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How to Make A Self Sustaining Terrarium? Find Out Here!

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Self-Sustaining Terrarium Plant: Easy Guide and Step-By-Step DIY

If you’ve never tried growing your own terrarium before, then you might be wondering how to get started. This guide will help you create your first terrarium and teach you everything you need to know.

From the elements that make the terrarium ecosystem self-sustaining to a step-by-step process, we’ll discuss everything you need to know in this article.

What Is A Terrarium Ecosystem?

Terrariums are beautiful glass containers filled with plants and soil.

Basically, the space inside the terrarium imitates nature.

The most common terrariums are glass jars with lids. But there are many variations, including ceramic pots, clay pots, plastic pots, and metal pots. Some terrariums come with built-in lighting systems, while others require additional lighting.

There are two main kinds of terrariums: closed terrariums and open terrariums. Closed terrariums keep out pests and moisture. Open terrariums allow air circulation and light.

Open terrariums are usually simpler than closed ones. They are best for plants that don’t need humidity to thrive, such as succulents and air plants.

Closed terrariums are usually made of air-tight glass or ceramic. They limit airflow and humidity, making them unsuitable for some plants. A closed terrarium ecosystem can be more challenging because you need to create a balanced ecosystem inside the container for the closed terrarium plants.

Key Elements To A Self-Sustaining Terrarium Ecosystem


Plants are the basis of life on Earth. They provide us with oxygen, water, minerals, and nutrients. And they give us beauty, colour, fragrance, and shade. And those are exactly what your plant will do inside your terrarium.

It’s important to choose the right plant for your terrarium.

You need a plant that will grow enough to provide enough biomass to your terrarium ecosystem but will not overgrow. Plants are responsible for the condensation, aka the water your terrarium uses.

You should also consider the pest/disease resistance of the plant you’ll choose to preserve balance not only in your flora but also in fauna.


The microfauna community of a terrarium play an essential role in maintaining healthy ecosystems. They eat decaying organic matter, recycle plant material, pollinate plants, and repel other potentially harmful insects.

When creating a self-sustaining terrarium, you need to consider the needs of these small animals. A terrarium with animals needs food, water, shelter, and protection from predators. Others may be able to survive without food but still need water and shelter.

Some animals require specific types of habitats. For example, some insects prefer moist environments, while others thrive in dry conditions. Other animals require different temperatures.

The microfauna community of a terrarium can include insects, spiders, snails, worms, centipedes, millipedes, slugs, crickets, roaches, ants, beetles, flies, wasps, bees, butterflies, dragonflies, grasshoppers, cockroaches, and many others.


The container determines the life cycle of your terrarium. There are many different types of containers available. Some are made of glass, others plastic, and some have metal and ceramic. Each type of container has its own advantages and disadvantages.

The container is the most important element of a terrarium because it holds everything together. Without a proper container, nothing would be able to survive.

Whatever type of container you use, ensure it’s large enough to hold your plants and soil. Also, make sure it’s deep enough to prevent water loss through evaporation.


One of the most important elements of a terrarium is light. Without enough light, your terrarium won’t grow well. So, when selecting a terrarium, consider the amount of light needed.

Light is essential for plant growth. Plants require sunlight to photosynthesize (convert carbon dioxide into oxygen) and produce food. Without enough light, plants won’t be able to grow.

The heat from the light will also enable condensation that the terrarium ecosystem will use to thrive.

It’s important to know your plant to know if you should place your terrarium in direct sunlight or somewhere with indirect light.


One of the essential elements in a terrarium ecosystem is water. Without water, there’s no life. So when designing a self-sustaining ecosystem, keep this vital ingredient in mind.

You will need to make a space that retains just enough moisture and is able to dispose of excess through drainage.

You may add some rocks or other materials to help retain and drain moisture. Rocks absorb water and release it slowly over time, keeping your plants’ roots moist.

A self-sustaining terrarium needs a healthy water cycle.

How To Build A DIY Simple, Self-Sustaining Terrarium

What You’ll Need


  • A Glass Container/ Terrarium With Lid
  • Miniature Plants/ Small Terrarium Plants
  • Activated Charcoal
  • Potting Soil (preferably containing a small portion of sand)
  • Decoration Materials (sand, shells, stones, pebbles, figurines)
  • A Coffee Filter or Sphagnum/Sheet Moss


  • Garden Trowel or Large Spoon
  • Small Garden Snips or Scissors
  • Water Spray Bottle

Step-By-Step Process

Prepare your container.

You can choose anything from mason jars, glass cookie jars, apothecary jars, fish tanks, fish bowls, goldfish bowls or even old bottles.

Choose your plants.

Choose terrarium plants with various foliage forms and heights that will fit in your container. It’s best to get ones that are small enough not to touch the terrarium’s sides.


The first thing to put in your terrarium is the drainage. You won’t put a hole in the container to actually drain the water. Instead, you will create a “drainage layer” where any excess water can be collected.

To do this, add a layer of gravel or crushed stone to the bottommost part of your container. Two inches of drainage is generally good, but taller containers require a deeper layer than shallow containers. Just make sure that the water “drained” doesn’t touch the plant roots to prevent root rot and other issues.

Add a quarter to half an inch layer of activated charcoal on top of the gravel/stones with a large spoon or trowel to aid drainage and control odours.

The second layer is composed of sheet moss. Add a sheet of moss on top of the stones and charcoal. Aside from adding aesthetics, it also keeps the first and third layers separate.

The third layer is the potting soil. Ensure your potting mix is sterilized to avoid any diseases, bacterial growth, mould and other issues. Slightly damp your potting soil and add it carefully with your large spoon or small trowel.

The amount of potting mix to add will depend on your container. Ideally, it should be at least a couple of inches, but you should put as much as you can but still leave plenty of space to let your plants grow.


Plan the placement of your terrarium plants. Prepare them by pruning them to the preferred size and shape.

Design before planting, so you know where to place the plants and the decors.

When you’re satisfied with your plan, plant away! Dig a little on the plotting soil and place each plant. Gently pack the soil by patting it down around the plant.


Add any decorative element you want around your plants. You can add decorative pebbles, sand, shells, stones, and even small figurines.

Add moisture to your terrarium.

Use a spray bottle to add a bit of water to your terrarium. It’s important to make it damp, not soaking wet. You can also use the spray to wash down any dirt clinging to the glass sides. To make your view even clearer, you can wipe the droplets of water on the sides with a newspaper or a paper towel.

How To Maintain Terrarium

  • Place your terrarium in a location where it can get lots of light for plants. It will do best in a place with natural light, or artificial grow lights. Direct sunlight is not the best for most terrariums.
  • Make sure that the soil is always damp. You can completely or partially close the lid to control the moisture more. You can also add a mist of water if it’s dry.
  • Occasionally open the terrarium to release some condensation and improve airflow. You can also prune your plants if needed while the terrarium is open.
  • Do not fertilize your terrarium plants. They’ll get enough nutrients through the natural decay of organic materials.

Final Words

Terrariums are an excellent way to create a beautiful living space without spending a ton of money, space, and effort.

They’re easy to set up and maintain and require very little upkeep. Plus, they look amazing and are great conversation starters.

All you need to get started is a container (a glass jar works perfectly), soil, a light source, some water and some plants. Once you have these items, you’re ready to begin!

Paul Wells

Paul Wells

Our world needs more attention today than it ever has! My name is Paul and I run A website to provide information and resources which addresses sustainable living. Looking after our planet starts today and I aspire to spread the message globally in a joint effort to make the change, we so desperately need.

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