Make Your Own: Terrarium!

A few weeks ago, I came across a terrarium-making workshop by a talented young entrepreneur. Emma started making terrariums about 4 years ago on a Saturday with a friend, and from there the obsession snowballed. Although she studied surface design at university and worked as a designer for an interior decorating company, she soon decided to pursue terrarium-making full-time. She now runs London Terrariums, a bright and cheerful one-stop-shop for terrarium makers and admirers. Her workshops are booked out months in advance, as people (and companies) rush to make their own mini-ecosystems in a jar. But what’s so special about making terrariums? According to Emma, “it’s very therapeutic.”

Inspired by Emma’s story, I decided to create my own terrarium. Commonly, terrariums consist of tropical plants growing in sealed glass jars, which serve as little greenhouses. Water trapped inside evaporates and condenses — a closed-loop cycle that mimics a tropical (humid!) environment — allowing tropical plants like ferns and fittonias to grow continuously, with little intervention, for many years.

I wrote about tropical terrariums, which are Emma’s favourites, for Hackspace Mag, so here I will make a completely different kind of terrarium. A desert one.


A desert terrarium requires exactly the opposite conditions to a humid tropical one. It features succulents and cacti, which will appreciate a dry, arid environment that mimics their native desert. This terrarium doesn’t need much watering, and it definitely should not be sealed in a jar! It will become a fabulous feature of home-decor and with proper maintenance will bring you joy for years to come. Let’s get started.

To create a desert terrarium you will need several items.


  • [amazon_textlink asin=’B06W9NSZ6P’ text=’A clear open glass bowl’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’brainink-21′ marketplace=’UK’ link_id=’83d22512-0c59-11e8-a876-a3c25a67cc0e’] (I used this one with dimensions 19.5×19.5x18cm)
  • 5-6 small cactus and succulent plants, depending on your preference
  • [amazon_textlink asin=’B007797622′ text=’2L of special cactus and succulent potting mix’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’brainink-21′ marketplace=’UK’ link_id=’675e5c21-0c59-11e8-bfb1-112d03ef714a’]
  • Pebbles or river stones for drainage
  • Decorative sand
  • Decorative glass pebbles
  • Spray bottle with water
  • A small stick and paper towels

Step 1. Drainage!

Place a layer of pebbles at the bottom of your cleaned glass bowl, roughly 3cm deep.

The pebbles will capture any excess water runoff and prevent the roots from sitting in water and rotting.

Step 2. The Mix

Use a potting mix that is specifically formulated for cacti and succulents. This mix will usually contain a high amount of sand, grit, and loam, which will allow for good water drainage.

Fill the bowl two-thirds of the way up with the potting mix. Water it in, which will compress it. Then, top off with more mix until it is about 2cm from the edge of the bowl.

Step 3. Let’s get creative!

Arrange the plants the way you’d like to display them while they are still in their pots. This is down to your personal preference. Anything from a 1-plant terrarium to a diverse arrangement of cacti and succulents goes. Consider adding plants with different textures, heights, and colours. Tall plants go well at the back and shorter plants at the front. Space the plants at least 5 square cm apart so as not to overcrowd them.

Step 4. Plant

Take out the first plant by turning the pot upside down and gently tapping or squeezing the bottom of the pot. Gently brush away the old compost and tease out the roots. Be sure not to damage the rootball, as it can rip easily.

Take Care Use a paper towel to hold the cacti, when popping them out of the pots. Their tiny barbs can lodge in the skin and be hard to see. Holding the cacti with a paper towel will prevent this.

Make small holes in the potting mix to mark where each plant will go. Place the plant in the hole, and firm the soil around it. Do this one by one, for each plant.

Once you are happy with the arrangement, clean the edge of the bowl with a paper towel to remove soil residue from the sides.

Step 5. Sand

Add a thin layer of sand over the potting mix. To do this around plants, gently angle the plants away (with a paper towel) from where you spread the sand. Don’t worry if some of the sand gets lodged in the cacti or on the succulents. You can remove this by brushing it off gently with an old toothbrush.

Step 6. Decorate

Decorate the terrarium with glass pebbles, small rocks, or any other miniature decorations you have at hand.

Step 7. Mist

We have already watered in the compost, which will help the plants take root. Now, lightly mist the terrarium over the top with the spray bottle.

And it’s finished! A desert terrarium for you to enjoy.

Caring for your terrarium

Place the terrarium in a bright spot in your house, but shielded from direct sunlight.

Cacti and succulents are a broad group of plants, but they will usually need watering once a week during their growth period — from Spring into Fall. In the dormant period (late Fall to early Spring), water less frequently, allowing the soil to dry out.

Collected rainwater is best for watering the plants. Tap water can be very alkaline with a high concentration of dissolved minerals, which will accumulate in the soil over time and may cause root problems.

Replace the soil with fresh potting mix once a year. The cacti and succulents will really appreciate this!

Did you enjoy making a terrarium? Leave your comments, suggestions, and tips below.

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Also published on Medium.

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