How to Create a Terrarium

Terrariums are self-contained environments that can be created in bottles, jars, aquariums or any number of other glass objects. They can contain plants and animals, interesting rocks, knickknacks, or whatever you choose to put in them. Terrariums are great for cubicles and dorm rooms, because they do not take up a lot of space, cost very little time and money to build, and require very limited amounts of maintenance. This writeup details my recent attempts to make a cheap terrarium.

Four basic items make up the terrarium:

  • A Container - This should be mostly to totally transparent, with some way of closing or sealing it. Generally, glass containers are used and can be found cheaply. For the terrarium I just created, I picked up a large glass container with lid (generally used for storing flour or sugar, reminiscent of old candy jars) for $10 at a local Target.
  • Rocks - A bottom layer of pebbles or gravel is supposed to provide aeration to the soil and prevent mold. Also, rocks can provide visual appeal. In my case, I just bought a six dollar bag of smooth garden pebbles. If you're feeling plucky, the exact same rocks can be collected out of a local stream or brook. Additionally, I picked up a couple of interesting stones (larger and more textured than the foundation pebbles) to increase the aesthetic appeal of the surface of my terrarium. These came from a local park.
  • Dried Moss / Soil - This acts as the base on which the plants in your terrarium will live. Since I only plan to use moss, I predominately used dry spaghnum moss with just a little potting soil on top. Small bags of spaghnum can be purchased at a garden center for about five dollars, and contain enough dry moss to create several terrariums.
  • Moss / Plants - Several varieties of moss are good for terrariums, and some plants that require little soil or attention can also be used. I picked up a small block of landscaping moss at Wal-Mart for eight dollars, and it contains enough to do at least two terrariums. This particular version is long and in two colors, a vibrant light green and lush dark green. While at the park with my daughter playing in the creek, I also picked up a small rock with another species of moss, and for variety pulled a small piece of rotting log off of a larger limb which also contained a different species of moss.
The total cost for all materials was less than $30, but that could be cut in half easily by collecting all of your own moss, rocks, and soil.

Steps to create a terrarium:

  1. Rinse out the container and remove any fingerprints or smudges from the inside or outside that are visible. Remember, you're going to be spending a lot of hours sitting in your cube staring at this thing while you wait for lunch. Make it presentable!
  2. Put down an initial layer of pebbles or gravel. Depending on your aesthetic preferences, you may want to stack pebbles along the outside perimeter at different heights so that you container doesn't look like a cake layer but has more variety between levels. I would recommend creating a "high" and "low" side so that a gradation will exist between one side of the container and the other. This helps the terrarium look better, and makes it easier to face your moss towards a light source (like a window).
  3. Now start filling in with your dry moss. I have read in some articles that the dry moss can be soaked in water and then wrung out prior to placement, but you could also water at the end. I'm not sure what works best. Be aware of how full you are making the terrarium, and try to leave at least 1/3 to 1/2 of empty space at the top. Otherwise your terrarium can end up looking like a bucket of dirt. Place a thin layer of your soil over the dry moss. If you would like to add any items, such as unique rocks, for the eye to be drawn to now is the time to do so. In my case, my daughter insisted on bringing a rock home from the creek, so I placed it as a centerpiece memento in my terrarium. I also took a nice gray rock and placed it vertically along one side so that it would visibly cut through each level and jut out above the moss. Think Japanese rock garden here!
  4. Now carefully place your moss or plants along the surface. Pay attention to rocks that you would like to keep exposed, and vary the height at which the moss is placed. Remove any flecks of soil or dry moss that may have collected at the top during creation (essentially, make the surface presentable).
  5. Finally, lightly water the moss and then take a rag or paper towel and wipe clean the inside of the container. Place your top on the container, and voilĂ ! One terrarium.

A Nodeshell Rescue

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