Terrariums are miniature indoor gardens that allow plant lovers to create beautiful, lush displays in small spaces. They have become increasingly popular over the last few years as more people discover the joys of indoor gardening. Terrariums are perfect for growing succulents and cacti, as these plants thrive in the warm, humid environment inside a terrarium.
When choosing succulents and cacti for a terrarium, it’s important to pick varieties that will do well in the unique enclosed environment. Small, slow-growing plants that require minimal watering and tolerate high humidity are ideal. Certain succulents and cacti also stay relatively compact, making them perfect additions to petite terrarium gardens.
Here is an overview of some of the best succulent and cactus varieties to grow in terrariums:
Best Succulents for Terrariums
With its trailing stems covered in plump leaves, Burro’s Tail (Sedum morganianum) is one of the most popular succulents for terrariums. This petite plant stays under 6 inches tall and spreads out as it grows, making it perfect for small spaces. The thick leaves hold water for long periods, so Burro’s Tail only needs occasional watering. Provide bright light to encourage the leaves to remain compact and avoid overcrowding.
Known for its upright stems lined with dark green leaves stripped in white, Zebra Plant (Haworthia attenuata) adds bold texture to terrarium displays. This versatile succulent stays small, reaching about 3-6 inches tall when mature. Zebra Plant tolerates low light well but grows more compact with proper sunlight. Allow the soil to dry between waterings to prevent rot.
With fuzzy white hairs on its thick leaves, Panda Plant (Kalanchoe tomentosa) is another excellent succulent for terrariums. It remains quite small, under 4 inches tall, and forms a nice compact shape. Panda Plant thrives in bright light and requires minimal watering. The soft hairs give it a unique velvety look.
Hen and Chicks
A common name used for plants in the Sempervivum genus, Hen and Chicks spread rapidly to form mats of rosette-shaped plants. They work perfectly as groundcovers in terrariums, filling space and adding color with their red-tipped leaves. Hen and Chicks stay under 3 inches tall and require excellent drainage to avoid rot.
Known for its graceful rosettes of fleshy, lace-like leaves, Lace Aloe (Aristaloe aristata) is a lovely addition to terrarium gardens. It remains quite compact, reaching just 4-8 inches tall at maturity. Lace Aloe enjoys bright light and drier conditions than many other succulents. The small-scale rosettes suit terrariums beautifully.
With over 300 species available, Stonecrops (Sedum spp.) offer endless options for terrariums. Miniature varieties like Sedum makinoi stay under 2 inches tall, weaving through displays with their tiny leaves. Upright varieties like Sedum rubrotinctum ‘Aurora’ add height up to 5 inches. Most stonecrops need minimal water and tolerate partial sunlight well.
A popular genus of succulents, Echeveria offers hundreds of small, colorful varieties perfect for terrariums. Some options include Echeveria ‘Perle von Nürnberg’ with purple-tipped leaves and Echeveria ‘Dionysos’ with deep red coloring. Most Echeveria stay compact under 6 inches tall and require bright light to maintain their shapes and colors.
Best Cacti for Terrariums
While they seem tricky, certain cacti can thrive in the humid environment inside terrariums when cared for properly. Look for compact varieties and use fast-draining soil. Here are some top choices:
Despite its name, Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) blooms at various times of year, adding bright flowers to terrarium gardens. Native to the jungles of Brazil, this epiphytic cactus grows well in humid conditions. It stays fairly compact between 3-6 inches tall indoors. Provide average humidity and water when the soil dries.
Also known as strawberry pear, the Dragonfruit Cactus (Hylocereus undatus) is another epiphytic, jungle-dwelling species that can adapt well as a terrarium specimen. It stays small when container grown, under 12 inches tall. Dragonfruit Cactus needs high humidity and thrives with regular watering. It rewards proper care with beautiful flowers.
Native to the deserts of South America, Ball Cactus (Parodia) stays compact at just 2-4 inches tall and can handle higher humidity and moisture better than many desert cacti. It forms a cute globe shape covered in fuzzy spines. Ball Cactus thrives in medium to high light. Use fast-draining soil and allow it to dry some between waterings.
Resembling its fruit namesake, Pineapple Cactus (Echinopsis chamaecereus) grows well in terrariums, staying under 6 inches tall. It handles higher humidity better than many desert cacti but still requires very fast drainage. Pineapple Cactus blooms best with consistent bright light. The beautiful flowers last over a week when they emerge.
Old Lady Cactus
Mammillaria hahniana, also called Old Lady Cactus, forms a neat ball of white spines up to 4 inches wide. It stays compact and enjoys the higher humidity levels provided in terrariums. Bright light keeps Old Lady Cactus looking its best. Allow the soil to dry between thorough waterings to prevent rot.
Bishop’s Cap Cactus
The solitary, dome-shaped Bishop’s Cap Cactus (Astrophytum myriostigma) remains small and tolerates humidity well.Native to parts of Texas and Mexico, it reaches about 4 inches tall and wide when mature. Bishop’s Cap Cactus needs fast-draining soil and bright light to form its tight rosettes.
Tips for Growing Succulents & Cacti in Terrariums
Follow these tips to help your succulents and cacti thrive in a terrarium environment:
- Choose small, slow-growing varieties that naturally stay compact. Tall, fast growers will outgrow terrariums quickly.
- Plant in shallow containers to keep roots confined. Deep pots retain too much moisture.
- Use a very well-draining cactus/succulent soil mix. Add extra perlite or pumice to improve drainage.
- Allow the soil to dry out some between waterings to prevent root rot. Water less in winter.
- Provide as much bright, indirect light as possible. Plants will stretch and lose color in low light.
- Monitor humidity. Ideal levels are 50-70%. Increase ventilation to avoid overly soggy conditions.
- Fertilize lightly in spring and summer using a balanced liquid fertilizer diluted by half. Avoid fertilizing in fall/winter.
- Prune and trim plants as needed to contain their size and remove dead growth.
- Acclimate new plants gradually before placing them in a closed terrarium.
With the right plant choices, soil, lighting, and care routine, succulents and cacti can make amazing additions to terrarium displays. Their unique textures, shapes, and colors create visually striking indoor gardens. Just be sure to stick with compact varieties and provide proper drainage to avoid rot. With a little practice, you’ll be able to create a thriving terrarium showcase.