Let's talk containers...
I prefer clear glass containers because one can view all the visually stimulating and intriguing layers. I also favor a glass container that is shorter with a wider top. Not only will this encourage more natural air circulation (discouraging mold) but you'll fit in more plants, too. Plus, a super tall container will require more supplies to fill all those layers.
Most terrariums are far emptier than mine. Meaning...you can see the plants through the glass, they are not planted on top. So if your aim is for a more traditional terrarium, when following the steps below, use less than half of the material suggested. And yes, I fully acknowledge that I was partly motivated by smell - making a more "potted" version of a terrarium is less likely to get a little stinky!
I had this vision of a dining room centerpiece terrarium. But small terrariums look nice on kitchen counter tops, decorative shelves, the buffet table and even on your bed stand to wish you good morning each day!
Open versus closed terrariums
If you do decide to create a more traditional terrarium with the plants centered in the middle of the container, be aware that the humidity will also be higher. My spin fosters a dryer environment to the benefit of the plants. One other advantage to a open terrarium is air circulation which allows the whole mini-ecosystem literally a breath of fresh air ~ so it's less likely to rot and smell!
Closed terrariums are more suitable for your humidity loving plants like miniature orchids, ferns and air plants.
What's the activated charcoal for and do I need it?
The primary reason for adding charcoal to the terrarium is toxin removal. Horticultural charcoal absorbs chemicals in the soil, water and air that can build up inside your terrarium and damage your plants. Using distilled water and NOT overwatering are also key. The charcoal also absorbs icky odors. If you skip the charcoal, you're more likely to end up with a smelly terrarium from decomposing soil and plant material, as well as mold and mildew.
Where to get plants....
The succulent and cacti selection was actually pretty good! I did like how they had several plant sizes available, and smaller plants for terrariums. My only gripe is that when you go to buy succulents, they are almost never labelled. Frustrating. It's up you to consult with google.
- Various succulents in different shapes, colors, and sizes
- Clear glass container with a wide opening to prevent moisture accumulation (and mold)
- Small, smooth pebbles, gravel or tiny lake rock (my preference)
- Activated charcoal
- Succulent or cactus soil
- Garden ornaments (optional)
- Fine mist spray bottle
- Drinking straw (to blow around the sand!)
Layer one - small rocks, pebbles or gravel
Always keep in mind that your container terrarium does not have drainage holes (you wouldn't want it leaking anyhow) so keeping water to a minimum is best. I like to mist mine to ensure plants aren't waterlogged.
The second purpose is that the rocks are visually appealing. For deeper containers, adding two inches of rock is ideal, but for a shallower container, one inch is better. You must make room for all the layers so use your eye and your instincts and don't go overboard!
Layer two - activated horticultural charcoal bits or powdered charcoal
Just make sure it's the horticultural variety ~ not the stuff used for teeth whitening! You'll have plenty left over for other projects. I ended up adding some to my closed terrarium to help prevent mold, stagnation and stench!
Layer three - moss
Layer four - succulent or cactus soil
I added about an inch of soil, then tucked in my succulents and cacti remembering that they do not want to be planted deep. Then I sprinkled an inch more soil to top my creation off. You just want to give those roots ample depth to re-root. Don't bury them!