Lets make a Terrarium

Terrariums three in a row

Making a real terrarium with the kids is one of those fun projects I’ve had in mind for a while. It’s quite good to do in winter as it can be easier to find lush green moss in the garden, and it’s a slower time for gardening. Terrariums are mini eco systems and are beautiful tools for learning about the water cycle and are ideal for studying flora. Perfect little science projects!

Angela's Terrarium

We found four nice large jars in mums’ garage, and away we went, I spent an hour or so looking at the basic principles of building your own, and of course, wasted some of that time on Pinterest.

It’s fairly straightforward, the idea is that a terrarium is a self sustaining system, you set up the basic requirements, and it takes care of itself. With a terrarium, you can observe photosynthesis, respiration, evaporation and precipitation.

If you really want to get into it, you can make note of observations of the ‘weather’ conditions inside, contemplate questions like:

Is condensation on the underside of the lid?

Are the inside walls wet, is water running down or dripping inside?

Does the soil ever dry out?

Aesthetics also come to mind, miniature gardens such as these remind me of the art of the Bonsai, and you can talk about visual balance, harmony, colour schemes, perhaps using odd numbers of plants to create a more natural look.

Some things to consider when planting:

Will the soil be pressed flat, or will you create different levels, hills or valleys? Will water pool anywhere?

How many different plant varieties will you include? Will you chose just one?

Will you add stones, dried wood, shells, bones, fossils! coral, or other ornaments?

Consider the habit of different plants you wish to grow, some may spread, like moss, some may reach up, like a small fern. Will some flower or fruit?

Rob's Terrarium

You can record in a journal the growth of plants and keep track of how often you need to water it, if at all. There are not many limits in what you do, other than space inside your jar and growth rate of the plants you chose, you may need to transplant any that take over. Also, don’t fertilise your terrarium, you don’t really want to encourage large scale growth, and your plants will absorb nutrients from the soil, though how long will this closed system keep the plants healthy? Another question to contemplate… If the jar has enough space, you can use it as a habitat to observe insects, just remember to return them to where you found them after an hour or so.

What you need:

Terrarium making

We had to make do with what was available, there was a bag of potting mix and other basic gardening equipment, as well as various pebbles and stones already in abundance in nana’s garden (you might like to plan a visit to a beach to collect what you need for this project, be sure to wash off any sand and salt). We just grabbed ours from the garden path!

Many of the DIY tutorials describe the various layers as:

Terrarium making rocks

First, small stones or pebbles for drainage.

Terrarium making rocks and shells in the jar

Next, layer of sphagnum moss followed by activated charcoal, this apparently keeps the water clear – we didn’t have any charcoal at hand so skipped this part. Also, we collected some dried moss (which we then soaked for a few minutes) instead of the sphagnum moss, choosing a moss that is similar (looking) so hopefully it may have the same water retaining qualities, it also helps to prevent the soil from oozing into the stones at the base and making mud.

Terrarium making moss

Next, a layer of soil, followed by the plants and any decorations.

Terrarium making filling the jar

We used basic potting mix, some of the succulents and mosses we collected also had soil attached, so that went in too.

Terrarium making succulants

We collected a number of small succulents from pots, and some moss and baby tears that grow near a small water way.

Terrarium making baby tears and moss

Planting was the really fun part!

Terrarium making planting

I created a hill on one side of my jar, and included a few carefully placed stones, and in a second jar, used some big chunks of hard soil topped with moss to create a kind of cliff wall on one side. Luna was quite selective, though she used at least one of each plant!

Terrarium making planting start

She had a full jar by the end…

Luna's Terrarium

Then in goes the water! We soaked our moss and the small plants, and I’m curious if that has resulted in an excess of water, we’ll see.

Terrarium making watering

Talking about excess water, it turned out that Blake was making an ‘aquarium’ all along and he has perhaps set up to drown his plants, interesting to talk with him about how that has turned out in the next few days…


These babies have been a real hit, they have spent time where the kids have been playing and are of course in the bedroom now. And no doubt will be checked first thing in the morning…

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