Whether you’re greening up your space or crafting a gift for a friend, a DIY terrarium is a great choice.
Did you know that you can even make a hanging terrarium?
Believe it – custom terrariums can be made out of almost anything. They’re easy to make too. As a result, you can have fun with it without spending loads of money.
Or, if you’re looking for something that requires a bit less effort, there are DIY terrarium kits available too. With these, all the supplies are sent to you – some assembly required.
So, in an effort to get you doing instead of reading, we’ll explain what a terrarium is, tell you why you need one, let you know what the benefits of building your own are compared to purchasing from a vendor, and then explain to you how to make a custom terrarium yourself.
What is a Terrarium?
So, you’ve seen videos of terrariums or your friends have one and now you think you want one too. You’re intrigued by how the terrarium is like it’s own little world – completely dependant on what you, the supreme overlord, do to sustain its life.
Obviously, you get the gist of what a terrarium is, but can you correctly define it?
A terrarium, by our definition, is a terrestrial micro-ecosystem that may or may not be sealed. It is also most suitable for tropical plants. Your definition was probably close, but it’s best to hammer out the correct one for science’s sake.
It’s also important to note that there are two kinds of terrariums – open and closed. In the case of the former, the terrarium is open to the environment, usually via an opening at the mouth of the housing or as a result of the housing including meshing. Learn more about the differences here.
When it comes to a closed version, it’s like you have to play Temple Terrarium on level extra hard. If you think about it, when you close off the terrarium to the outside world – including its air and other natural assistants – your creation must solve its own problems.
This means, that if the oxygen levels get out of wack, it’s the job of the organisms in the housing alone to self-regulate.
Why do I want a terrarium?
Are you somewhere post-pet rock but pre-puppy in your life?
If yes, then chances are you’re definitely in need of a terrarium.
While a terrarium does require some maintenance it does not require the attention needed by cat or dog. Think of it almost like having a fish tank without the tank being completely filled with water. The premises of care are still the same – keep chemical levels stable, maintain cleanliness, and simply attend to the world you’ve created.
But, instead of fish, you have plants and soil and stuff.
If you’re interested at all in plants or science, a terrarium can be a more entertaining choice than a fish tank. Not to mention a terrarium is going to be cheaper in the long run. Don’t worry though, you’re still going to have to utilize a lot of different scientific knowledge to keep your terrarium in prime health!
Benefits of a Custom Terrarium Over a Pre-Made Terrarium
So, why do we recommend completely DIY over a DIY terrarium kit?
Well, we just feel like the additional control afforded by making your own terrarium outweighs the time saved by buying a DIY terrarium kit. At the same time, we understand that your time is valuable and you may not be willing to spend the hours needed to plan out and create your own terrarium.
The choice of complete DIY or DIY kit, in the end, is your own. So, do your own research to figure out which method is best for your unique situation. We have the information you need regardless of which route you choose in a pro and con chart below.
|Pro DIY Terrarium||Con DIY Terrarium||Pro Terrarium Kit||Con Terrarium Kit|
|Most control possible in what's included||Terrarium is only as good as the construction||Terrarium comes with peace of mind as a result of being purchased||More expensive than the DIY terrarium route|
|Less expensive than a terrarium kit||Takes time to build||Can find some AWESOME stuff if you're willing to spend the money||No control in what is included|
|Can plan additions if considered from the outset||More likely to have issues||Terrarium kit includes everything (thus saving time)||No imagination or creativity necessary|
|Satisfaction of building a terrarium from scratch|
What You’ll Need for a Custom Terrarium
Chances are you can make an open air custom terrarium pretty easily from things you have laying around the house. After all, building materials for small household self sustaining ecosystems aren’t too uncommon.
For those of us that are a little more ambitious, the supplies below are a great starting point for a DIY sealed terrarium. If you have any questions about anything more in-depth, just let us know it in the comments section!
Terrarium Housing –
Pretty much anything you can think of can be a DIY terrarium housing, but some objects are more prudent choices than others. Check out our full guide on terrarium containers if you need more information. This list is thorough but nowhere near complete –
- orb necklaces
- shot glasses
- beer glasses
- jars (learn more about jarariums)
- coffee pots
- Christmas ornaments
- wine glasses
- hanging orbs
- recycled bottles (plastic and glass)
- glass-enclosed tables
And, the biggest pro of building your own custom terrarium route is the ability to control everything! Might as well choose an awesome housing, right?
How much does the ‘ground’ of your terrarium affect its overall health?
A lot. Check out this ultimate terrarium substrate guide for a better understanding of what to make you ‘ground ‘ out of. You’re going to want to choose carefully when deciding between stones, dirt, or a combination of the two. After all, this is how nutrients are going to travel in your little ecosystem.
So, if your self sustaining ecosystem has hopes of good health then you’ll have to have the proper drainage system. Fortunately, having the correct form of drainage is not all that difficult. It is the first step in creating your own terrarium.
There are minute differences in how your terrarium’s drainage should be situated based on whether it’s open or closed. The breakdown is as follows:
- Open Terrarium – pebbles, soil, charcoal, rocks
- Closed Terrarium – soil, charcoal, rocks
Gardening tools –
Basic garden tools will work provided they’re small enough to fit into your housing. If you have a small shovel and some gardening gloves, then you’re ready to start construction. Maybe your housing is super small. Well, these Claws’ Garden Gloves may be just what you need. They feature mini shovels on each finger; pretty cool – and useful, huh?
Best Terrarium Plants
Now you’ve got everything you need to make your custom terrarium and get it going, but you feel that you’re missing something.
One of the best parts of this process is choosing your terrarium plants! From plants to animals, you’re the boss as far as what’s allowed inside. So, do some planning before you begin construction – you don’t want a shrimp that can’t coexist with your favorite plant. Learn more about easy animals to care for in your self sustaining ecosystem here.
Think about what kind of aesthetic you want your terrarium to have. Most importantly, think carefully about the science behind it all as you plan.
In case you aren’t a scientist, there are two easy rules to remember when choosing plants for your DIY terrarium.
- Choose plants that fit well within the vessel (i.e. they aren’t touching the glass)
- Select specimens that thrive in humid environments
As long as you adhere to these basic rules, the plants in your custom terrarium should be happy as clams.
How to Make a Custom Terrarium
If you have all the things you need and you’ve done the necessary planning, then this step is just about putting the thing together. Perhaps you need to be walked through the process though, so here we go.
- Clean the inside of your terrarium housing (you don’t want chemicals or anything interfering with your self sustaining ecosystem!)
- Add whatever drainage system you decided (clean your pebbles if you purchased them from a home goods store)
- Add your plants (remember to do your research on the best terrarium plants; here’s a list of our favorites for jarariums)
- Toss in some extra aesthetic bits (have an action figure or cool looking rock you want to incorporate? Adding bits like this can encourage your plants not to grow in certain spots)
- Give it time (there’s a lot of science going on in your terrarium, especially if you went the sealed route. Give your ecosystem a chance to level itself out, but that doesn’t mean not to check the levels)
The Top DIY Terrarium Kits
Cute Farms Terrarium Starter Kit
- Just buy your own plants and housing
- 3x varieties of moss for water retention and pH (Reindeer Moss, Forest Moss & Lichen)
- 12 oz. Potting Soil Blended (includes Activated Charcoal)
- Gardening Vermiculite (for water retention)
- 12 oz. Pea Pebbles & River Stones (remember to rinse them)
- 1 oz. Plant Food
- Finishing tools include a brush and bamboo stick (can replace the mini garden tools)
- Miniature Dinos (not my cup of tea, but my nephew would love them)
Hirt’s Gardens Terrarium/Fairy Garden Kit with 3 Plants
- Includes three live miniature plants (varieties dependent on season)
- Effective substrate system features:
- Sheet Moss
- Natural Terrarium Potting Soil
- Carbonized Charcoal
- Decorative Mulch
- Decorative Reindeer Moss
Syndicate Sales DIY Terrarium Kit
- You have to buy your own plants
- As basic a DIY terrarium kit as they come
- Includes just the essentials minus the plants
- Created from recycled materials
- A reasonably priced DIY terrarium kit that’s perfect for beginners