Enjoying the Health Benefits of Indoor Gardening with Terrariums

The Benefits of Terrarium Therapy for Stress Relief

Indoor gardening with terrariums offers a range of benefits beyond simply decorative appeal. Terrariums provide an opportunity to connect with nature, reduce stress, improve air quality, and even boost cognitive skills. With just a few inexpensive supplies, anyone can create a thriving miniature world and reap the wellness rewards.

What Exactly is a Terrarium?

A terrarium is a transparent, sealed container housing a miniature ecosystem of plants and sometimes insects or small animals. Terrariums allow gardeners to create a self-sustaining world under glass, like a tiny biosphere. The transparent walls of glass or plastic let in sunlight to nourish the plants inside. The moisture and waste given off by the plants stay within the enclosure, creating a unique microclimate. With proper plant choices and care, the plants thrive with no additional watering or maintenance needed.

Terrariums can be fully enclosed or open to occasional ventilation. Completely sealed terrariums, called Wardian cases, create a habitat in which the moisture recycles continuously. Open terrariums may require occasional watering or pruning. With an ideal balance of plants, moisture, sunlight, and ventilation, a terrarium can sustain itself for months or even years.

How Do Terrariums Work?

Terrariums work by imitating a natural ecological system in miniature. The transparent enclosure allows light to filter through for photosynthesis while trapping moisture. Plants release water vapor through transpiration. This moisture condenses on the walls and drips back down to the soil, watering the plants. With the right balance of plants, sunlight, soil, and ventilation, the water cycles continuously.

The most common plants in terrariums are tropicals adapted to warm, humid environments. Plants like ferns, begonias, nerve plants, peperomias, pileas, ivies, mosses, and succulents thrive in high humidity and limited air circulation. Their small size and slow growth make them ideal terrarium specimens.

For a thriving terrarium, choose plants with similar light and watering needs. Mix shallow rooted plants with deeper rooted varieties to fill the space. Add activated charcoal to absorb odors and prevent mold. Leave space between plants to allow air flow. With practice, anyone can create a balanced, low-maintenance miniature garden.

What Are The Health Benefits of Caring For Terrariums?

Cultivating terrariums provides a range of benefits beyond enjoying an attractive display. Interacting with plants, even on a small scale, offers physical and mental wellness advantages. Here are some of the top ways terrariums enhance health:

Stress Relief and Relaxation

Studies show that interaction with plants triggers measurable reductions in stress hormones, heart rate, blood pressure, anxiety, and fatigue. The restorative effects apply even with limited exposure to a few houseplants. Tending to terrariums allows indoor gardeners to reap these calming benefits daily. The soothing ritual of pruning, watering, and tending to an indoor garden creates a meditative escape from daily stress.

Improved Focus and Restoration

Rows of identical cubicles and windowless offices characterize many modern workspaces. But exposure to nature, even glimpses of green spaces, boosts mental stamina, focus, and creativity. Adding mini gardens to office desks in the form of terrariums allows workers to reap cognitive benefits throughout the day. Studies verify that glimpses of indoor plants increase concentration, motivation, and short-term memory.

Cleaner Indoor Air Quality

Like other houseplants, terrariums help filter indoor air by absorbing CO2 and releasing oxygen. However, terrariums excel at removing air pollutants like volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The completely enclosed environment forces air to cycle through repeatedly. With each pass, the plants absorb more toxins. NASA studies found indoor plants reduced VOCs by 80-90%. Adding a few terrariums to a room significantly boosts air purification.

Education for Children

A terrarium’s enclosed ecosystem offers opportunities to teach children about plant biology, ecology, the water cycle, and more. Kids can observe first-hand how condensation forms, how plants uptake nutrients, and how an ecosystem balances over time. Tending to a terrarium also builds responsibility and caretaking skills. Observing the results of their efforts boosts confidence and self-esteem.

Year-Round Access to Gardening

For gardeners in colder climates, terrariums allow for gardening long after frost hits. By bringing miniature gardens indoors, anyone can enjoy the stress-relief and creativity of gardening even through the winter months. Terrariums extend the growing season and let gardeners try out more delicate, tropical, and exotic plants.

Decor and Unique Gifts

Beyond the functional benefits, terrariums simply look cool. The unusual shapes of glass bowls, globes, cubes, and cylinders filled with ornamental plants create unique centerpieces. Their low maintenance makes terrariums great decorative elements for desks, kitchens, bathrooms, dorms, or children’s rooms. For crafty gardeners, customized terrariums also make great gifts for any occasion.

What Types of Terrariums Can I Create?

Terrariums come in endless shapes, sizes, and styles. Gardeners can choose a design based on space constraints, desired maintenance, or purely decorative considerations. Some possibilities include:

Traditional Open Terrariums

The classic terrarium design consists of an open glass bowl or cookie jar filled with layers of gravel, activated charcoal, soil, and plants. Their open tops allow for some ventilation but may require occasional watering. These traditional designs work well for succulents, ferns, ivies, pileas, and other plants that tolerate occasional drying between waterings.

Completely Sealed Wardian Cases

Wardian cases are completely enclosed glass boxes, usually cube or cylinder shaped. With no ventilation, these terrariums develop a self-sustaining water cycle. The right balance of plants, soil, and moisture keeps the system in equilibrium indefinitely. Look for tropical mosses, selaginellas, begonias, and moisture-loving plants for these fully enclosed designs.

Hanging Terrariums

For those short on tabletop space, hanging terrariums offer a convenient solution. Hang a glass globe or teardrop-shaped jar in a window and enjoy an eye-level display. Hanging terrariums with wider opening generally allow for more ventilation and drainage. Choose succulents or air plants for low maintenance designs.

Tabletop Terrariums

For small spaces like desks and end tables, mini terrariums in cubes or cylinders work perfectly. Look for containers sized from 2 to 6 inches for tabletop displays. Miniature cacti, tropical mosses, and succulents all adapt well to these petite environments. For easy care, choose plants with similar light and humidity preferences.

Terrarium Necklaces

Tiny terrariums small enough to wear as jewelry make quirky and customizable gifts. Miniature glass tubes or bottles hold just a few thimble-sized plants, like bits of moss or succulents. Make your own or look for prepared terrarium necklaces online. However, take care not to overwater these tiny designs.

Water Bottle Terrariums

Recycle empty plastic beverage bottles by transforming them into hanging gardens. Clean and cut the tops off bottles to create space for soil and plants. Water bottle terrariums work especially well for air plants, which only require occasional misting. Suspend the open bottle securely and allow plants to trail downward.

Animal Habitats

In addition to plants, small invertebrates can inhabit terrariums safely. Many gardeners keep snails, slugs, spiders, or insects inside terrariums. Choose low maintenance pets that donʻt require daily feedings or space to roam. Research speciesʻ care needs before combining animals with plants in an enclosed space.

Underwater Terrariums

For an exotic twist, experienced gardeners can create aquatic terrariums suitable for fish, shrimp, or snails. Use thick, reinforced glass containers and allow space for filtration and swimming room. Stock with species suited to enclosed, oxygen-limited spaces without strong water flow. Underwater terrariums require more specialized care but make fascinating displays.

What Supplies Do I Need To Get Started?

Part of the fun of terrarium gardening comes from hunting down unique vessels for the designs. Otherwise, basic terrarium supplies are inexpensive and widely available. Hereʻs an outline of the essential components:


The actual terrarium vessel can be anything from a mason jar to an elaborate glass box as long as it has transparent sides. Look for glass containers without decorative paints or tints that might block light transmission. Make sure to choose a material that suits the terrariumʻs location – glass for home use or lightweight plastic for travel or outdoor spaces. For open terrariums, look for wide openings to allow access and ventilation.

Growing Medium

The growing medium provides moisture and nutrients to plants. Many gardeners use a lightweight, porous soilless mix made from peat, perlite, vermiculite, coconut coir or a blend. Pre-mixed potting soils formulated for containers will suffice. For a drainage layer in open terrariums, add gravel, pebbles, or activated charcoal. Pick a medium suited to the plantsʻ preferences.


Select small tropical plants adapted to warm, humid, low-light conditions. Choose a variety of plants with different growth habits, textures, and colors for visual interest. Mix shallow and deep-rooted plants. Start with seedlings or small cuttings to allow room to fill out over time. Research plant care needs and avoid combining plants with highly different sunlight, water, humidity, or soil preferences.

Decoration and Accessories

Personalize terrariums by adding decorative touches. Small pebbles, moss, twigs, bark, pine cones, shells, or figurines create attractive displays. Some builders incorporate whimsical additions like tiny fenceposts, benches, or buildings. Add plastic insects or animal figurines to bring in some fauna. Keep decor minimal to avoid crowding plants.


Terrarium builders need only basic gardening tools: pruners for cutting stems and opening containers, scoops or spoons for soil, gloves to protect hands, miniature rakes or tweezers for planting, and a spray bottle to mist plants after planting. Gather any supplies needed before beginning construction.

What Are The Steps For Planting a Terrarium?

With the right materials gathered, anyone can build a thriving terrarium in just a few simple steps:

Choose the Container

Select a transparent vessel with an opening large enough to easily access the interior. Measure the dimensions to estimate how many plants it can accommodate. If planning to add water, make sure the container is watertight and reinforced.

Add Drainage Material

For open terrariums, add a 0.5 to 1 inch layer of gravel, pebbles, sand, or charcoal to cover the bottom. This drainage layer prevents soil from getting waterlogged. Skip this step for Wardian cases which need consistent moisture.

Pour in Soil

Add the growing medium to reach 1 to 2 inches from the top of the container, leaving room for plants. Use a lightweight indoor potting mix and distribute evenly across the bottom.

Arrange Hardscape and Decorations

Now add any decorations like pebbles, stones, bark, moss pads, or figurines before planting. Strategically arrange hardscape to create hills, valleys, or paths within the terrarium layout.

Plant Specimens

Artfully place plants within the container, varying heights, forms, and colors. Bury root balls slightly below the surface. Allow space between plants for future growth. Start with just 2 to 5 plants in a typical container.

Mist and Water

Lightly mist plants after planting to settle soil and moisten leaves. Add water if needed to sufficiently moisten the soil without flooding. Allow excess to drain out.

Finalize and Decorate

Add any finishing touches like a top dressing of decorative moss or pebbles. Adjust plant placements as needed. Place identifying labels discreetly in the design.

Seal the Container

If constructing a sealed Wardian case, securely fit the lid or cover the opening with clear tape. Open terrariums may remain uncovered. Place out of direct sunlight.

Observe and Maintain

Allow the terrarium to settle for a few days, then begin observing moisture levels, sun exposure, and plant health. Make any needed adjustments to create optimal conditions. Enjoy your thriving indoor garden!

Where Should I Locate my Terrarium?

Most terrarium plants prefer warm, humid conditions with bright but indirect light. Finding the perfect spot comes down to observing and adjusting to find the right balance. Here are some ideal locations to start with:

Indirect Sunlight

Place open terrariums near brightly lit windows but out of direct sun, which can overheat them. East or west-facing windows work better than southern exposures. Filters like sheer curtains diffuse the light. For closed terrariums, consider some direct morning sun.

Warm, Humid Rooms

Kitchens, bathrooms and laundry rooms tend to be the most humid rooms indoors – ideal for terrariums! The humidity helps buffer temperature fluctuations too. Avoid drafty areas or vents that might dry plants out.

Bright Office Spaces

Desks and office windowsills offer perfect spots to take advantage of artificial light. Keep an eye on conditions to make sure plants donʻt stretch toward light or dry out in an office environment. Mini desk terrariums boost productivity!

Low-Light Conditions

Mini tropical terrariums adapt well to low light indoor conditions. Supplement with grow lights if needed. Rotate periodically to avoid etiolation or leaning toward light sources. Mosses, philodendrons, pothos and pilea grow well in low light.

Outdoor Spaces

Outdoors, keep terrariums in bright shade locations protected from rain and temperature extremes. Partially buried containers help insulate roots. Avoid full sun. Rotate indoor plants outdoors temporarily for fresh air.

What Maintenance Do Terrariums Require?

A well-constructed terrarium requires very little care to thrive. Follow these tips to keep the mini ecosystem in peak condition:

Prioritize Observation

Check terrariums daily and simply observe the inner conditions for the first weeks. Monitor for condensation, soil moisture, lighting, and plant health without interfering initially. This helps identify any needed adjustments.

Avoid Overwatering

Resist the urge to water often. Add moisture only if plants show signs of wilting. Soggy soil can stunt plant growth. Feel soil before watering. Condensation on walls means moisture levels are generally adequate.

Prune Cautiously

Prune terrarium plants only to remove clearly dead leaves and maintain desired shape and size. Never remove more than 10% of growth. Removing too much foliage hinders transpiration, disrupting the water cycle.

Add Ventilation

If condensation accumulates excessively, open the terrarium temporarily to allow ventilation and prevent rotting. Then reseal. Adding a small fan periodically also improves air circulation.

Refresh Soil Nutrients

Depending on growth rate, refresh terrarium soil with diluted fertilizer every 2-3 months. Use a quarter strength balanced liquid fertilizer to avoid buildup. Replace depleted soil annually.

Clean Walls

Use a damp cloth or paper towel to gently wipe down terrarium walls if they become noticeably dirty. Clean carefully to avoid damaging fragile plants. Avoid using chemical cleaners inside.

Repot as Needed

As plants outgrow their space, repot in a larger container or remove extras. Transplant rootbound plants to keep growth steady and prevent stagnation. Take the opportunity to replace depleted soil.

Be Patient!

Expect some trial and error in balancing the terrarium environment. Donʻt worry about setbacks. Adjust, observe, and learn from experience. A thriving terrarium develops over time.

What Problems Might Arise and How Do I Correct Them?

When issues crop up in a terrarium, the fix is usually simple. Start by observing closely to identify the problem, then make small adjustments. Some common challenges include:

Excess Condensation

If water droplets coat walls and soil stays soggy, increase ventilation. Open the lid temporarily or drill small air holes. Check if ambient humidity is also high. Add growing medium amendments to retain less moisture.

Mold or Fungus

Grayish mold or fungus might appear on the soil with excessive humidity and poor air circulation. Donʻt panic! Allow soil to dry partially between waterings and remove affected topsoil. Increase ventilation long term.

Algae Growth

With intense sunlight and excess moisture, green or brown algae may spread on glass and soil. Reduce light exposure, ventilate more, and wipe away algae carefully. Test soil pH – algae prefers more alkaline conditions. Amend soil with peat or pine needles to acidify slightly if needed.

Declining Health

If plants look weak and leggy with yellowing leaves, increase sunlight if possible and replenish soil nutrients with fertilizer. Ongoing poor health signals improper growing conditions. Assess moisture, light, and soil and make corrections.

Insect Pests

Pests like fungus gnats and mites sometimes establish, especially if conditions stay overly damp. Let soil dry between waterings and remove the top inch of soil. Wipe plant leaves and add sand layers that deter burrowing insects. Introducing predators like ladybugs in large terrariums can help maintain balance.

Minimal Growth

If plants remain stunted and inactive, increase sunlight exposure. Add supplemental lighting with grow lights. Consider whether plants are rootbound and need more space. Fertilize to replenish nutrients. Introduce fresh air exchange.

Ideas and Inspiration For Uniqueness

While simple glass jars offer infinite design possibilities, terrarium builders can also incorporate unique containers and embellishments to create one-of-a-kind designs.

Upcycled Vessels

For a funky, eco-friendly terrarium, upcycle all kinds of household items as planters. Containers like teapots, mugs, and vases give character. Or repurpose plastic food containers, bath accessory holders, or apothecary jars as miniature greenhouses. Visit thrift and antique shops to discover unique decorative vessels to transform into plant homes.

Natural Elements

Incorporate found objects from nature like dried seed pods, pinecones, shells, bark, and stones. Turn an empty birdʻs nest or waspʻs nest into whimsical planters. Frame terrariums with collected lichen-covered twigs or delicate bare branches. Add sand, pebbles, or wood slices to mimic natural landscapes in miniature.

Eclectic Miniatures

Search craft shops, model train stores, and toy sections for tiny accessories that bring terrariums to life. Add model fences, benches, signposts or buildings. Interject figurines of people, animals, gnomes, and fairies. Craft clay mushrooms, pathways, and stepping stones. Let your imagination run wild!

Artistic Arrangements

Think outside the typical rows of plants – create a living work of art! Arrange succulents or air plants into geometric patterns or distinct shapes. Use rocks or décor to divide the space into vignettes. Highlight certain plants as focal points, like a bonsai in a Zen garden. Frame terrariums around objects or artwork.

Themed Worlds

Transport viewers into whimsical realms by creating themed terrarium landscapes. Recreate a desert oasis, tropical isle, or alpine peaks in miniature. Add human or animal figurines suited to the setting. Or go futuristic with a space station or robotic sci-fi world under glass. The possibilities are truly endless.

Regional Inspiration

Showcase native plants from your region or mimic iconic landscapes. Recreate a mini redwood forest, prairie grassland, or cactus garden. For exotic appeal, build terrariums around plants suited to other regions like carnivorous varieties or orchids. With research and specialty specimens, terrariums offer windows into landscapes worldwide.

Special Technologies

Take terrariums high-tech by adding features like LED lights, mister systems, or self-watering planters. Use aquarium heaters and pumps to build aquatic varieties. Add compartments or furnishings. Include wi-fi sensors that monitor conditions. Programmable technology removes human error and takes terrarium design to the next level.

Get creative and participate in the booming world of terrarium artistry. Let your personality and passion shine through unique designs. The only limit is your imagination!

Ready To Get Started? Tips For Beginner Success

Curious to try out your own desktop greenhouse? Here are some tips to ensure success as a beginner terrarium gardener:

Start Small

Resist overfilling your first terrarium. Choose a simple glass container and just 2-4 small starter plants. Master maintaining equilibrium in a small space before creating larger intricate landscapes.

Select Low-Maintenance Plants

Great starter options include mosses, ferns, nerve plants, peperomias, ivies, pileas and succulents which adapt well to enclosed environments. Avoid finicky rare specimens or plants with high light and humidity needs.

Use Activated Charcoal

Adding a thin layer of activated charcoal prevents rotting and absorbs odors. Purchase at aquarium supply stores. This inexpensive addition keeps terrariums thriving.

Read Care Needs

Research your chosen plants fully. Many common houseplants like orchids and cacti wonʻt thrive in terrariums. Seek varieties that prefer warm, humid conditions and tolerate lower light.

Choose the Right Location

Place beginner terrariums in bright, humid spots like bathrooms and laundry rooms. Avoid direct southern sun exposure which overheats enclosed containers. Observe and adjust location as needed.

Invest in Quality Soil

Use lightweight, porous potting mixes made for container plants, not standard garden soil which compacts and retains too much moisture. Quality soil prevents many issues.

Expect Some Trial and Error

Donʻt be discouraged if your first attempt requires tweaks and troubleshooting. This comes with the territory. Document what works and what doesnʻt. Learn and have fun experimenting!

With proper care and patience, terrariums offer a rewarding way to try gardening even in the smallest spaces. They instill a sense of connection with the natural world while bringing health benefits. For both experienced and novice gardeners alike, the possibilities of these self-contained worlds are endless. Let your creativity run wild and see where the journey leads!

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