charcoal — this is primarily to improve soil and oxygen conditions inside of the container, personally I’ve skipped this step with my arid plants and haven’t had issues. I would recommend this for wet or closed terrariums though!
    • Soil Barrier — some form of netting or moss to separate the charcoal from soil.
    • Soil — sandy or quick-draining soil is ideal.
    • Plants and Decor
      • Take a look around your local gardening center or craft store, they may have different types of moss, small figurines, or even colorful pebbles that can add some personal flare to your terrarium.
  3. Build your terrarium! 
    • If you chose to purchase charcoal, this will be the first layer placed in your container and should be about 1/4 of an inch (0.6 cm) thick.
    • Gently place the soil barrier atop the charcoal, do not pack down the charcoal.
    • Lightly pour soil over the barrier until there is enough for your plant of choice.
      • I typically use a 3 to 5 inch (7 to 12 cm) thick layer of soil depending on the size of the container and plants.
      • For Tillandsia, I only use about 2 inches (5cm) of soil, as they don’t grow very long roots.
    • DO NOT PACK DOWN THE SOIL — only lightly pack soil around plant roots for security, do not pack down the remaining soil in your terrarium to allow proper air circulation. This will help prevent mold growth if your soil gets too wet.
    • Secure your plants
    • Surround plants with selected pebbles, gravel, or moss.
    • Add decor or figurines
  4. Water plants regularly!
    • Succulents — water once a week when soil is extremely dry, provide direct or partial sunlight.
    • Air Plants — carefully remove from terrarium once a week and soak in water for 1 to 2 hours. Occasionally mist terrarium with a spray bottle if soil is very dry.
Tillandsia in Open Terrarium
Photo by: Selina Quick

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