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Building my Terrarium: A Step by Step Guide

I've always admired the terrariums on display in garden centres and have been lucky enough to get my hands on my own! Here I tell you how I set up my terrarium after I found a lack of information online and have used products that are less harsh on the environment at a student friendly budget!

What will I need?

- Terrarium

- Bark (Fine Grade)

- Fine Gravel

- Houseplant soil

- Moss

- Decorations

- Plants!

Hobbycraft has a good range of inexpensive decorations, specifically for terrariums!

Step 1: Sourcing your Terrarium

There are many terrariums available on the market, each varying in shape and cost! You should also decide if you would like an open or closed terrarium. By this I mean a terrarium that has a lid and has its own sealed environment. Closed terrariums are often used for plants that love humidity. However, an open terrarium can achieve the humidity you require by regular mistings or a deep layer of pebbles sitting in water to create humid conditions.

The terrarium I have chosen to use is a hand blown glass terrarium thats been moulded to its wooden base.

Cheaper terrarium alternatives is to use a jam jar or mason jar that are found in most department stores.

Step 2: Add a layer of charcoal

To the bottom of your terrarium scatter a fine layer of charcoal about 0.5cm deep. The best place to buy charcoal for your terrarium is online. I purchased my terrarium charcoal from Amazon.

Charcoal is used for absorbing any bad odours and toxins from the soil.

Step 3: Adding a layer of fine gravel

Now add a layer of fine gravel. This layer is to provide a space for excess water to drain into and prevent the soil from becoming too damp. This layer of gravel will also let you see if you are watering your terrarium too much, as the water level will be visible. By keeping this layer of fine gravel moist it will create humid conditions for plants that love humidity.

The gravel I have used is intended for fish tanks but works perfectly for a terrarium. Decorative gravel can be purchased from most pet stores or Hobbycraft.

Step 4: Adding the soil

The depth of your soil layer entirely depends on how large your terrarium is. Ensure the soil layer is deep enough for your plants roots to spread.

I have used a peat-free terrarium soil that has heat-treated rice husks as an alternative to using perlite.

You can find the soil I used here.

Step 5: Planting time!

I found planting was the most time consuming and difficult of all the steps. You can buy terrarium tools such as small brushes to help make things easier. Or a long wooden skewer would also do the job.

Choose plants that are small enough to fit in your terrarium and wont be overcrowded so that they have space to grow. Try to plant your plants away from the sides of the glass so their leaves don't touch. Shake off the soil surrounding their roots to give you more room to work with in your terrarium. Once placed inside, carefully pat the soil around their roots.

Ensure you use plants that are suitable for terrarium life. I have used a Fittonia albivenis (Verschaffeltii group) 'Forest Flame' which loves humid moist conditions and will thrive in any bottle garden.

Step 6: Add a bark layer

I've added a layer of bark to my terrarium for decorative purposes as well as to help increase the humidity.

Use a fine grade bark that will fit inside such as orchid bark. Bark chips can be bought from some garden centres, pet shops or online.

The bark I used can be bought from here.

Step 7: Adding decor

I've added another layer of gravel for decorative purposes and to prevent flies from laying their eggs on the soils surface.

Step 8: Moss

I've chosen to add a moss layer thats in contact with the soil beneath to help keep it moist. The moss will also help to increase humidity levels and serves for decorative purposes as well.

You can buy moss either online or from some pet shops that specialise in reptiles who use moss to increase humidity in gecko setups.

You can buy the same moss as mine from here.

Step 9: Add any other decorations

I've added two glossy black pebbles to mine.

Other decor you could add is shells, small pieces of drift wood or sand. Some people also like to add small figurines such as animals or fairies to create a fairytale scene.

Step 10: Optional addition of a light

I've since added a small clip on light costing £7 to give my terrarium a little extra light. This isn't necessary, but has been included on my terrarium as it sits in a dark corner of the room.

Fittonia albivenis will tolerate bright indirect sunlight to shaded conditions so will suit most terrariums!

You can find the link to my light here.


Use either bottled or RO water in your terrarium as it will help reduce limescale deposits building up on the glass. Avoid using tap water that is high in chlorine and will affect your delicate moss.

Please share your terrarium below!

For anymore help or advice, don't hesitate to get in contact.

Thank you for reading!


Twitter: @mrjmagson

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Emma Wilby
Emma Wilby
Feb 28, 2020

Of course, I'll post a pic when I do. It'll be planted with sundews and pings which colour up nicely with bright light, so I would need something which is a bit stronger to light it up. I'm on the hunt though! And yes, see you at the plant swap :)


Matthew Magson
Matthew Magson
Feb 28, 2020

Hi Emma. My terrarium was given to me as a Christmas present so I am unsure where it came from. That's unfortunate. I would love to see your terrarium when you plant it. I added a small clip-on light to mine - just to give it a little extra light in my darker university room. Hope to see you at the next plant swap (Friday 6th March). Matthew :)


Emma Wilby
Emma Wilby
Feb 27, 2020

I have a similar terrarium! Did you buy it from Pine and Oak? I need more space and lighting before I can plant mine :'(

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